Putting community at the center of Social CRM

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

PaulGillihamProfilePaul Gilliham is Lithium's Director of Customer Marketing,  responsible for customer engagement marketing, social media and Lithium's own community, the Lithosphere.


He is a regular blogger for Lithium and in the Lithosphere you'll see him as PaulGi. You can follow him on Twitter at @lithosphere or @bladefrog





Last week, I was following a conversation on Twitter between bloggers Martjin Linssen ( and Jacob Morgan ( and felt compelled to jump in and add my thoughts on the subject.


On his blog,, Martjin had put forward an in-depth review of the new Gartner Magic Quadrant reports on Social CRM and had profiled Lithium and Jive (the two leaders in the report) and added his take on what it means – it also used examples from the Social Customer webcast by Attensity and Chess Media. You can see the slides here:


One of the main angles that Martjin was coming from was (and I am paraphrasing a little here) that community was unnecessary for Social CRM, especially considering that people were present in Twitter and Facebook already.


Of course, being from a community company I have a different opinion on the topic. Below is a reposting of my response to Martjin. I thought it was an interesting piece on how community plays directly in the SCRM space.  Hope you like it. If you have any thoughts and questions please let me know!




Hi Martjin

You put forward some interesting analysis in your article, and thanks for taking some time to look into the approach of Lithium.

A consistent theme that you emphasize through your article is the notion of ‘meeting your customer where ever she is’. I am fairly certain that all of us agree on the statement, where things get sticky is ‘okay, how do you enable that in a way that is meaningful for customers and scalable and feasible for companies to roll out consistently?’.
The customers that are trying to solve this are all similarly concerned with scale – how DO we talk and engage with those customers meaningfully, without just throwing people at the issue?  Not only how do you engage, but how do you discover where people are having these conversations so you can have real interaction with them.

One approach, and the one we at Lithium favour, is to enable companies to foster/nurture their discussion leaders, technical experts and advocates in a centralized location (some call it a home base), while providing integrations back deeper into the company (for sources of customer data in CRM systems) and outwardly providing connection to the places where the social customer is aggregating (ie on Twitter, on Facebook, etc).   The presentation you refer to classes this as Creating Mutual Value (slide 13)


This isn’t just a collection of users or fans, a la Facebook, but an evolving, growing body of knowledge, reputation and connections which can help provide the intellectual fuel and foundation for interactions in other social venues.
919i7C73A18EABBF26CBThe broader social web (particularly Facebook which seems the hot topic on people’s radar right now) provides a very broad level of interaction, lots of people, lots of ephemeral connections but provides little to no depth of relationship.


For some people this is perfectly fine, for people engaged in deeper discussions, having a level of trust in the expertise of another user for their review, or answer to a question or thoughts on a topic becomes important.  Bottom line is they want to know they can trust the person answering them.  A pervasive community can help provide that.  This approach isn’t for everyone granted, but if deeper meaningful relationships are important to your organization, you want to grow a strong, knowledgeable group of active advocates around your brand or product, and you need to provide a ‘front office’ interaction system for your traditional back office CRM tools – community gives real results.
Whatever holistic strategy you employ to engage with your social customer, at somepoint you will need a centralized hub point to help manage the inputs/outputs of that audience (the knowledge, the reputation, the interaction history). Some people place this in the CRM, some (like us) put it at the community level  - but having that completely distributed, basically means you have it nowhere.
I don’t think that any of us disagree that there is a way to go in this industry as we continue to make customer interactions as frictionless but as meaningful as possible, while at the same time ensuring a scalable, repeatable and valuable solution for companies.
If you want to get deeper into the working of our approach, including gaming dynamics, reputation and Scout Labs please let me know!

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Thanks PaulG for a great response.


I wanted to add that the recently released Lithium's Facebook App is indicative of our approach to "go where the customer is" BUT with the advantage of being able to take the content & superusers of the community to that medium.  Just sending your customer agents to Twitter & Facebook and having them "respond" in their native habitat is not enough - especially if you are looking for repeated interactions beyond the initial support issue. 


We need to make this point clear and repeat it until people get it, that Lithium is not advocating forcing everyone to come to the community. Rather the point is that a community "core" is essential to any holistic social web strategy that encompasses Twitter, Facebook and beyond.

Honored Contributor



Needless to say, I agree from a strategy perspective that it is about scale.  Resources are finite, and it is more than just engagement.  Here are some reasons that I think it's important to consider community as a central / integral part of a company's social strategy.   In no particular order...


1) Scalability - the development of super users and those deep relationships that form and allow them to become super influencers.  Most companies need to rely on that top <1% to really make the community work.  You need the persistence of content and reputation to make this work.


2) SEO.  Especially in support.   You can take just about any subject, any hobby and type a question or some keywords into google and in my experience, some of the best results come out of discussion forums.  I've yet to see a tweet or a facebook wall comment returned in my results.  That's a reason for community - relevance.  It's more than just a place to have  a conversation, it's about having conversation with depth and relevance and making that available to everyone.


3) Managability.  Facebook moderation tools are limited - threaded conversations are impractical, and it is difficult to segement the discussions and organize pages around a complex business.   Twitter doesn't have persistence - you can't change the relationship of a tweet or move it.


4) Ownership of content.   One of the questions I had to answer was why have a community, when there are plenty of 3rd party sites that could be participated on - let someone else pay the hosting and upkeep.  Well, what happens when they don't want to organize things they way you want to?  What happens when they merge or change terms of service, or adopt a different business model, or just decide to close up shop?  What happens to your customers, your content?  Do you want to participate under someone elses rules?  As I watch all these Facebook privacy / security / policy issues unfold, I keep asking myself this question, and remain sure that having a community as a keystone of a broader strategy is still the right move.


5) Workflow -Community + Facebook + imported tweets -> support discussions -> solutions -> KB articles -> which are then consumed, syndicated to other sites, socially shared.   That kind of process seems difficult to replicate with activities strung out across the greater social ecosphere - it goes beyond engagement and discussion.


6) Centralized reputation and reporting -  Try answering this with twitter or facebook or conglomeration of 3rd party site engagements.  Who are my best members in terms of how much time they have spent talking to other customers? How much content have they created?  How valueable was the content judeged to be?  How much content have they read?  How about just last week, last month, this quarter, or last year vs this year?  When you have a community, you can easily generate reports and slice and dice and rank order the results.  You know who, how much, where and when.

That's pretty powerful, and I think it remains unique.



Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Mark - great points, the first two are key, but I think the issues you outline in 3-6 are paramount for a corporation wanting control, manageability and formalized workflow around the user data. Social sites are generally geared towards the end user interaction, but have very very light administration controls. Especially those sites geared to social interaction with friends - when was the last time you moderated a convo with a friend on your Facebook wall?


A business interaction does require a robust feature set when it comes to managing, protecting and understanding the data you glean from your social group. Great comments, thanks Mark. 

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