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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Social CRM

social media PR services
We often get potential clients who are rather puzzled about how to deal with social media on a practical basis. They want to engage but are not sure how. They wonder if we can do it for them. We offer to help: we already handle link-building as part of our online PR offering by placing articles on massive reputable online media sites. We embed at least one link and sometimes more, so that the sites point back to the clients' websites, boosting their performance on Google enormously.

For social media activity, we brainstorm ideas, use the PR news pieces as the seeds of draft blog and micro-blog postings to help busy clients. We also guide them on creating an appropriate social media policy and steer them through the various tools we've found helpful, like the wonderful (imho) ping.fm. We don't think it's great PR to divorce social media from the company that should be engaging with its customers direct, so we do our best to find channels that play to their staff strengths and offer communications support.

Clients know there are lots of opportunities out there and that their customers have jumped into social media sites with both feet. They've seen small companies mushroom online and others that are household names make a complete hash of it.

Social media is, well, it's social (with the possible exception of Linked-In, but that's business-social). The social bit leaves a lot of companies on the back foot, as they are simply not part of the conversation unless they do something really extraordinary. And then they are all over social media, but often for all the wrong reasons.

Social media is customer-centric, with many 1-2-1 conversations. Not the old style of one-to-many company communications. Social media allows customers to chat amongst themselves, comparing notes on their experience of a company for a realistic assessment of the goods or services, without vested interests muddying the waters. That's a tremendous opportunity to really understand the customer experience for companies that are willing to listen and do something about the bits that are not working.

But how to listen effectively? Social media is brilliant at linking up people with common interests, but it spawns a bewildering number of postings on an ever-increasing number of channels and the move to mobile apps will spawn a whole new level of channels. Employees will always be outnumbered by consumers and outsourcing can lead to the sort of howlers that large companies would prefer to forget. So how do you cope?

The answer to handling this is so obvious that I'm surprised it's not spoken about more often, since the tools are already widely adopted for 'ordinary' telephone and email communication with existing and potential customers: CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management). Social CRM adds in social media in real time, and if set up well to filter the general from the critical noise, allows fast responses by people well versed in handling customer relations.

With social media the starting point is always listening: especially to customers. But also listening out for influencers and their favoured channels, which is a key plank of any PR programme. It's also useful to spot when comments speed up as that might be a sign of developing trouble or insight. It's important to find a way to assess the conversation tone and filter out some of the background noise.

It's not possible to conduct many thousands of 1-2-1 conversations and remain competitive, but it is possible to monitor the social media traffic and get better at picking up the important comments, then engaging online. And to prioritise existing and known potential customers, plus those key influencers.

As with all systematic attempts at human relationships, there will be teething troubles and annoying stock responses. A transparent approach to admitting mistakes and showing that you are taking action to do better will help. A slow and careful managed approach will steadily improve that. It's not ideal from the customer relationship or PR perspective, but for large organisations, it may be better than unplanned, inconsistent responses. And certainly better than a big loud silence until the situation is well out of control.

The companies that understood plain old fashioned customer relations / after-sales service retains customers, creates ambassadors and encourages referrals will always flourish. But if social CRM gets it right, companies will have new ways to do just that - and to be seen doing it, drawing new customers into the net.

It does take a lot of planning, monitoring and measuring to set social CRM up well.

An easy entry point is to link up your clients' social media pages on Linked-In and Facebook to your potential and existing customer records to gain a much better understanding of the individuals that are crucial to your business success. The search tools and groupings these social media sites offer also will allow you to spot similarities in your customer base. Use these insights to play to these common aspects in online forum and social media activity to attract more like-minded people to your site and hopefully convert them into customers. I gather that versions of Outlook that are in the pipeline that will allow linkage to social media sites and there are various CRM and accounts packages that have capability in this area.

And if innovation and responding to customer needs is on the ToDo list, social CRM will allow better understanding of the feedback and suggestions contained in online comment. It allows a degree of collaboration that would have previously cost thousands to arrange through focus groups and market research.

As long as they invest some of those savings in a set-up that knows when to pass on a communication to an empowered employee who can go into a 1-2-1 when it matters.

I'm sure that social CRM will never replace the need for personal 1-2-1 communications, but if the alternative is failing to communicate and a load of stressed-out staff, then I can see a place for carefully implemented and managed social CRM.

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posted by Penny Haywood Calder at

 

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