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Social CRM: Measuring Relationships (the Wrong Way, and the Right Way)

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • What role social CRM plays for an organization
  • What not to measure in social CRM
  • Key questions to consider when measuring social CRM

I can't tell you how many things—magazine articles, email newsletters, Facebook updates, tweets, blog posts—come across my desk every week that purport to be about "social CRM" (customer relationship management) measurement tools.

Actually, I could.

I could make a pretty little chart and break it down by type of article, and even by source.

And it might look something like this:


I think we could all agree that the value of this chart is questionable, at best. It's pretty, and if we tracked it over time, we might even be able to find some insights. We could use it as an indicator of how much interest there is in this topic. Some might even use it to predict growth in this area of marketing.

But no one would propose we use this method to determine the value of the relationships I have with the topics I'm measuring.

So why are so many brands using tools just like this to measure social media engagement?

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: garbage in, garbage out. But before we can discuss how to get the proper data inputs, we need to explore what social CRM could and should be to an organization.

I was quite surprised and saddened to see a quote from someone at Eloqua implying that social CRM is about support requests (at least that's what the quote seems to imply). "Although social CRM and support are, justifiably, hot topics in the media, calls for support account for only 1% of all tweets," Joe Chernov wrote in a post titled "Your Social Media Followers Are Your Best Customers."

Social CRM is about building and managing relationships of value in a world where brands require a digital and social presence:

  • For someone with a promotions background, that means identifying likely candidates for offers and tracking them through to conversion.
  • For someone with a lead-generation or B2B background, that means getting candidates to self-identify and passing them into a lead-management system.
  • For someone with an advertising or media background, that means paying lots of money for TV ads with some mysterious end result of increasing sales. (OK, that is a bad example.)
  • For a digital marketer, it means everything. We can no longer afford to not attach profit and revenue valuations to our efforts.

I will talk more about building social CRM programs in a later article. Here, I want to focus on a key aspect of social CRM: our ability to measure our success at building relationships of value.

Let's go back to that first chart. It's an indicator that could show us increased interest, over time, in the topic we're monitoring. I could run a search in January. Then in February, I could run the search again and compare how many people are promoting these tools vs. January. Rinse and repeat.

We end up with a chart that appears in just about every social media monitoring report:

Here, we see the number of people talking about terms that are of interest to us, month over month. It could be about product mentions. It could be about key issues. That doesn't matter. What really matters is how this data helps us understand the value of the relationships we are building (or not building).

But wait. That's not what this chart shows us. It just shows us how many people are talking about something we are searching for. They could be the same people every period, or there could be 100% churn with no consistency across periods. For all we know, our efforts could simply be driving volume at the cost of relationships.

Someone usually pipes up at this point and shows me how they are tracking sentiment. Great. So we're carefully tracking whether overall group mentality and conversation is trending positive or negative, but we still have no way to measure the relationships. Awesome.

I should point out that the fault for all of this confusion lies partly with the tool providers. We are all starting with measurements that social media monitoring tools just happen to provide. But what if we weren't? What questions would we ask if we were designing this measurement program from the ground up? What knowledge would we want? How would we design the reporting tools to help us build long-term relationships of value to our brand?

Here are just some of the types of key questions we should be asking:

  • How many of the people from January are also active in February? What about in March?
  • Is there a core group of people driving different conversations?
  • What percentage of these people want to engage with our brand?
  • Is the group that talks about us more often over time more or less likely to purchase or participate in an activity?

In the charts presented earlier, we're actually throwing away the data we gathered the previous month. So the first question we need to answer is this: What percentage of people from one period is still taking about us in a later period?

We need to start creating and seeing charts like this one:

If you've invested a lot in social or digital media, I hope you have a growing percentage of people talking about you or engaging with you month over month and quarter over quarter. And, if you do, who are these people? Which ones are driving the conversation? How do their sentiments compare with those of the rest? Or, my favorite question: what else are they talking about?

In short, it's also important to look at how influence is being defined. Tools like Klout provide great shortcuts for understanding the activity and reach of individuals online. But what if your influencers don't rate highly in Klout? What if they are everyday people who are so passionate about your brand that they are talking about you every month... and you just don't know who they are?


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Sean Howard is the VP of digital at Thornley Fallis Communications in Canada and writes intermittently on his blog craphammer.ca.

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  • by Dhana@Loyaltics Thu Mar 10, 2011 via web

    Nice article, Sean !. As the chart indicates, twitter related apps are increasing day by day, and digital marketers are just overwhelmed.

  • by Gapun Thu Mar 10, 2011 via web

    The challenges in measuring Digital and Social marketing results never get easier. Your direction in trying to measure the dynamics of advocates is quite enlightening to us.

    Have you done any projects on trying to separating Positive and Negative comments, so that the chart will look even more closer to truly useful.

  • by Tofan Thu Mar 10, 2011 via web

    Great article Sean. I'd like to know how would you suggest to measure the last point you mention on your article (measuring the everyday people who don't have high rate on Klout). Thanks a lot

  • by Sean Howard Fri Mar 11, 2011 via web

    Dhana: Thanks for the comment and I hear you. I can't keep up and it's sort of my job to keep up! ;)

    Gapun: Hi. First, thanks for leaving a comment. And yes. We are indeed working to separate positive from negative sentiment. I have found that this needs to be a manual exercise as without being able to train a system within a particular domain, every automated sentiment I've tried has proven too inaccurate. So we are then left with two approaches. Track and log every mention or use a sample based methodology. Regardless of the method you use to track sentiment, I suggest that knowing who is speaking on an issue of interest to you every month (negative or positive) is highly valuable. That said, you are dead on. I would only add that we need to move beyond positive and negative mentions to identifying who is supportive vs. opposed. Sometimes someone can be negative but over-all be taking a supportive position.

    Tofan: Hi Tofan. Thank you and this is a great question. Step 1 is to start to identify who these people are. What is really neat about social is that if you can generate a list of twitter handles that are consistently engaging on an issue over time, you also have access to information on these people. There are a growing number of tools that will give you geographic, demographic and other insights. But at the most basic level, I am interested in how connected they are, who they talk to, where they are talking (if these people we are tracking are in blogs, forums, etc. vs. twitter) and what they are talking about.

    I will often look to run a Klout on them as well.

    The differentce is that I am starting with people engaged on an issue vs. going to Klout or any other influence tracking service to find a list of highly "influential" people that may or may not give a rats ass about my brand.

    uh oh. Am I allowed to say "rats ass" on Marketing Profs??? I hope so! :)

  • by tofan Fri Mar 11, 2011 via web

    Hi Sean, thanks so much for the reply. Reading your reply I bet in this situation Sherlock Holmes would've said "My dear Watson (or Tofan in this matter), it's all elementary". Nowadays with overwhelming tools for measurement available, most of the times we forgot to first identify those who care for us, then run a check on them later; just as you suggest. I guess all this time I had done it the other way around. Thanks again for your reminder :)

  • by Sean Howard Fri Mar 11, 2011 via web

    Well, said, Tofan! And kudos to you for seeing it so clearly. It's easy to get caught up in what's possible with all the tools everyone is touting/selling and lose track of the relationships. Sort of ironic. Or wait. Is that true irony?

  • by Ann H. Shea Thu Mar 31, 2011 via web

    One of the rewards of being in the social space long enough is when you start to see some of your friends pop up, like Tofan! and glad to meet new ones, Sean! Sometimes we have to forget about metrics and tools and get back to basics, which have to do with acknowledge and recognition on a personal basis. But when you get to the point of having some impact, it's becomes so much harder to take the time to engage on a one-to-one. I'm thankful for those who not only have time to keep up with the tools but to report on them, through their blogs and the occasional webinar. It's interesting to see how the best brands really cannot separate the loyalty of their followers from the personalities of their social media managers. For after all, it's the caring that comes from attentive attention on a human scale, and the essential listening and acknowledgment given to the individuals within the brands audience, that really make for die-hard loyalists.

  • by Sean Howard Thu Mar 31, 2011 via web

    Hi Ann,

    Well said and I couldn't agree more. In a world of brand valuation driving up to 50% of market worth, I think it's easy to dismiss the individual voices required and responsible for building the one-on-one relationships brands will be quite reliant on in the near future.

    Personally, I'm hoping we see more measurement tools that take this into account.

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