The Social Stack - Customer Relationship Management

Features and functions are no longer the ne plus ultra for Social CRM technology.Interestingly, what had been historically considered “rightbrained” functions—the emotional and behavioral characteristics of human interactions—are now creeping into the more left-brained sectors of CRM, the technology.That means we are looking at social characteristics.

Unlike features and functions, social characteristics are based on the profiles of individuals who are participating in web-based interactions among peers and, for our purposes, between customers and companies.Rather than focusing on what the software can do, we’re looking at the distinctions between software users, the impact these distinctions will have on customer activities with the company, and the levels of additional insight the profiles can provide to the company.

Thomas Vander Wal, whom you will meet in coming Chapter, is the creator of social tagging and folksonomies—a legend in the Web 2.0 world.He has developed an approach to the way that human profiles on the Web are affected by their actions on each other and the implications of that for business and for web activity.He calls it the social stack.I’ve modified it a little to make it practically applicable to a contemporary CRM strategy.

Identity and Objects
The core components of the social stack are what Vander Wal calls “identity” and “objects.”Identity is just what it seems to be who you are and how you present yourself.The simplest form is your personal profile.Objects are those things that you use to enhance your identity photos, videos, comments, social tags, ratings, and bookmarks.They are often called user generated content (UGC).They are typically digital, but don’t have to be.In a business setting they can be assets, but don’t have to be.For our purposes, they are digital and potential assets.Central to their very nature is that objects more often than not are shared and that is a critical difference between a valueless object and a valuable object.Also of Social CRM importance, collaboration can alter the nature of an object.

While there are two core components, each of them is affected by a separate group of characteristics that affect the way they interact.These are active elements.I’ll explain each and then apply them in a way that shows how they work in the real world.
Identity and Objects
The elements of the social stack

  • Presence This is most commonly seen through instant messaging.You probably don’t think twice about it, you’re so used to seeing it.When one of your instant messaging buddies is online, you’re notified and you know they are online.Presence also lets you know how they want to be contacted when they are online.That’s why you see “away, ”“not available, ”and so on as options in IM.This is presence, pure and simple.When location becomes a factor, it gets considerably more complex, but also eminently more interesting.For example, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec) uses a presence-based routing system at their helpdesk.Based on a caller’s profile attributes such as role, language, current or historic activity, the call is routed to the appropriate person automatically without a lot of major expenditure on call center applications.(See “Context” below as another active element in this sequence.)
  • Actions This is straightforward.You upload a photo, comment on a video, send a message—pretty much anything you can do with a verb that’s related to the objects and the identity.
  • Sharing This is the singular element.A private object, one not shared, is one that has little value.For example, shooting a video is not unique, new, or even evolutionary.Home videos have been shot ever since families acquired analog cameras to shoot them. I still remember the home movies that my family took, which we played on a reel projector.They fit the definition of an object.But there was no real extant value to that object.Sentimental value, sure.But it didn’t and doesn’t have the impact of a shared video on YouTube that materially affects the world in some concrete way.For example, take a look at the Obama Girl video on YouTube.It has been seen by nearly 15 million people at the time I wrote this chapter.Articles have appeared on the value this video spoof with a gorgeous female had for the Obama campaign because of the increase in interest and visibility the viral nature of the video allowed.The social action around sharing the object makes the difference.Digital formats and devices that can handle videos have made producing them an easier task.But it is uploading them to YouTube that begins the social act.You are licensing them to be shared so that actions(the video is viewed;someone comments) can be taken with your permission.The act of uploading is the agreement to share.
  • Reputation best understood by the following question:“Do I trust the action that this person is taking or the object that this person is providing?” Your level of trust is based on this person’s shared reputation or perhaps their reputation with you individually.Reputation is one of the most complex characteristics you’re goin to have to consider with your customers.It is not identifiable through a tool or an application, yet how you interact with that customer and they with their community is affected by the reputation of whom you are interacting with.For example, if an expert in CRM whom you don’t personally know recommends that you subscribe to a blog, how much more likely is it that you will than if a stranger who is an expert in animal husbandry or a friend who may or may not be a CRM savant suggests the same thing?Reputation can be enhanced by the participation of individuals in collaborative environments, like wikis or communities.In a joint study done by faculty from USC and City University of Hong Kong on the sustainability and benefits of wikis, between 23 and 29 percent of the respondents found that wiki participation enhanced their reputations by earning the respect of others(28 percent);improved their professional standing(23 percent);and improved their reputation within the company(29 percent).
  • Relationships These are the interactions between people who choose to engage based on reputations.This is an obviously important characteristic because it is how people trust the results of the actions—if the reputation and relationship work, the collaboration or interaction result is all the more trustworthy.
  • Conversation As I’ve stated about a million times already, one of the most important mantras of the 21st century is that the relationship between the company and the customer has shifted from the company pushing “stuff at the customer to a conversation between the company and the customer.That means that the customer collaborates with the company to create the appropriate experiences that are valued by the customer and the company is rewarded in return.How these conversations are structured, what modes for carrying them out are provided, and what information is captured are dependent on what kind of strategies you are building to enhance peer-to-peer and peer-to-company communications.The conversation between any two communicators is very much built along the same lines and can be done via synchronous (e.g., IM) or asynchronous (e.g., e-mail) methods.Conversations can be structured so they occur in user communities or forums.They can be around a specific topic or they can be outcome based—a specific community or group formed to accomplish a specific task.But the conversation needs to be fostered as a major characteristic of the new CRM strategy and program.
  • Groups These are organized most frequently as communities of interest or practice that consist of those who care to interact around a specific domain.They are created by the practitioners of the common interest—a self-organized, member-created group or by the owners of the real estate in which the group resides, such as a club that does business in California, created by JetBlue.
  • Collaboration This is one of the characteristics with the most measurable and valuable benefits.It is typically represented by a central location that provides the tools, experiences, products (applications), and services (experts) to collaborate around building specific objects.This could mean a wiki on developing a SugarCRM module or a body of knowledge around business travel or business practices in China.

There’s one more element I added to the stack—an important characteristic that underlies several of these:

  • Context This is how the profile you create is used to define what you want and what you see and when you see it.So you will see a business car rental price based on your requirements which you don’t have to search for it is there because you have logged in and given permission for the car rental company to access your profile.It is also which friends you are automatically engaged with when you log in and which ones you aren’t.In effect, it is all you need to have at your fingertips during the appropriate times so you can take actions that make sense to you.

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