With the social era in full swing, we hear on a near daily basis about all the benefits a social media and social CRM strategy can bring. Tactically, they can help sales with potential leads, give service a new window into building customer satisfaction and provide marketing with fresh opportunities to engage and entice new customers. Strategically, they can help you avoid becoming obsolete and irrelevant as customers increasingly go social.

So the benefits are many, varied and exciting. As was said in many a B-grade film, “what could possibly go wrong?”

A bunch of stuff.

Working on a white paper about SCRM failures with Brent Leary, a SCRM guru and small business expert, has made one thing painfully clear: while SCRM rewards the creative and the clever, it also savagely punishes the thoughtless, the cavalier and the clueless.

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Some of these failures are extremely public -- the landmark “United Breaks Guitars” example being the most well known. They befall all kinds of organizations, spanning the gamut from McDonalds to FedEx  to Qantas Airways to even the American Red Cross. But they also plague smaller organizations: CEO blogs may hit the wrong note, details captured from social media by a business may strike customers as creepy, or the timing of a social media campaign may be perceived as insensitive.

Their failures all have something in common: they all indicate points where someone stopped thinking about the customer and the context.

How do you avoid SCRM faux pas? I call it the three P’s:

1. Policy

Generally speaking, your employees, and especially those employees tasked with running a successful SCRM effort, want to succeed. In order to do that, it’s important to develop a set of policies to manage the ways you interact with customers in social media and how the information that you collect is then handled. This need not be a complex document, but it should take into context the nature of your organization and your employees.

For example, at a technology company it’s fairly likely that a good number of your engineers have blogs and discuss their work. Have you reminded them of the potential price of divulging product news before the company’s ready to share it with the world?

Another policy: remind employees that they need to be professional when representing the company -- or else.

Have you standardized hashtags for your business or are employees making up new ones as they go?

These are all simple things, but they can help you keep everyone on the same page. They’re not useful only for casual social media users, they’re helpful for the internal media team to maintain consistency and clarity while doing its work.

2. People

The folks you pick for a social media team (or for the social media role in general) need an ability to grasp certain things: chief among them, the ability to imagine how the customer will see their efforts, and they should comprehend the final goals behind their social efforts.

An ability to appreciate how customers will react to social media messages is vital to writing good messages in the first place -- but it’s also vital if you want to avoid a misfire. Employees with inappropriate senses of humor and a lack of impulse control should not be in charge of the corporate Twitter feed, for example. But, more subtly, the ability to choose the right words in social media is crucial. Especially in customer service, a degree of diplomacy is a must.

To get these messages and responses right, your team needs to understand their goals. Is it new customer acquisition? Is it customer satisfaction? Is it just about building marketing buzz? Don’t rely on them to figure this out as they go: point them in the right direction, and if they’re the right people, they’ll probably find their way.

Much of CRM starts with hiring, and no more so than in any aspect of CRM that touches on social media. Choose the voices of your company wisely.

3. Paying Attention

Your social media efforts can be derailed by sudden changes in the context in which they’re viewed. That was the case for Qantas, which held a Twitter-based contest in the midst of an unpopular labor dispute. The contest hashtag was hijacked by unhappy customers and workers, and you can imagine the havoc that ensued. But the labor dispute was something Qantas knew about -- it could have delayed the contest and avoided the fiasco.

That’s a very public example of the context being altered from outside the business. However, we can alter the context internally and cause similar misfires.

For example, you may discover from a public social media channel that a prospect’s daughters play youth soccer. But how would that information go over if that’s the first thing you mention on your first call to that prospect? Probably not well, since it would come across as creepy. Social media is no substitute for sales talent and common sense (and no, these are not mutually exclusive traits). Once you’ve collected data from social media about customers, make sure that it’s used appropriately.

News events may make a customer conversation you’re having on a social media site suddenly seem tasteless or inappropriate. Public sentiment may turn against you. A competitor may hold an event or make an announcement that alters the competitive landscape.

Be aware of these context-changing events; social means we’re more connected, but missing a context changer means you aren’t connected and thus don’t get it. And be prepared for changes -- they’re the only things guaranteed in business, anyway.

Image courtesy of Suzanne Tucker (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Chris Bucholtz:

-- The Secret to CRM Adoption: Putting the User First