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Another day, another buzzword… Integration is quite a hot topic on these days of predictions, especially after both David Armano, from Edelman Digital, and Jeremiah Owyang, from Altimer, qualified 2011 as year of social (‘media’ for David, ‘business’ for Jeremiah) integration.
Integrating social into business
As many words, ‘integration’ has quite a few meanings, but they all rely to the fact of ‘getting the part to fit into the whole’. From a business perspective, the matter of integrating ‘social’ into every aspect of companies’ operations is of course a trend we will all see happening one day or another, but I cannot keep from being dubitative about the length of the road 99.9 percent of businesses will have to follow to transform themselves from their present state to truly social businesses. Integration requires parts to exist before they can fit into the whole.
More and more initiatives exist which prove the competitive advantages associated to becoming a social enterprise, and the exponential growth of the social web, where most of customers’ conversations now take place, is now an unavoidable business fact, but the vast majority of organizations still do not get it at all. These are still mainly emergent behaviors. Seriously, heralding 2011 as being the year of social integration amounts to claiming it the year of time travel.
Integrating social into platforms
Integration is also a technology matter. In this context, ‘integrating’ can be helpfully defined as ‘dealing with’. The iPod ‘deals with sound’ so that, when associated to iTunes, it integrates most of the ways we daily interact with sound. The result is a sleek, one-size-fits-all device able to generate the best ever user experience while hiding all internal complexity. Similarly, Microsoft Excel ‘deals with numbers’ with the single elegant paradigm of a grid.
We all dream of integrated beauties such as Star Trek’s Tricorder, but ‘dealing with’ doesn’t always stands for a great user experience. Another Microsoft product, Word, for long, is a synonym for big bloated piece of software, with many features one doesn’t even want to hear about. In fact, Word ‘deals with words’ in the same way the iPod ‘deals with sound’, which shows that integration is far from being straightforward when it comes to deal with complex concepts. There are so many radically different ways we use words in written documents that no software can seamlessly integrate them.
When it comes to ‘dealing with social’, large platforms tend to look much more like Word than with the iPod or Excel. Huge sets of collaborative tools clearly do not facilitate collaboration: not even do they facilitate the comprehension of what ‘social’ means. Time will tell if vendors will succeed in developing a new paradigm for collaborative interfaces, but, in that sense, actual toolsets clearly demonstrate a failure in what we can expect from integration.
Nevertheless, we are seeing today technological integration happening much faster www.moneygrampoint.fr than business integration… for better or for worse.
Integrating social into CRM?
Considering the growing importance of the social web, it is not surprising that companies are looking for ways to monitor customers’ activity and interaction beyond engagement in communities. ‘Dealing with [social] customers’ is Social CRM’s ambitious promise. As you have guessed, integration is here too a key concern (or should be); but should we look after integration in this domain?
If I had one prediction to make for 2011, it would be the rise of analytics tools. Dealing with customers means a lot of data mining and analysis, and most tools are either quite awfully imprecise, like sentiment analysis, or require deep knowledge and heavy hand-tuning, like social network analysis. Add to that the difficulty of tapping into real-time modifications of your customers’ interactions, and you will understand why we need much stronger analytics tools than those available today.
Furthermore, a global understanding of what your customers are talking about is a lame objective. What customers want is a personal experience, at every single point where they choose to interact –or not- with your company. Traditional CRMs are about personalized relationships, and Social CRMs must follow this track, and aim at offering a comprehensive view of individual customers’ interactions.
Unless being able to deliver on such a demanding promise, social CRM integration, from a toolset perspective, is quite nonsense. Whether you start from a collaborative or a CRM platform, present offering will leave you with a gathering of imperfect tools for a less than perfect result.
On the other hand, companies’ needs –and will- to better understand social customers’ behaviors grows rapidly, whether it be to progress toward a more social business, or, more often and prosaically, to ‘traditionally’ increase profit through social channels. While integrating social into business is still far away, interacting with social customers is a reality most departments are facing today, to reach different goals, following different processes, using different tools. To understand how social business can drive better business, companies need to be able to reach them, they need to feel the way customers now want to get their jobs done better with the help of the goods and services they buy. Social CRM has this power, and, as fuzzy a concept it still is, its integration into business has the potential to change the way most business is done.