Social CRM is quickly transforming from a concept to a reality. However, because of the diverse nature of customers and the broad range of options they have among social media channels, the best practices for capitalizing on Social CRM vary from segment to segment.
That means some industries may have a more difficult path to Social CRM success. But there are some that have a natural affinity for winning with Social CRM, where conditions already lend themselves to acceptance by both the customer and the organization.
These are where the best-publicized successes are likely to originate in the next 365 days. Their stories are likely to be more inspirational than informational — again, the best practices for Social CRM will be specific to each organization’s circumstances — but they should serve notice that with some focused thinking and proper devotion to the concept, Social CRM can be successful in boosting the fortunes of any business that commits to it.
Where are those success stories going to come from? There are already isolated cases, but I think the first waves of successes will come from three areas.
1. Professional Sports
I’m a bit biased on this one, having worked for the San Francisco Giants in 1993 and 1994. Even then, it was very clear the customers were ready to make the social connection with the teams for whom they cheered. Fans engaged every employee in discussions about the team, followed transactions avidly, and were fanatical about wearing the team’s colors — and this was even before most of them even had Internet access.
Now, social media allow them to connect with their team as never before. Smart organizations, like the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, have capitalized on that desire to connect by putting feedback systems in place, creating personalized messages (including videos) for fans, and by pairing their technology efforts with “human-level” CRM projects such as special small group events and player meet-and-greets.
Sports businesses are in a great position to capitalize on Social CRM because their customers are so eager to play a role in a two-way conversation; it’s up to the teams to find creative ways to solicit that engagement and put the suggestions and information they get from the fans to work in creating a better experience for them.
2. Government Agencies
Government’s a little like sports — many of us follow it, and even more of us have a stake in its success. While it’s a popular pastime for many to rail against the impersonal, monolithic bureaucracy, the truth is that there are many within government at all levels who very much want to effectively engage with the citizens they serve.
The advent of Social CRM presents perhaps the best opportunity to get more citizens involved. Unlike business, return on investment for these efforts is not defined by increased profits, but in terms of results — and the savings Social CRM brings in achieving those results compared to what it would have taken through traditional methods.
From homeland security issues to pothole repair, there are opportunities to involve citizens and allow their input to influence government priorities and identify pressing problems. The town of Manor, Texas, is an extreme example of what can be accomplished; its top-to-bottom IT makeover includes an idea-generating platform that allows citizens to make suggestions and lets fellow citizens vote on their merits. The system enables people to take photos of problems in town — potholes, storm drain backups or malfunctioning sprinklers — and send the photos in where they can quickly be evaluated and acted upon.
Key to all these efforts is follow-up with the citizen, letting them know how their participation has been handled by the city. In an era when people are increasingly disengaged from government, Social CRM may be one of the key ways to restore the idea that government is run for the people and by the people.
3. Hobby Industries
Everyone, it is alleged, needs a hobby, and the numbers seem to bear that out. The total market for hobby-related supplies and merchandise was US$69.5 billion worldwide, the International Council of Toy Conferences estimated in June. In 2007, the last time the numbers were broken out, the size of the model railroad market was $409.5 million.
Clearly, there are a lot of people devoting their spare time to hobbies and crafts of all sorts, and many of these hobbies have steep learning curves. Social media have proven extremely useful in helping the practitioners of various hobbies learn techniques, locate suppliers, and stay up to date on product releases.
Shockingly, there have been few really significant efforts to engage these customers in a Social CRM, even though they have demonstrated a desire to engage. Perhaps the best example thus far is Walthers, a model railroad hobby distributor, which also makes its own products. The company started including short “how-to’s” on its marketing emails, and has engaged customers in voting on new products — like buildings or cars marked for specific railways. Deeper efforts have yet to be launched — this is a space where customers are eager to engage with the businesses they patronize in a meaningful way.
CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.