What's Social About Social CRM Communication?

Lithium Alumni (Retired)


Phil Soffer is Vice President of Product Marketing at Lithium Technologies. He has held a number of positions at the company influencing the direction of the platform, most recently running Product Management.


He is active on Twitter as @phsoffer and is a regular contributor in the Lithosphere where he is PhilS.


Every time Mitch Lieberman writes something, I want to write something in response. Sometimes I tweet. Sometimes I write a comment in his blog. But I always feel I have more to say. Mitch, you make me feel like blogging!

Mitch's latest post asks the provocative question, when is an activity "social" in the Social CRM context?

He suggests, and I agree with him, that any action involving two human beings is "social" by definition, therefore you need to include channels such as face-to-face and e-mail in your Social CRM playbook. It's hard to disagree with this, if for no other reason than it's hard to envision a world in which these forms of communication didn't exist.

Mitch's post makes me want to think out loud about a more rigorous definition of the forms that Social CRM interaction takes. I'm not talking about channels here: Facebook versus Twitter, or whatever. I'm talking more about norms and expectations that govern the interaction.

A rough typology of Social CRM Sociability might be:

One-way  - a communication is offered with no intention of dialog. I was originally going to call this "spammy," but most corporate web sites and many corporate blogs are one-way without being spammy.

Dialogic - a communication is offered with the expectation that there can be a reciprocal communication in response. If Mitch writes a blog post with a comment field, he is engaging in a dialogic relationship with his audience. His intent is to broadcast his point of view, but he's open to listening, so there is a possibility for dialog. If Mitch's company issues a bunch of Tweets that it has no intention of responding to, this is one-way rather than dialogic even though the medium supports dialog.

- a communication is transparent if it is an exchange between people that other people are free to listen in on or participate in. This one is tricky, but quite interesting. The difference between Comcast supporting users on Twitter and supporting those same users via e-mail is transparency. Comcast is engaging in an implicit bargain here: we will have this conversation out in the open and get the benefits of customer goodwill that come from that openness. In exchange, we will be held accountable in public.

Transparency has a long and honorable tradition outside of Social CRM, of course. In government, we say "sunshine is the best disinfectant." Joel Salatin, the grass farmer hero of Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," has called for all slaughterhouses to be sheathed in glass so consumers can see what's going on inside.

The categorical imperative of transparent SCRM would be something like, "Only have a conversation with a customer that you would have in front of all of your customers."

Collaborative - a communication is collaborative if there is an expectation that all of the actors begin on an equal footing. Mitch's blog hosts a dialog, but ultimately it's Mitch's blog. Twitter, forums, and other such media offer a potential for collaborative communication, though of course there are ways of communicating in those media that are not collaborative at all. It's the intent that matters here.


If pressed I would argue that an effective SCRM strategy has room for all of these communication styles, with different mixes depending on the circumstances, goals, and social maturity of the organization.

Do these descriptions make sense? Are they helpful? Should there be more? Or should I just resist the impulse to dialog when I read something Mitch writes?

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

By the way, if you're interested in another post about what the Social in Social CRM means, you check this one out, along with a spirited discussion in the comments:



Occasional Commentator

Hi Phil,


Good to see you actively participating in the conversations around Social CRM 🙂


Things that need to be taken into account are content, context and intent (which you do mention at the end). Mitch's intent was in particular to provoke his peers (context) into responding to his content about the term 'social' - of which he did a perfect job! With this remark I would just like to say that there is much more depth to an exchange than just the fact of just having one.


Also, you mention Dialogic and Collaborative in the above. IMHO collaborative is not only about being on an equal footing - although this may facilitate the collaboration - but also whether you're working towards some desired outcome. This can range on how to defeat an end-of-level monster in an FPS, collaborative innovation for product enhancement, or simply solve an issue _with_ customer service as friction-less as possible.


One thing we all seem to be missing is the fact (?) that 99% of the people that go into the online communites do not actually participate, but rather observe the interactions between those that do an form their opinions in this manner. So even though this would not be typified as "Social", their passive participation does shape their expectancy of the experience if they were they to become a customer, and also what opinion they would propagate if solicited in another context (conversation at a birthday party, church gathering etc.).


This last notion brings me to note that the "social" part in Social CRM is actually not only about social media interactions, but rather _any_ of the ways of communicating - and that we need to get a better understanding of the overall picture put into context. For example, did the customer rant on twitter because the call center rep was incompetent and his 10 emails had all been unanswered? etc etc


To finish up, I agree transparency generates customer goodwill, but from the business' point of view, the value proposition goes and needs to go beyond that - answer questions what the real drivers are for engaging with clients. Their are many varied reasons that build the business case ranging from understanding the customer and their jobs-to-be-done, improving the customer experience, innovation sourcing, better customer segmentation, improving employee satisfaction, using this as a change agent to becoming a customer-centric business and so on. The key here is that "being social" should be win-win for those that chose to engage; customer, company, employees (and by extension partners and suppliers).


I probably should've put this in my own blog but this way it is easier than having to switch from one to the other 🙂


So, did I rant to much, or do I have some valid ideas here?

Lithium Alumni (Retired)



Thanks for stopping by.


These are all great points! So many, in fact, that it is difficult to engage them all. Just quickly though:


* Totally agree with the concept of getting the "complete picture" of the customers' interactions. I think this is one of the most interesting aspects of Social CRM. To your specific example about the contact center rep, one thing I would add is that very soon it will seem ridiculous that any contact center rep would talk to you without some knowledge of the social context of the interaction.


* We're actually doing a lot of research on the 90:9:1 concept. You can read about some of it here. One of the key values of SCRM, I think, is to try to figure out what the customer's preferred mode of interaction is an meet him or her on that level, but also to engage him or her more deeply if that's an option. A lurker might lurk for a year, then post something absolutely wonderful, then go back to lurking -- and that may be a great outcome for the business and a great thing for that user.


* You're dead on about transparency. One thing I was reacting to is the notion that Twitter, for example, has to be an effiicent support channel for it to be valuable. In the long run, I think it's unlikely that people are going to staff up their contact centers to listen in Twitter all day long. But I think it's possible that those interactions will "pay for themselves" with other collateral benefits.


Thanks so much for your feedback!



Lithium Alumni (Retired)

If you're still following the conversation, Mitch has a follow-on post to this one on his blog here:


He posits six different types of SCRM communication.


I suspect that we'll decide there are more, but this is really good stuff.


The other conclusion that I think we're all coming to is that the *intent* is much more important than the *medium*. Certain media are more participatory than other and thus more naturally facilitate more collaborative ways of interacting with customers, but as we can all see -- it's very easy to broadcast on Twitter, even though it's a potentially collaborative medium.



Occasional Commentator

The Social Customer is far more media-savvy, thus is able to decode messages and filter them far more quickly. Hence the importance of "intent": if you are not authentic, you will lose the opportunity to engage and the customer will either flame you or move on.


Each medium has its own 'culture' and set of expectations. Understanding the codes will be key for effective communication and exchange. Maybe we should be looking to attract anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists into this convo 🙂

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

@Mark - you're dead on about different media having different cultures, sets of expectations, and so on. And as people develop multi-channel SCRM strategies, they will need to keep that in mind.


Facebook, for example, does not generally foster the same level of deep brand engagement as, say, a branded community. For the most part, people go to Facebook to connect with people, not brands, and their primary mode of engagement with brands is to "fan" them and occasionally to share content. These mores can and will evolve over time, of course, and the challenge for brands is to keep up with that and have a strategy that's flexible enough (or channel-independent enough) to keep up.

Not applicable

Hi Phil and Mark,


These are great point you both presented about Social CRM as a tool to engage a reader or a customer.  Well, I am admit that I am more of a "lurker" checking out numerous interesting blogs, forums, and other online communities (branded or not).  I'm sure there are many others like me out there.  We go around watching, reading, just picking those that somehow become of interest to us at the time.  To engage a customer boils down to "experience".  If, by experience as a customer, I got the help or support I needed, that experience becomes the catalyst for the continuing interaction.  That is, it's like a seed that the community managers can propagate to attract similar "lurkers" who share the same needs.  Of course, we can't ignore the ranting of those who have complaints or unfavorable experiences.  Their inputs, too, can provide a good insights on how certain quarters in the market view a particular product or service.  But then again, how far one can take a budding engagement with a customer will depend on the experience offered at the moment of contact.


I am new to this concept of Social CRM and have been a lurker for as long as I can remember.  But your ideas on this concept somehow engaged me to respond.  I'm not exactly expecting a direct response, but your exchanges here gave me (and I'm sure, many other lurkers out there) great insights on the new avenues for customer engagement.  And I look forward to checking this site more often as I can.


Thank you.

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