Emerging applications of social media in customer management

This week takes place the International Colloquium on Relationship Marketing (ICRM 2012), now in its 12th edition. Moira Clark, Paul Fennemore and I have a paper at this colloquium. It reports on our investigation of organisation’s emergent use of social media in customer management. We conducted 28 interviews with senior marketing executives in a broad range of organisations: from small businesses to multinationals, consumer goods to government, and including service providers.


We found that most organisations are adopting a trial and error approach, and embracing a dynamic view of customers. When segmenting the markets, some organisations focus on simple demographics; others use very sophisticated approaches, adding psychographic and webographic elements, and constructing elaborate personas to represent their target customer base.

Other themes identified in our research are briefly described below (and developed in the conference paper).


Consumer power

Interviewees agreed that gone are the days of one-to-many communications. Customers know how they want to be treated. Hence, the firm needs to consider carefully how to interact with them in the new social platforms, as discussed in this post.


Pull strategies

Some organisations create and host virtual communities, usually with limited membership. These communities are based on shared interests among the customers and related to the main activity of the company.


Find the customers

The opposite strategy is when organisations identify the online discussion forums and other spaces where their target customers congregate. Again, users are connected by a shared interest – e.g., surfing. Firms can engage with target consumers by sponsoring events and presenting relevant offers.


Cultural sensitivity

While Facebook and Twitter may be the prevalent platforms among certain customer groups, they are by no means universal. For instance, in certain countries, the prevalent social network is Orkut not Facebook. Equally, certain segments may use highly focused networks. It is important to be sensitive to the preferences of the target customers, and be aware of the specific netiquette of alternative platforms.


Different user participation levels

Within each network, there are huge differences between users. For instance, there are varying participation levels, and there may be brand advocates as well as brand detractors. Moreover, a given user may exhibit different levels of participation and advocacy in different platforms.


Value of Psychographics

Social media data seems to be particular valued as a source of information about the customers’ attitudes, interests and opinions.


All in all, it seems that many organisations – including governmental departments – value the role of social media as a source of insight about customers and a way to enhance marketing relationships. However, early initiatives tend to be rather ad-hoc and lack a systematic approach. This is definitely an area that requires further research.


We are interested in increasing the sample of firms interviewed. Specifically, the sample needs to be extended to specifically consider particular industry, geographic and cultural variances. If you would like to know more and participate in our study, please leave a comment below or contact me.


In the meantime, we would like to hear your thoughts. Do these findings surprise you? Or, on the contrary, does the study reflect your experience?

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