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Back in 2012, two popular CRM software companies, Oracle and Salesforce, started acquiring companies that monitor and interact with social media. They had seen the growing trend of consumers using venues like Facebook and Twitter for everything from product research to complaining about companies, and knew that to get ahead, they needed to tap into that information resource so businesses could use it to develop relationships with their customers.

Those principles are even more true today, where 95 percent of adults aged 18 to 25 follow a brand via social media, and social media is influencing as much as half of all online purchases. Businesses of any size cannot ignore social media's role in customer relationship management (CRM), nor can they expect to use it the same way other CRM data is used. Traditional CRM methods, from direct marketing campaigns to customer support lines, are still important, but social media has changed how customers interact. 

First, customers expect a relationship. Gone are the days when customers needed to be told what to buy and when. Technology has made goods more readily available while attuning the public to direct marketing messages. Almost twice as many customers are willing to read an informative or entertaining post on social media than a promotional post, and when trust is established, they are more likely to buy your brand.

Second, customers prefer to use social media for voicing complaints – and they expect a response. Griping on Facebook is practically a national pastime, but more and more, when customers have a specific issue, they are turning to a company's social media page for satisfaction. For one, it beats sitting on hold, but it also sets up accountability because the problem has been aired publicly. Savvy businesses, therefore, not only monitor their social media accounts but respond to complaints quickly. One in four people who complain on Twitter expect a response within an hour, for example.

Monitoring your own channel is not enough, however. Over 95 percent of consumers who complain about a brand online do not gripe on that brand's social media page. Effective customer relationship management means monitoring social media at large to pick up and analyze mentions. Some CRM software has this capability, but if yours does not, there are social media monitoring programs that do this.

Third, and most obvious, social media is the easiest, cheapest way to find customers. Even better, with the right social media CRM or monitoring program, you can mine followers' data for important demographic information and common interests, giving you insight into what they are looking for and when. You can use this information to drive campaigns that reach your customer base with what they need when they need it.

Social media has definitely changed the way businesses do customer relationship management, but the changes are for the better. While it can take time and a new approach, it results in better knowledge of customers and better relationships with them, which means more loyal customers in the future.

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