Since the beginning of time people in business have built silos. The classic two are “sales” and “marketing”, which have been the subject of battles won and lost for as long as I can remember. These days the complexity of business has increased and with it the number of potential territories and conflicts, but while we’ve been busy fencing-off these newcomers, the real momentum has been in a different direction entirely. So much for marketers leading the way!

The word of the day is “convergence”. Yes all the disciplines, channels and media are coming together in a new marketing model that requires a fresh perspective and a different way of working and sadly, all but a few businesses and marketers are late to the party. However, amongst the scramble to catch up there’s a new potential conflict to disrupt the nether-world of traditionalists.  This time the protagonists are “CRM” and “marketing” and the subject is “social media”. Now, I’ve just built a marketing department from scratch where CRM and all the other traditional marketing disciplines happily share social media with no conflicts, but I can see other businesses aren’t finding it so easy and its all because of a combination of the tradition of compartmentalising functions and the miss-labelling of social media. Such companies need to stop thinking of social media as a discipline and understand that it’s a communications channel and like a telephone anybody can pick it up. That includes the CRM and the marketing guys. Once you get that you just have to manage the conversations.

I also can’t get over the marketers who seem to think that by ignoring social they’re adopting a neutral stance. There’s no “neutral” position on this. Either you are in the game or you are not doing your job and while you are working out which it is you are allowing possibly the most accessible and potent communications channel out there to work against you. In The Drum this week Ishbell MacLeod highlights a report by Eptica that suggests that only 39% of companies respond to customer queries raised on Twitter. This doesn’t just mean that 61% of companies aren’t easily accessible, it means that that those companies are being labelled “non-runners” by their marketplace. In fact, according to MacLeod this is only the tip of the iceberg. The more you look into customer service responses the worse the picture becomes.

Social media is the communications channel of choice for a dominant and growing group of consumers who are judging companies on their social media behaviour and to make things a lot worse this behaviour is being highlighted in a public forum. Ignoring the forum is at best putting your business at a disadvantage, but to establish a social media presence and then fail to manage it is dereliction of duty on a criminal scale, so you can’t do this casually, you have to be fully engaged in social media.

There’s another great piece on this subject out this week. In this Vit Horky from Brand Embassy, who are pioneering what they call “social care”, picks up on the abject failure of companies to harness Google+. It seems, once again, companies’ inertia in leveraging Google+ is the product of their lack of decisiveness over who is managing it.

However if Vit’s very convincing argument doesn’t put this subject at the front of your mind you need to bear in mind that even being reactive to social media isn’t enough. I told you this social media thing is on a roll! Remember, social is where your market is meeting and conversing. You can be sure that your business is the subject of a load of conversations that you are not privy to. This represents as big an opportunity as it does a threat and marketers need to be on to this.

F&B retailers I have worked with have been using pro-active social media tactics to engage and build frequency and acquisition for years. Intercepting conversations on social media where your product is mentioned has proven fruitful territory for many restaurateurs, but if you’re not in the game you can’t win it and you need to be able to monitor and respond to social media chat to leverage this asset. Until now that has been the challenge.

That’s why I like Brand Embassy’s social/CRM platform. It not only picks up social media conversations that would normally pass you by, it allocates them to the appropriate person anywhere in the organisation and manages the response process. You only have to decide on your process and re-structure your department accordingly.

While we are on the subject I personally don’t believe that twenty and thirty hour response times are even close to acceptable in what is a live and immediate environment like social media, although I’m well aware (and deeply ashamed to admit) that there are marketers out there that seem to think that these kinds of response times and even longer, are acceptable even in non-social CRM interactions. A while ago I raised the matter of the retail group Halfords in the UK who on their e-mail response platform promised to response within fourteen days! If that isn’t customer abuse I can’t imagine what they think it its and I hope they have fixed that by now.

This also introduces the debate about the scope of a CRM operative’s role. Maybe social care operatives require training that will equip them to resolve an issue single-handedly, but that’s for a different post and a different day. For now, we just have to wake up and smell the coffee. Those who work out how to leverage social media first will be the winners.

Phil Darby
March 31, 2014

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