Social CRM is what I call a “bucket term” – people throw all kinds of things into it. In order to define what it might mean, it helps to look at it even more fundamentally. One of the reasons that “social” technology is so interesting is that it allows connections to be established and maintained between individuals without respect to hierarchy or other externally imposed limitations. Social platforms in fact are about driving those interactions/connections, which are necessarily a “bottom up” versus “top down” down phenomena.
Accordingly social platforms try to support collaboration between individuals with similar interests and other characteristics indicating compatibility or like-mindedness, in permission based relationships that often times have a notion of role. They all use publish/subscribe models to allow users to express what they wish to accomplish and also facilitate user generated content that makes the entire experience valuable in the first place. So forget Facebook for a moment and think about what social really means in a business context.
Case management could be considered a type of “social” interaction in a CRM context, in the sense that the case is simply a collaboration point and container of data, with a state, that allows different people and processes to interact with each other about the case. Business oriented social platforms, like say Salesforce’s Chatter, allow one to register interest in various objects in the system as well as other users, and you are then notified of activities and communication from those things/users you subscribe to.
But the bottom up focus goes even deeper. Traditional systems development obsesses over object/data modeling, trying to anticipate the correct classification of and relationships between all data elements you might ever want to use in an application ahead of time, optimized for performance/technology considerations. Frankly, much has changed in the past 10-15 years to make that approach less than ideal. Some of you will have already noticed the phenomena of “tagging” data on the web? And that Google uses these tags (among many other things) to figure out what a web site is about and how to organize your email?
Tags are both system and user based categorization that provide for interactive sifting and sorting, and how you register and classify your interest in something. In terms of using the resultant “tag clouds”, check http://www.infomous.com/ where you can see how to today’s classification engines can make sense of very complex “clouds” of tag data so a user can quickly find relevant information – all without some database architect having to figure it out ahead of time.
This approach allows users to classify data and, in a very meaningful way, to create new information. Where “social” picks up then is to facilitate collaboration and connection with other participants who share that interest area by tag usage, and publish/subcribe mechanisms. In any organization beyond just a few people ,particularly in knowledge-worker-centric settings like B2B service, sales or PLM, you see very complex patterns of interaction emerge. Most role based systems fall apart when trying to anticipate things like a person from one business unit having two different roles on a project, across two other business units. Think this isn’t meaningful? In large global organizations trying to unify customer experience management, collaboration regularly crosses national boundaries, organizational boundaries and corporate boundaries. By simplifying data rules greatly and allowing a ‘publish-subscribe’ model, communities of interest can form organically, without IT having to do a thing.
The other change that allows this is the incredible breakthrough in the performance/cost of data management technology. Whether it’s transactional or analytical data needs, today’s software/hardware systems can easily accommodate the compute requirements of supporting an evolving data model and ad hoc sifting and sorting of such data that a bottom up, social approach entails.
Put in a more global context, someone once said “The first 10 years of the internet were about us all getting connected to it and the next 10 years will be about us all getting connected to each other”. Companies that support this kind of collaborative, social model of engagement must have an approach that supports it organizationally and technologically. As I see it, the only way we can get complex organizations to work is by empowering individuals to collaborate with one another effectively as needed. Social CRM holds the promise of delivering on this idea. And there you have my contribution to the “Social CRM” bucket.