Update on Social Media Adoption By Service and Marketing Organizations

Updated: July 23, 2009

Issue Summary

Social media and social CRM present marketers, sales professionals and service personnel with new ways of interacting with customers and building loyalty and brand image through conversations. At the same time, customers' ability to have those conversations can result in poor experiences being amplified across the social media universe. An organized approach to social CRM can help your company participate in conversations and anticipate problems before they happen.


What a difference a recession makes. Where once CRM was deployed to efficiently classify bothersome customer contacts, now it's gone all touchy-feely toward customers who haven't contacted the company at all. The pendulum has swung from the days of Best Buy's declaration it wanted to shun "demon customers" to Comcast's hand-wringing Twitter assurance to any anxiety-riddled tweet.

There is ample motivation for this 180-degree turn in customer service — namely, the need to squelch customer complaints before they become profit-eating PR disasters. "Before social media, companies had the option of sweeping customer complaints under the rug, confident that the issue would amount to little more than a perturbed customer who at worst would pass the story along to a few friends and family," said Aaron Strout, CMO of Powered, a company that creates and maintains online communities for clients like Sony, HP and Atkins. "Now the perturbed customer is not merely sending their jeers directly to the company, but across a multitude of social networks to an infinite number of prospective buyers."

Even worse, these complaints stay on the Internet for years and are quickly retrieved by search engines to discourage future customers. "What's said online stays there forever," said Mike Koehler, new media director at Schnake Turnbo Frank, a PR firm. "If a business or its employees makes an unbecoming statement or sparks a scandal, social networking can backfire and problems can become bigger — sometimes even nationwide issues." Skipping out on the social media conversation, then, is near-certain way to destroy your profits.

Luckily, a new generation of technology is reaching maturity to help companies engage effectively in these customer conversations. Social media is perceived as personal interaction, but at scale the personal side is more often automated than not. "With the recent explosion of social media, social networking and Web 2.0 technologies, companies are desperate for tools to help them glean relevant customer feedback information from online sources," said Michelle de Haaff, CMO of Attensity Group, a provider of business user applications that mine unstructured data using semantic analytics. "Twitter, for example, boasted more than 20 million users as of last month — that's a lot of possible customers to try to keep up with."

Use Cases and Examples

Companies are using social media in customer service and sales and are seeing returns become more numerous with each passing day. For example, Getloaded.com, a web site where trucking companies and brokers search and post available loads to keep their trucks full from destination to destination. "Our presence on Twitter and Facebook has allowed us to engage in conversations with our members that we never could have imagined in the past," said David vanBlaricom, marketing manager at Getloaded.com. "By being involved and developing a thriving social media community, we're always aware of what our members are thinking and can address their issues directly and fast!"

In another example, QuickOffice, a provider of mobile productivity applications, paved the way for U.S. acceptance via social media. Previously, it was weak in the U.S. market due to its Nokia ties. Nokia, as a product line, is stronger overseas than in the U.S. Earlier this year, the company launched a Microsoft Office iPhone app in the U.S. which quickly met with boisterous criticism.

"The company faced loud, negative feedback on a few features that users thought were missing or didn't understand to be an Apple shortcoming when the product launched, and didn't have a solid customer engagement plan in place," said Amy Robinson, spokesperson for Quickoffice. "Quickoffice, recognizing the importance of customer service, quickly turned to Twitter and Facebook to reach customers and improve communications."

"Social media has made a difference in our customer communications and engagement strategy," added Gregg Fiddes, vice president of sales and strategic partnerships at QuickOffice. "With real-time updates on product details, new features and explanations of functionality, our users are the first to know what is happening. Not only are they now equipped with knowledge, but the level of engagement is high and we're building strong brand loyalty. We're planning to consistently improve upon our customer engagement strategy using all the tools available."

QuickOffice managed to significantly turn around negative reviews in the App Store, increase the application's "star ratings" and ascend to the top spot in the Business Category as of this writing.

The examples of companies using social media to their benefit are endless. According to Constant Contact's spokesperson Lisa Dilg, the email marketing company noticed more and more people on Twitter asking for recommendations, for help using their service, complaining, complimenting or just commenting about the products and services. After monitoring comments for several weeks, the company trained several of their customer support staff on Twitter and set up a Twitter handle, @CTCTHelp.

Conducting searches throughout the day, Constant Contact identifies support issues and offers assistance via Twitter. Over the course of several months, Constant Contact began to see an increase in positive Tweets about the company's service and customer support.

Twitter is now another avenue for Constant Contact's 285,000-plus users to reach the company for help. As the Twitter community grows, so do the number of mentions and help requests coming in through this channel, said Dilg.

Using social media is not, however, is not without it perils, especially if not done right. Take Target, for example. The discount retailer has a group of college students it calls "The Rounders," who regularly receive discounts and products to share with friends. The students, in turn, provide Target with feedback. Target asked the group to help promote its Facebook page but to keep their relationship with Target a secret, presumably so that the endorsements would appear unbiased. The plan backfired when one Rounder complained on Facebook that keeping her affiliation to Target a secret was tantamount to lying.


A plethora of tools exist to help companies spot troublesome conversations or budding opportunities on the social media sites and leverage them accordingly. Business applications for unstructured data, such as those provided by software vendor Attensity, break down sentences linguistically to automatically identify facts, opinions, requests, trends and trouble spots in customer data, and enable companies to respond in real-time. Rightnow's Social Media Monitor tracks conversations happening in Twitter and YouTube. A future version will include Facebook and LinkedIn. Combined with RightNow's SmartSense emotion technology, companies can use the monitor to gauge the importance of the statements and appropriately queue a response to alleviate any issues before they are escalated. Customers can also then be shuffled to the multi-hannel options in the CRM if need be.

Our recommendations to small businesses are:

  1. Your company should be exploring a social media strategy that includes tools like Twitter and Facebook — and any other channel that your customers use to talk about you.
  2. You should start small and build. Don't leap in with both feet, but instead spend time as a non-participating member of a social site to learn the manners and style of that site before posting. For example, it makes sense to get a feel for how users communicate on Twitter before trying to communicate yourself.
  3. As you grow, leverage social media technologies to support your growth. Communicate about what your company is doing and incorporate the feedback you receive to help inform your marketing and sales efforts.

Consider social media the newfangled version of customers bellying up to the bar, and you're the bartender. The power is in knowing what the customer wants, and you'll always be in power as long as you keep serving and listening.

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