2011 Social Media Predictions Pt1

Now that I’ve had some time to digest a few of the new-year social-media predictions posts, I’ve distilled out the themes that I believe are going to be important in 2011. They follow three broad areas:

  • The ability to use social media to drive sales from a tighter integration of social media, E2.0 and CRM
  • Social Media Control Centers providing a central point to allow more people across the enterprise to get involved in a controlled and efficient manner
  • Reviews sorted by your social graph, combined with location and implicit search on mobile providing information you didn’t know you needed before you thought to look for it

I’ve split this post into 2, and cover the first here, and will address the second two areas in my next post.

Sales, social media, E2.0 and CRM

Social Media starts to generate revenue

Both the hardest, and most valuable space in social media for business is going to be the linkage between what happens online, and tangible revenue. I’ve only really seen one solid example of social media driving revenue (@DellOutlet’s $6.5Mn sales in 2009), and yet the potential for influencing sales or triggering direct-sales  whilst at the same time measuring results is huge.

Obviously social media will continue to be used to build relationships; engage with customers; gain insight etc, but I think we’ve reached the point where we should be able to look to interactions in social media that start generating measurable revenue.  I see no reason why we shouldn’t be paying inside-sales representatives to interact with customers via social media channels, uncovering new business, rather than cold-calling prospects.

With a little bit of help from software - it should be more than possible to engage with someone on twitter, or facebook, helping them during the buying cycle, identify who they work for, and link that activity to your CRM system as an ‘influence’ or a ‘new lead’. Should that customer then return later to spend money on the items you were discussing - then the social media team can chalk up an ‘influenced win’.

Using the @DellOutlet model and specific discount codes makes it even easier. When someone redeems one of those codes against a purchase, the deal can be solidly linked to social media. Companies could even go as far as to offer a code that requires the customer to register - and enter their twitter account + company name before redeeming. This gives the vendor the ability to use the CRM system to prioritize social-media responses to the most ‘valuable’ customers.

Blurring between social media and E2.0 or the socially connected enterprise

Most vendors and analysts are still looking at these two spaces as different animals, each with their own vendors and software solutions - however I believe that view misses a key benefit. 

One of the fundamental benefits of the social media revolution is the opening up of organizations, so that people can interact with people, creating a more socially connected enterprise. This sort of cultural change will take many years for most businesses, and require significant support from senior management (and perhaps a wholesale generational shift as well). However there are many companies that are a lot further down this path than others (Zappos). If we continue to put a thin pipe between the outside world and the enterprise - we fall back to the loud-hailer one-way communications of traditional marketing.

One positive example of enabling linkages between outside and inside can be seen in the case of customers doing research for a potential purchase. If we can spot that discussion in the twitterverse, pull it into the enterprise community to let staff from across the business discuss and come up with the right answer - and then replay the results back out onto twitter - we’ve helped out a potential customer.

This sort of connection can be created through cut & paste between external communities and internal communities - but that isn’t very scalable, and it becomes very hard to track the identities of the people on both sides. A better solution might be forthcoming if the E2.0 and social media vendors continue to develop standards for identity and activity streams (through OpenSocial and activitystrea.ms), however I can see good reasons for the likes of twitter, LinkedIn and facebook to resist sharing more data than they need to.

If someone can work out how to create an enterprise facebook-like application that allows me to interact with my colleagues about sales-opportunities, and then through the same interface interact with potential customers, sharing selected conversations with both - it might help to improve connectedness. The application would need to be very carefully designed to ensure I don’t post the wrong message to the wrong group - but I don’t think that’s insurmountable. HootSuite might be a good solution here when they integrate Salesforce.com chatter. Seesmic are working on something similar with Salesforce.com.

I’ve seen demonstrations from both Jive and Lithium showing the ability to take a conversation on an external community; and link it to a conversation happening on an internal community space. Lithium also have a widget which makes it easy to pull a twitter conversation into a Lithium community space for subsequent discussion. This does require that you’re using the same community platform for your public community as you’re using for E2.0 interactions within the company.

The emergence of Social CRM with increased linkage between E2.0, social media and CRM

If you combine the above two predictions - then the logical evolution is to expect stronger linkages between social media and collaboration tools within the enterprise - including the CRM system.

If we can empower the sales-rep with information gleaned from discussions his customer is having in the community, we add depth to the information we know about the customer - which can better help us to approach him with solutions for his problems.

I think the biggest challenge here is working out how to connect the user’s twitter identity with the company that they work for, and their CRM entry in your own CRM system. In HootSuite there’s a tab called Insight which seems to be able to aggregate a user’s profiles across various networks, and often tells you who they work for. I believe this is powered by a company called RapLeaf (given that the hootsuite post announcing the feature is tagged rapleaf). I would suggest that the first CRM vendor to implement some sort of social media response and workflow system with an identification tool and the CRM system will be on to a winner.

In an ideal world I’d like to see a solution which provided linkages between the following applications

  1. Enterprise collaboration (email/calendar/contacts) + enterprise social tools (microblog/blog/wiki/forum/tags/groups/org)
  2. CRM (accounts, opportunities)
  3. Company hosted community (forums/blogs)
  4. Public social media (twitter/facebook/linkedin)

I think the best bet for an approach to this problem is to build out from the CRM system; rather than coming in from the social media or E2.0 space. Salesforce has the ideal CRM system built as an open platform and delivered via SaaS. They created SalesForce Chatter to enable E2.0 style benefits within the enterprise (and are integrating this in to both HootSuite and Seesmic). Lithium have also created linkages between their SaaS community platform and Salesforce - allowing you to see a user’s community activity from within their Salesforce customer record.

Note that my definition of Social CRM is a little different from many of the vendors in this space. I prefer to think of Social CRM as a way of connecting interactions in the social media space with a database of customers and opportunities - so that you can understand the full spectrum of interactions with that customer, both online and offline.  Some vendors seem to be using the term to talk about community systems which help you identify customers in the social space, but that don’t link through to a traditional CRM system. Perhaps I should be using the term social-media-enabled-CRM system, but Social CRM just seems appropriate.

Part 2 will follow soon…

Images credits: Peat Bakke, themonnie and Nils Geylen