Will Salesforce's Acquisition of Buddy Media Make Social CRM Real?

Possibly, but Six Things Stand Still Stand In Their Way

By Published on .

Ian Schafer
Ian Schafer

As Peter Kafka at AllThingsD reports, CRM and cloud computing company Salesforce.com will be acquiring social media management tool company Buddy Media. Just last week, CRM, cloud, and database company, Oracle, acquired Vitrue, one of Buddy Media's chief competitors.

You should care about this because the last two weeks could very well be the catharsis that advocates of true social CRM have been waiting for – or at least the beginning of it. Vitrue and Buddy Media (full disclosure: my agency, Deep Focus has been a client of both) have offered successful social marketing suites for quite some time, and many brands choose their tools to power the social modules on their Facebook (and other platform) pages, and report on their effectiveness. Now that they are both parts of huge (huge!) companies, they have access to resources that could exponentially grow their businesses and the results they deliver to their clients.

But brands have been clamoring for more than campaign results. They want to extract value from the connections that they have spent time and money building. The lack of true long-term, commitment-driven ROI has distracted us into gimmicky short-term social media marketing campaigns. Both Buddy Media and Vitrue have begun building the foundations for proper customer relationship management in social media, but marketing tools (not CRM, in the integrated sense) for those social media campaigns have been their strongest suits.

Alongside Salesforce's prior acquisition, Radian6, Buddy Media will be added to a company that has brought CRM in the cloud to the mainstream. Undoubtedly, with the help of Salesforce, Buddy Media will attempt to evolve from a marketing tool suite to a fully blown social CRM solution that can measure lifetime value across marketing channels, but there are several things that stand in the way:

Facebook still keeps data on lockdown. The advantages of social media marketing tools like Buddy Media and Vitrue are that they can introduce tracking elements that Facebook doesn't natively offer, especially those that follow users out into the open web. But they are still not fully plugged into Facebook's native ad and insight offerings. Facebook is in full control of that , and may never let go, though the cries of brands (and Oracle and Salesforce) may get too loud to ignore.

Consolidation tends to be the enemy of innovation. As public corporations swallow innovative companies the very innovation they acquired sometimes gets lost in the machine, no matter how innovative the parent company once was. The companies that Salesforce has acquired (Buddy Media, Radian6) are tools that are as only as good as the platforms they depend upon for their existence. As platforms change and evolve, so must they. Innovation rate becomes critical, and if not maintained, these companies will not only lose competitive advantage, but also become mediocre, opening the door to upstarts. This perception may be prevalent. In a conversation I had via Twitter with Adam Kmiec, head of digital marketing and social media at Campbell Soup Co., he said, "we'll continue to see more consolidation as the social media market matures. The real question for Buddy will be: can they maintain their traditionally aggressive commitment to innovation now that they are part of Salesforce?"

The power is still in agencies' hands. Buddy Media has flirted with playing agency-like roles for its clients. An acquisition by Salesforce, if precedent holds, means doubling-down on the platform and tools. The platform may only be as effective as the agencies that manage it.

B2C marketing isn't (yet) Salesforce's strongest suit. While they may have had success selling enterprise solutions to enterprises, Buddy Media lives at the front lines of a consumer experience. Customer support and intelligence is one thing, but working with brands and agencies to develop creative marketing programs that yield results is another. Buddy Media's team may bring this talent/quality to Salesforce, but it will need to survive the acquisition and integration.

There's not much precedent for multichannel CRM. There have been lots of promises in this space. We must understand that people that use social media also use email, the web, and other forms of communications to stay connected with brands and each other. One person has many touchpoints. Brands will want to know the best ways to communicate with their consumers to yield the greatest value, understanding that each channel has its own strengths. If this is done by Salesforce + Buddy Media, it may be the first time it can be done well, at scale.

Salesforce.com believes in CRM in a big way. CRM is its stock symbol, after all. With an acquisition of Buddy Media, Salesforce takes a leadership position in social media marketing solutions, going head-to-head with their nemesis, Oracle. Marketing, acquisition is only the first step in proper CRM, however. Building customer value over time, may be where social media's true value to brands lies. If, via these acquisitions, Buddy Media (and Vitrue, for that matter) can further evolve marketing suites to encapsulate a longer-term focus on acquisition, conversion, retention, advocacy, and lifetime value, while somehow liberating data from its platform confines, then we may finally see social media live up to its promise.

I've been fond of saying that "connections are the new impressions" for years, but admittedly, that statement has always been ahead of the market. I'm looking forward to a time when that 's an accurate statement, and a marketplace can be built around the value of those connections. These last few weeks hold some promise of helping us get there.

Ian Schafer is the CEO of Deep Focus, and can be stalked on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ischafer and of course on Google.
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