Facebook , Twitter and other social networks have everybody's attention right now. Facebook crossed the 400 million member mark with those members sharing over 5 billion pieces of content each week. Twitter users are sending 50 million tweets each day. And while social networks continue to grow in importance for business purposes, the number of interactions taking place over them still pales in comparison to the 247 billion daily messages sent by 1.4 billion email users, according to a 2009 Radacati Group study. Even as social becomes more entrenched all aspects of life, the Radacati study expects email usage to more than double by 2013 with 507 billion daily messages being sent.
As the numbers above demonstrate, email (along with the telephone) has been the main relationship building tool for business people. Each of us has sent and received hundreds of thousands of messages over the past two decades, making our inboxes a very important database of customer/prospect information. And this information is what drove most CRM vendors to create integrations with Microsoft Outlook - to make it more appealing for hundreds of millions of Outlook users to use their applications.
As Microsoft Outlook has had a definite impact on functionality and adoption, Google's Gmail is beginning to impact CRM as well. It hasn't been around as long as Outlook, but Gmail is the 3rd most popular (but fastest growing) online email service with over 170 million users. According to a study performed by email marketing service provider MailChimp, Gmail users have the highest open and click-thru rates for marketing emails sent to web email addresses.
From a CRM perspective, Gmail has a lot to offer - beyond the large (and growing) number of users. The service allows you to store huge amounts of email and the attachments embedded in them, and as you would expect the search capabilities are excellent. You can easily access your email, contacts, and calendar and other information from pretty much anywhere… from about any device. But what I think is the most interesting is how Google is creating frictionless, organic opportunities for Gmail users (as well as users of other apps) to build more meaningful business relationships.
A few things can happen as you exchange emails more and more with other Gmail users. Google picks up on the frequency of these exchanges and can automatically enable instant message communications over GChat. If the people you interact with use Google Reader to manage RSS subscriptions you can see what kinds of content they're reading and sharing with others. Also, if those fellow Gmail users you exchange emails with have YouTube channels, they are shown at the top of your YouTube homepage and you are given the opportunity to subscribe to their channels.
The inbox relationship is also the driving force behind Buzz, the social network service Google rolled out a few months ago that enables Facebook/Twitter-like information sharing with those you interact with via Gmail. Buzz is not groundbreaking, but once again it offers a frictionless mechanism to learn more about those you're we exchange emails with. It extends the inbox relationship and creates more collaborative opportunities with content-sharing tools we've become accustomed to in social networks.
We're also seeing third party developers creating social apps to further enhance our inbox interactions. Rapportive recently created a Gmail add-on that allows you to see information on what social networks email senders are on - even allowing you to see their latest tweets on Twitter. Gist is a service that allows you to import your Gmail information, as well as other data sources, in order to analyze the strength of your relationships in order to help you focus your efforts on the important business relationships. With the growth of the Google Apps Marketplace you're seeing CRM providers (Zoho, BatchBlue, etc.), email marketing services like MailChimp, and a host of other service providers tying their applications to Google.
While it's important to capitalize on (and grow) relationships we've already established, the focus of many is finding new relationships to compete, thrive and survive in today's market. People are turning to social networks in order to build new relationships in order to drive new business. There are plenty of tools out there that assist you in connecting with people, like Google Friend Finder - a service that helps you find new people to follow on Twitter.
What is apparent is that customers and prospects are searching for trusted information sources to build relationships with. Ironically as more people engage on social networks, and creation tools make it easier to pump out informational content, the task of finding trusted sources becomes more difficult due to information overload.
While Google is rolling out things like their Friend Finder app, the recent purchase of social search vendor Aardvark is really intriguing. Everybody knows that Google is the king of web search, but what's interesting about Aardvark is their search functionality is focused on helping people find the right person to answer an information need. A different approach to the traditional search result of links to web pages based on key words.
With more people on social networks creating content to brand themselves as experts in their craft, services like Aardvark can help people connect with real subject matter experts right at the moment they need them. Not only does this provide realtime opportunities to get questions answered by knowledgeable professionals, but it helps cut down the time it takes to build mutually beneficial relationships - and cut through the growing number of self-proclaimed authorities.
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