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The “Wild West” of Social CRM

Businesses and brands of every size and in every market are desperate to find effective ways to reach and engage with their customers using social media.

But are the “open ranges” of social networks like Twitter, Facebook and other ‘person to person’ social media landscapes really the best place for businesses to have conversations with their customers?

The answer is “No”.

Businesses and brands need better online “places” to interact with consumers than the person to person social networks. Twitter and Facebook were not designed for with the idea of businesses being able to use them to effectively and consistently reach and engage with consumers. Social networks were designed to allow people to interact with personal friends and the business interaction features for advertising have been bolted on after the fact in often haphazard fashion. (Example: Facebook’s Beacon Fiasco.)

So there is a rapidly growing need for effective and scalable customer engagement models in the social media format that don’t result in customer privacy “brain damage” and yet also enable much more effective customer interactions for businesses. It’s only a matter of time before better “virtual places” for brands to engage with consumers start to become a reality.

But what will these new places look like? Will they still look and feel like either Facebook or Twitter?

For the most part they will. But there will be key differences.

Social Media For Business Use

Imagine a new Twitter/Facebook-esque conversation space where consumers could go to talk to their favorites merchants and brands. These interactions will feel very much to the consumer like the familiar Twitter and Facebook interactions but this new virtual place will be adjacent to, though clearly separated from, the current person-to-person “socialscapes” that we all now know well.

So why do this? Why create new social spaces dedicated to business to consumer interactions?

The reason is because mixing business and personal interactions in virtual “socialscapes” is as wrought with legal and privacy and efficiency problems as it has always been in the real world.

These new adjacent and business-focused “socialscapes” I’m thinking of would be where consumers could go when they have the focused goal of having a speedy and productive interaction with a business, brand or merchant.

The Social “Call Center”

These new dedicated “Social CRM” spaces will be analogous to what the telephone-based CRM solutions have delivered for customers starting in the 80s (a.k.a., “call centers”). In the past and today when we have an issue, question or problem with a business we can often make a 1-800 call to a call center, and using common user interaction themes we have all learned over the years, get a speedy resolution of our issue.

It’s true we have all spent a fair amount of time in “call center hell” in our lives. But we also all have had way more issues resolved in a speedy fashion via telephone based call centers than those times we spent in “hell” on a queue or in a call center “goose chase”.

So what we need is pretty obvious when you think about it. We need separate and dedicated social CRM “call centers” that are as robust and reliable and effective and trackable for businesses and consumers as telephone-based call centers have been for the past 30 years.

Twitter and Facebook and other “socialspaces” need to expand to include virtual, social “call center malls” adjacent to the regular social media interaction spaces that they offer today. In these “social CRM malls” businesses and brands would set up shop so they can be easily reached by consumers conveniently and in one place, just like a real-world shopping mall. Consumer would be able to make a conscious decision to enter that virtual Social CRM mall and have a selection of brands/businesses on their “business friends” list. With those “business friends” consumers can then engage with in “near-realtime”, social media-style communications and on their timing and terms.

To participate in this virtual “Social CRM mall” consumers would sign off on a legal set of Ts and Cs that would set the context for focused and effective and private interactions with businesses/brands. Brands would also sign off on a set of Ts and Cs to be part of the Social CRM mall that would legally bind them to adhere to standards of customer service set by the Social CRM mall “landlord”.

In exchange for agreeing to the terms, consumers would get a guarantee of privacy/confidentiality and compliance that would allow them and their “business friends” to privately discuss legal, medical or other confidential topics. This would allow Social CRM to conform to HIPAA and other confidentiality laws with sensitive conversations being hidden from the public social media conversation space.

What Started Us On The Road to Social CRM?

Making a phone calls to telephone call centers has been, is today, and will continue to be for many years, a very viable way for consumers to get speedy resolution of product/service issues. In the past it was by far the most convenient way to get resolutions on customer service issues because phone calls were also by far the primary way we communicated remotely in the course of our personal and business lives.

But then that all began to change in 2007 with the release of the iPhone with it’s rich mobile internet experience. That device set off the race to turn most mobile devices into smartphones. (NOTE: We are over 50% of mobile devices being “smart internet” devices as of October of 2011)

Concurrent with this was the simultaneous ramp up of social media with Facebook having opened to the general public in late 2006 and Twitter also launching in second half of 2006. By Q3 2007 the average number of phone calls people made each month on their mobile peaked and started declining.

This decline was fairly steep for people under 35, shallower but declining for those over 35 and under 45 and flat for those over 45. But the direction generally is clear. The “Voice 1.0″ model of telephone calls as the primary means of communication is declining.

Four years after these four events all happened (iPhone release, Facebook open to public, Twitter launch, voice minutes peaked) we are reaching a point where the most common communication channel today for people in both business and personal settings is no longer realtime telephone calls. Instead it is now a combination of “near-realtime” social media, email and text messaging from smartphones.

Because of this “sea change” it makes sense to begin evolving CRM away from the Voice 1.0 model to something in closer alignment with how we all communicate today.

But that’s not easy because decades of work and many billions of dollars were spent making telecom/voice CRM “speedy”, legally defensible, repeatable and also understandable by a broad population of billions of first world customers across the globe.

Settling the “Wild West”

This change in how consumers interact with brands with Social Media is a major part of the “Marketing Singularity” that is fast approaching. We are only at the very beginning of the rise of social media and Social CRM is in its early infancy. A lot of innovation and work is going to be needed to get to a level of maturity, speediness, repeatability, legality where “Social CRM” gets close to being as ubiquitous and broadly used as telephone-centric CRM.

Until then brands are operating on an open range out in a Social CRM “wild west” where the “law” is spotty and outlaws sometimes will run the “towns”.

Lots of opportunity though to “homestead” for brave and bold startup company “settlers” who have what it takes to tame this new “wild, wild west”

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