Marketers Struggle to Marry Social Media and CRM

Facebook, Twitter Present Huge Opportunities, but It's Hard to Integrate Them Into Existing Databases

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Many marketers have strong CRM databases that they use to target direct mail or email offers. A growing number of them also have robust Facebook or Twitter followings. But few marketers have figured out how to marry the two.

The idea of one grand database of consumer information, interests and intentions is the holy grail for managing marketer-customer relationships, and the idea of using social data from a network like Facebook to get there is hugely appealing. But when it comes to integrating this kind of social data, it's easier said than done.

"Everybody says they understand, but nobody really knows," said Michael Scissons, president-CEO at Syncapse, a social-media-management firm.

Often different teams -- marketing, CRM, social -- pore over different data, and unless those are married up, it's difficult for marketers to truly be able to interact with customers on a personal and targeted level.

The technology already exists to create highly targeted and integrated CRM strategies. But the marketers haven't caught up with it yet, said Rich Fleck, VP-general manager of Merkle Connect, the social-CRM arm at direct-marketing agency Merkle. Part of that is because of the complications of privacy issues, including the fact that laws vary country by country. Facebook, for instance, might be loath to find out its users felt like they're being spammed. To mitigate that , marketers have to get permission from the users to access their data through a service like Facebook Connect, which allows users to export their profiles and connections to other sites.

For example, Merkle client Levi's asks visitors to its Friends Store on its website to connect with Facebook -- a deeper connection than simply "liking" Levi's. That not only gives marketers more access to data than a simple like would, but in theory gives users more relevant clothing suggestions based on their interests and online habits.

Twitter has a much more lax privacy policy than Facebook because Twitter is inherently an open forum. The challenge from a CRM standpoint is figuring out exactly who the users are on Twitter, as there's often little more than a real name. While Twitter may be a good resource to monitor conversations and assess the topics on a broad scale, the challenge can be connecting Twitter users to their profiles in a marketer's CRM database.

Another hurdle is whether marketers can make it "scalable," or get enough users to agree to hand over more data. According to Merkle, depending on the client, upwards of 50% to 70% of Facebook users agree to the terms once they click on a "connect with Facebook" or similar button.

But most marketers haven't taken that next step and analyzed social data with their CRM data. In Levi's case, for instance, to achieve a "grand vision" of social CRM, the marketer would want a combined database, with access to all data so it could, say, send a targeted email based on a person's "likes," or send a more personalized message with relevant products in a customer's news feed.

Assuming marketers tackle the operations and privacy issues, the question will then be how to enact it. Even if there is one database for a marketer, how do you use it -- and can you get rid of the organizational silos that inhibit its use? "If you reach scale, how do you begin to act on that -- use those new insights to drive a better marketing program? Where we see marketers trip-up is that they still behave in silos," said Mr. Fleck, viewing search, email, and social as separate disciplines.

"CRM platforms and processes are going to have to be able to support interactions across interactive channels" to further enhance CRM, said Scott Olrich, CMO at Responsys, a digital direct-marketing agency.

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