Social media provides businesses with an unprecedented level of access to their customers. And with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others only growing in popularity, most businesses now recognize the value of engaging people through these platforms. This may involve prospecting (using paid ads or relevant content to attract new customers or business partners), recruiting new employees, announcing new products or sales, or responding to customer satisfaction issues in a public forum.
But a trend that’s even more new is integration between these platforms and customer relationship management (CRM). As critical as CRM is to a company’s sales and customer service experience, businesses that fail to integrate this with their social media marketing will soon find themselves behind the curve.
This guide is designed to help buyers in the very new market of social CRM software identify the capabilities they’ll need and make the right decision. Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is Social CRM Software?
Social CRM involves the integration between customer relationship management software and social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or others. At the heart of it is an ability to manage the large number and range of interactions for which a business might want to use social media. To that end, features often include:
- Social media monitoring. There are a number of programs that scour the Web or particular social media platforms to find instances of your brand name being mentioned or references to problems that your product solves. Depending on your strategy and the other capabilities of the software, this could be delivered to you with custom analytics (that, for example, mine for customer sentiment rather than social interaction) or be distributed in a way that allows you to respond appropriately.
- Social media platforms and communities. Allows organizations to build custom platforms or social communities for internal employee use, customer use or both. Community members can post content, participate in discussions, contact other members and more.
- Automated responses. Some solutions provide a way to respond automatically to social media cues, allowing you to retweet messages or provide stock responses to commonly asked questions with a minimum of personnel time. Internal collaboration. For companies with multiple people responding to messages, the system needs to be able to route messages to the appropriate person within the organization, and/or to open and close customer service issues that come through this channel.
- Marketing integration. The ability to organize new followers into demographics allows for much more efficient sales and marketing tactics. This application category would also include the ability to monitor sharing/subscription statistics on e-mails and blogs.
- Contact management. If your strategy requires translating followers into contactable leads, integration with other contact management tools will be a vital part of your social solution.
The benefits of social media CRM should be obvious: it allows you to track and manage data at unprecedented levels of detail, giving you the opportunity to engage your customers in ways you never would have been able to before. It’s worth noting, however, that social CRM is about much more than the software solution itself. For most companies the benefits will only be realized with a well-conceived customer relationship management program already in place. Otherwise, you run the risk of coming across like a five-year-old driving a Ferrari—very flashy, but without the ability to drive your company where it needs to go.
What Type of Buyer Are You?
The entry cost for social CRM tools has never been lower. Many programs offer a free solution for smaller users, and in a field that’s leading the software industry in terms of web-based solutions, up-front costs are often nil.
That being said, there are some differences in buyers. The two main types are:
- Enterprise buyers. If you’ve invested in or are considering a company-wide CRM product with contact management, marketing automation, and/or help desk management, or if you’re looking for additional industry-specific software (e.g., field service management, contract management, etc.), then seamless integration is likely more important than specific features. For this, you’ll want a CRM product with social capabilities, rather than something with a dedicated focus in the social media space.
- Best-of-breed buyers. As a rule, smaller businesses tend to be less focused on enterprise-wide application and more focused on maximum effectiveness at particular activities. If this is the case, focus on the features as you make your purchasing decisions. Many social media management tools straddle the space between social media and CRM, so concentrating on the functions you need can yield you a product that delivers exceptional functionality for a very reasonable outlay.
Trends You Should Understand
As you do a comparison of the best social customer relationship management software for your needs, keep these trends in mind. How your vendor fits with these trends could have a big impact on their viability.
- All CRM is social. Given how essential this functionality is going to be in the future, it’s possible that almost every CRM product is going to offer social capabilities within the next few years. The only question is the focus, how it fits in with your company, and what its features are compared to the other tools on the market.
- Free software. Social media as a category is really leading the way in terms of free ad-funded products, and social CRM is no exception. The more features you need, the more likely you’ll have to upgrade to a pro subscription, but for basic CRM tools there’s a chance you may be able to find a free solution.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS). An outgrowth of Software as a Service, PaaS allows organizations to develop apps in the cloud. As social CRM continues to grow, expect PaaS-based apps to grow with it.
Recent Events You Should Know About
- Sage expands social tools. On the heels of Oracle’s announcement that it was entering the CRM space, Sage Act released an update with a major expansion of social tools. Among other updates, Sage Act now integrates with Facebook and LinkedIn, matching profiles to contact records.
- Oracle enters social CRM space. In September 2012, software giant Oracle announced the creation of a new social CRM product to “build a better way for businesses to track and engage with their customers on an ongoing basis.” The product was built primarily through three acquisitions made between May and July, which were combined into a proprietary product.
- OracleSalesforce acquisitions. In March 2011, CRM market leader Salesforce acquired Radian6, one of the leading innovators in CRM monitoring and engagement. Then in June 2012 they acquired Buddy Media, giving Salesforce all the tools it needs to continue to be a market leader in the world of customer relationship management and sales force automation.