Integrating social media, CRM to optimize your marketing efforts

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The use of social media as a b-to-b marketing tool is poised to grow enormously over the next few years. A March survey, “Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses,” of nearly 900 marketers found that 88% of respondents were already employing social media for marketing purposes, with 64% using social media for five or more hours each week. Of respondents already using social media, 81% say its No. 1 benefit is generating exposure; following that were, respectively, increasing traffic and building new business relationships. (The survey was conducted via e-mail and social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.)

Marketing is not the only effective application of social media. Online communities are also a useful complement to CRM solutions. They help to more accurately profile customers based on interests and behaviors, as well as to listen to customers, manage conversations, and identify and resolve issues.

B-to-b marketers once measured customer behaviors and perceptions only through surveys, focus groups or their own perceptions. But the past decade has witnessed an explosion in the volume and variety of social media communications. Millions of consumers and businesses are increasingly using Facebook, Twitter and other online communities to receive information and communicate with their favorite brands or business partners. Social media is a disruptive force turning traditional marketing and CRM on their heads. Organizations that can harness this disruption stand to gain the most ground.

Given these momentous shifts in consumer behavior, the question isn't whether marketers should engage and invest in social media outreach, but rather how to integrate their marketing and sales efforts with customer service and support. Specifically, how can companies effectively integrate information obtained through social media into current marketing campaigns to improve efficiency, effectiveness, strategy formulation, offer formulation and customer feedback loops?

For companies seeking to reinvigorate their marketing operations and become more relevant, the key is integrating online community data, such as profile and behavioral activity, into existing CRM systems. In contrast to conventional marketing tools, online communities provide a lens through which to instantly monitor and analyze customer conversations, behaviors and experiences. This profile and behavioral intelligence is up-to-date and actionable. Collectively, profile and behavioral data provide marketing, sales and CRM teams with in-depth customer portraits, enabling them to deliver customized experiences that meet the individual needs of customers. Marketers no longer need to wait months to receive actionable market research. Instead, that data can be right at their fingertips and monitored in real time, allowing for an immediate reaction that was not possible five years ago.

Combined with CRM tools, online communities also have the capacity to yield instant insight into brand awareness and brand reputation. One community member's endorsement of a product has the potential to drive brand exposure exponentially. User-generated content, like reviews or ratings, is becoming increasingly influential, as consumers tend to trust peer reviews over content from commercial sources. The beauty is that both marketing and CRM teams are able to leverage these opinions and experiences—both positive and negative—to address customers' specific needs and pain points in real time. Furthermore, this customer intelligence helps companies prevent potential brand erosion by serving as a beacon to marketing and CRM teams, with real-time customer insights about current corporate brand image and customer satisfaction that, otherwise, can be difficult to track.

The primary challenge with the integration of social media, online communities and CRM, is understanding the most appropriate use of online communities. In other words, how will you harness the power of online communities to achieve business objectives? Perhaps you're seeking to acquire new customers or gain a better understanding of your customer's mindset? Regardless, it's important to remember that an online community is more than a network; it's an end-to-end marketing engine allowing you to address customer concerns in real time.

Companies that embrace this new dynamic of online communities' impact on CRM are well-positioned to become more relevant, transform customer relationships and generate measurable business results. By tapping into the customer intelligence provided by an online community, marketing, sales and CRM teams will improve customer communications and maximize customer touch points while simultaneously driving marketing effectiveness.

Steve Nielsen is CEO of PartnerUp (, the first and largest online community geared solely toward small-business owners. He can be reached at [email protected]

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