Your company's all over Facebook and Twitter, but until IT integrates marketing and customer service systems, it's all just show.

Doug Henschen, Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

February 15, 2012

15 Min Read

Check the stats: 845 million people have signed up for Facebook worldwide, 152 million of them in the U.S.--nearly half the U.S. population. No wonder consumer-oriented businesses are obsessed with how to get more out of social media, including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

For business technology organizations, the challenge is figuring out the intersection between social and everything under the customer relationship management sun. CRM broadly covers the software systems companies use to serve customers, generate sales leads, manage marketing campaigns, and analyze and segment customer data. Making the connection between the people in CRM databases and their social media personas will require companies to build a new level of trust with their customers, based on the promise of better service and value. This social connection is the key to unlocking a deeper understanding of customers and making more cost-effective use of sales, service, marketing, and IT resources.

Marketing, sales, and customer service execs often start experimenting in the social sphere without IT's help. But companies eventually need to link these efforts to on-premises CRM and marketing campaign management systems and customer data warehouses. IT groups also bring experience in data security and compliance with privacy polices and regulations. And IT can bring a much-needed process rigor: Just 17% of companies polled in our 2012 Social Networking in the Enterprise Survey have a formal process for responding to customer complaints on Facebook, despite two-thirds having a Facebook presence.

Startups Get It

Plenty of well-established companies are just beginning to embrace social: Only 19% of companies have had an external presence on Facebook for more than two years, our survey finds. So there's much to learn from Internet startups such as Adaptu that are born with the assumption of social-savvy service, sales, and marketing.

Adaptu, an online personal financial management and planning service started in 2010, aggregates data from customer financial accounts--banking, investments, mortgage, credit cards, car loans--and delivers budget and financial planning assessments and advice. An Adaptu mobile app includes a "Can I Afford This?" feature that lets people type in a would-be transaction and see how big of a hole it would blow in their budgets.

The service is built largely on and the development platform. The customer sees Adaptu branding, but it's Salesforce's online software that handles logins, identity management, and customer service case tracking. For customer service, Adaptu uses Get Satisfaction to provide online self-help services; a customer can also submit a request for help on the site, which starts a case within Salesforce CRM.

Social Shortfall

But companies can't count on customers diligently exhausting self-service support options before they raise a stink on social networks. So Adaptu uses Radian6 social media monitoring capabilities to capture brand-relevant posts, tweets, and Facebook comments. Radian6 (which Salesforce acquired last year) lists every comment about Adaptu and provides an interface through which company reps can respond to comments directly on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever the message originated.

Adaptu tries to respond in public but resolve in private, tweeting that the customer should email a support question. "If somebody tweets something like 'I can't get my bank to link up,' we want to stop that conversation from happening publicly because it will potentially involve private financial information," says Jenna Forstrom, Adaptu's community manager. If the customer does send an email, it creates a Salesforce case.

But Adaptu tries to keep that CRM case connected to the social persona where it began. Agents ask customers to include their Twitter handle or Facebook name, so the support team knows that the original request came in through social media, and so two case teams aren't chasing the same problem. And once the matter's resolved, Adaptu posts a comment back to the original tweet or Facebook post.

Connecting Facebook and Twitter identities with known customers in your CRM database is important on several levels. From a service perspective, you'll see not just the latest support problem raised in a social comment, but the entire history of support exchanges with that customer. From a sales and marketing perspective, you can correlate social profile information with purchase histories and know more about key customer segments' likes and interests. And with the use of sentiment analysis technologies, you can get trending insight into what the most important customers are saying about your brand, products, and competitors.

The linchpin is that it has to be up to consumers to add their social identities to their profiles. However, as many marketers can attest, offers of discounts and coupons, early product news, sweepstakes entries, or better service often persuade people to grant permission.

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Service With A Tweet

Even if lots of customers are going social, does that necessarily mean Facebook and Twitter interactions influence customer behavior? The short answer is yes. Twenty-four percent of the 10,000 consumers surveyed by Accenture last fall say they're "more likely to do business with a company that they can interact within a social media environment," up slightly from 21% in 2010. What's more, 25% of survey respondents who use social sites at least occasionally said social media comments influence their opinions about companies or brands, up from 18% in 2010.

Companies that aren't at least monitoring social media, let alone participating, "have a real blind spot as to what is really driving consumer purchase decisions," says Robert Wollan, managing director of Accenture's CRM practice.

Whirlpool learned about the risk of ignoring social media in 2009 when Heather Armstrong, author of the widely read blog, decided to take her grievances about a repeatedly botched Maytag washing machine repair into the social sphere (Maytag is one of several Whirlpool brands). Armstrong wrote in her blog that she warned a Whirlpool service rep that she had more than 1 million Twitter followers and was contemplating going public. She said Whirlpool's service rep told her that threat wouldn't make a difference in the handling of her service case.

After recounting her service woes in her blog, Armstrong also used Twitter as an electronic megaphone, warning her followers with tweets saying things like, "OUR MAYTAG EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN A NIGHTMARE."

Surprise, Armstrong soon got a call from a Whirlpool executive and her machine was quickly repaired. Soon after that, the 100-year-old company took to social like a new religion. It set up Facebook pages for its Amana, KitchenAid, Maytag, and Whirlpool brands, and it started monitoring Twitter and other social sources, implementing Attensity customer experience management and sentiment analytics applications. Whirlpool's public relations, customer service, and digital marketing teams now engage with customers through social media, and they collaborate to ensure a consistent brand experience.

Initially, Whirlpool rarely responded to consumer service comments on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter,,, and Instead, it attempted to figure out who those customers were and responded directly through contact information available on sources such as product registration cards. By 2010, the company got over those fears, and it now responds on social media and asks to resolve the complaint privately through email or by phone.

Small Business Gets Social

The most direct way to get to know customers in the social sphere is to get them to "like" you, follow you, or whatever the vernacular is on the network in question. That's what Wrigleyville Sports--a small business that sells sports-related clothing and novelties like a panini maker that puts the Chicago Cubs logo on your sandwich--has been trying to do as part of a push into e-commerce. Wrigleyville has two stores in Chicago and one in Pittsburgh, but the fastest-growing part of its business is its four e-commerce sites: Wrigleyville,,, and Philly

Wrigleyville has been building a following on its Facebook page for more than three years, and it now has nearly 22,000 likes--respectable for a niche retailer with fewer than 50 employees. The company uses the campaign management tools in its online NetSuite CRM application to track the results of sales and marketing efforts from Facebook, Twitter, display ads on its various sites, and email lists associated with specific stores and commerce sites and customer segments.

Its Facebook page posts use much of the same content as it uses in email campaigns. Its Twitter campaigns have to be boiled down to 140 characters.

Wrigleyville's 2011 holiday efforts included a Cyber Monday campaign that offered 10% off. Another campaign offered a $10 off coupon to customers who made more than one purchase exceeding a certain value during the year. The campaigns were delivered by targeted email lists, Facebook post, tweets on Twitter, and banners and promos on the e-commerce sites.

Wrigleyville tracks results using unique campaign codes issued through NetSuite's CRM marketing automation system and embedded as links within the ads. The company counts open rates, click-throughs, and completed transactions by campaign, creative, site, social network, email list, and customer segment. Wrigleyville also knows which customers responded, how much they spent, and what they purchased, so it can measure conversion rates, the value of keyword buys, and the ultimate return on campaigns.

Wrigleyville also mounts social-specific promotions. For example, last year it ran a Mother's Day contest on its Facebook page exhorting visitors to post a picture of Mom demonstrating why she's the biggest Chicago Cubs fan. Wrigleyville tracks purchases related to the promotion with NetSuite-issued codes that tell the company which promotions yield the most profitable new customers.

What is your primary approach to social networking?

Facebook As CRM Database

With $2.5 billion in revenue, 892 stores, and wholesale, e-commerce, and licensing operations, Guess is at the opposite end of the retail spectrum from Wrigleyville Sports. The Facebook pages for three big Guess retail brands have a combined 2.5 million "likes." Companies in this class have sophisticated marketing programs, and they're looking to expand and improve on these efforts with social media.

The retailer's three major store chains, Guess, Guess by Marciano, and G by Guess, have more than 4 million loyalty program members combined. The company manages the loyalty programs within its Micros Retail CRM system. Guess collects minimal demographic information when it signs up members, because the more information you request, the lower the response rate. Once customers are signed on, Guess offers reward points for adding more tidbits of profile information in addition to the points customers receive for their purchases.

Because Guess gathers that loyalty card data over time, the retailer, as many companies have discovered, finds it hard to keep the information up to date, says Michael Relich, Guess's CIO and executive VP. The company does the best it can to segment its customer database with available loyalty program information, and it can also append demographic and lifestyle data from third-party marketing databases. But there's a certain other, very large database out there that Relich and others are hoping to tap.

"Facebook is the largest consumer database of consumer preferences, likes, and demographic and psychographic information on earth," Relich says. "Everybody I talk to in the industry is wondering how to monetize it, so my thought is that we have to try to turn Facebook into our CRM database."

Of course, that kind of connection has to happen one customer at a time and with the individual's consent. One way Guess is encouraging people to connect to it on Facebook is via a mobile app with built-in Facebook integration that can be used if customers opt in.

The app, launched in January, lets members of Guess's loyalty program find stores, look up their purchase histories, and see their loyalty points and rewards statuses. Members can also scan bar codes while they're in the store for more detailed product information, and they can browse and buy through a "Look Book" mobile commerce feature that shows the latest merchandise and related accessories.

The app is built on MicroStrategy's Alert mobile platform, which supports Facebook integration. When customers download the app, they're asked if they will grant Guess permissions to look at their base Facebook profiles and, as a second option, to look at their Facebook likes. If granted, this permission unlocks Facebook access tokens, letting Guess connect to that data.

Most of the mobile app's functionality works whether customers grant permissions or not, but if they do, they can log in to the mobile app with their Facebook credentials. They can also share their "likes" with friends as they browse the Look Book and Guess Facebook wall.

Guess uses the tokens along with a cloud-based MicroStrategy service to convert profile information into relational data that Guess can then analyze. It taps that data through Facebook's Graph API, which provides a consistent view of objects, including people, photos, events, pages, plus the connections among these objects. By looking at loyalty program information plus Facebook profile information, Guess is hoping it can better segment customers and target campaigns.

"We'll be able to aggregate data and get a better understanding of who our customers are, what they like, what other brands they value, what kind of music they like, and where they shop," Relich says. If Guess finds that customers are talking about the new Fiat 500, the company might come up with a contest in which customers can win a new car.

This sort of insight has long been obtained through customer surveys and purchases of third-party psychographic and demographic data, but gathering all that data takes time, costs money, and yields a much smaller sample than Relich is hoping to develop.

Not only might Guess use that Facebook data to offer tailored promotions, but it can also send those promotions directly to customers who use the mobile app. "We can communicate with loyalty program customers through email, but inboxes are inundated, people use spam filters, and the open rates are very low," Relich says. "Now I have more detailed information from Facebook, purchase behavior from the loyalty program, and location information often available from mobile phones."

If people allow access to their basic profiles, likes, and networks of friends, companies can access that data through Facebook's Graph API, but that can require tedious and repetitive data calls. For example, if you're trying to figure out which Facebook fans are frequent communicators with the potential to influence lots of friends, you might have to make hundreds of calls to the Facebook API, according to MicroStrategy. The vendor has developed a shortcut that makes it easier to access and query that data.

Down To The Details

Social media analysis is often rightfully associated with big data: Tens or hundreds of terabytes worth of data might be crunched to develop insights. Sentiment analysis--where companies monitor Facebook, Twitter, and important social sites for trending conversations about products or brands--does require that kind of horsepower.

Supplementing loyalty card and other in-house data with social data doesn't necessarily require big data analytics, because the data sets aren't nearly so large. But working with social data presents other problems. Privacy standards, for example, are a moving target. In recent weeks the European Union has talked up tough data management and data access standards that would require companies to let customers easily delete data pertaining to them in online data stores.

There's also the problem of data quality, long a struggle for companies using presumably well-managed internal data. Social media are littered with plenty of fabricated identities with garbage profiles tied to free Web-based email accounts. On the flip side, though, people who value Facebook and willingly share their profile information are much more likely to keep that information up to date than they would be to update any single company's loyalty program profile.

As companies delve more deeply into the social sphere, they typical start with a small experiment and expand by tying their social efforts into other campaign channels, such as email and e-commerce, says Roland Smart, an executive at Involver, a technology and services firm that helps big brands (including Nike and Cisco) and ad agencies reach customers through social networks.

For example, a common campaign approach is to buy ads to drive traffic to a microsite on a brand's own website. But by also posting that ad content on Facebook and promoting it to fans of its brand, "companies often find they can get 25% to 50% more out of the same spend," Smart maintains.

Many of those initial experiments that Smart refers to were likely shadow IT initiatives, ones run without IT involvement. The upshot for IT is that those early experiments now need to become part of the data management, data analysis, and CRM mainstream. IT needs to build a bridge with the marketing experts in their companies to make the most of the social experiment.

On what social networking site does your company have a  presence?

InformationWeek: Feb 27, 2012 Issue

InformationWeek: Feb 27, 2012 Issue

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About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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