Social CRM: A work in progress?

CRM’s infatuation with all things social may be taking a bite out of its backside. Too often CRM vendors focus on outbound messaging through products like Twitter and Facebook while forgetting about Stephen Covey.

Stephen Covey?

You might remember him as the guru who told us about “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” Remember Habit 5? “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Brilliant stuff—something we all should have been taught at home though I confess I don’t recall that memo. My bad. I caught up eventually.

A recent article in The Economist brought a lot home to me. The article quotes work by Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a Harvard Business School professor and one of his MBA students Bill Heil. According to The Economist, the researchers surveyed more than 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 and reported results that include:

  • More than half said they tweeted less than once every 74 days
  • The most active 10% of Twitter users published 90% of all tweets

That last bullet should give anyone who believes in the wisdom of crowds reason to pause. What kind of crowd? Ought to be the first question we ask, followed by, who is in it? This goes right back to Covey—understand the audience before beginning your sermon. The first bullet proves another kind of wisdom; the kind that understands that membership is not participation.

Of course there are times when the proverbial (or Monty Pythonesque) blind horse could tell you all you need to know, as in when you start getting complaints that a product or process is broken. But that’s called feedback and often we confuse it with discovery.

When you really want to discover what your customers think—their attitudes, behaviors, biases, and unmet needs—it really helps to know that the data you are collecting is coming from a reasonable cross section, not the noisy ten percent. Just as there are names for processes like “feedback” and “discovery” there’s a term that describes that noisy ten percent. They’re often called outliers.

CRM’s work with social media so far seems focused in various ways on the outliers, and predictably vendors are still trying to figure out social media’s true potential. If you understand the value of communities, it should be obvious.