Thanks to the social networking gold rush of the last couple years, there are now countless ways to create low-friction customer conversations online. However, to make these conversations count -- driving sales, increasing customer satisfaction or creating stronger brand awareness -- there needs to be an effective way to manage how these conversations come together to add value, otherwise, they’re just noise.

Enterprise 2.0 adoption is driven by the need to increase the efficiency of not just how we work, but how we all work together. Legacy communication methods -- email being a prime example -- weren’t able to keep up with how teams, and organizations as a whole, were being assembled. With the reduction in geographic and departmental boundaries, the information these teams rely upon had to become more agile and most importantly, collaborative. Being collaborative lets organizations take their collective intelligence and turn their systems and data into an information advantage. Nowhere is this advantage more important that in your customer relationships.

In the last 18 months, there have been countless companies founded with the singular goal of taking part in the “social enterprise” gold rush. Point products for forums, status updates, blogging, tagging, etc., have popped up, hoping to attach themselves to “enterprise Twitter” or “enterprise Facebook” projects. While these concepts might be easy to describe, given the popular context they’re in, they’re much harder to define (how does enterprise Twitter of Facebook drive revenue, save money, etc.?).

The Responsibilities in “Being Everywhere”

Since I’m familiar with it, let’s take MindTouch as an example of a company that works hard to interact with our customers and prospects online. We offer many channels for people to engage with us, outside of the typical email or phone call.

  • Our corporate website
  • Or community site with forums and blogs for open source and commercial customers
  • Our Twitter feed where we broadcast company and product news
  • Our Facebook and LinkedIn pages for fans and business partners.

We also maintain presences on video sites like YouTube, and Viddler. For people wanting to learn more about our products, we also host webinars and maintain a corporate blog (this isn’t even half of our total online presence).

Each of these properties includes a mechanism for creating a customer conversation -- questions, chat, comments, etc. -- pertinent information that needs to be tracked and shared with relevant team members; sales, marketing, development, etc. This is where most social applications fall down -- they broadcast very well, but they’re not listening.

Creating the Information Advantage

To illustrate the importance of effective engagement on the web, consider a common use case -- managing a sales opportunity in today’s ever-expanding social sphere. There might be a team associated with that opportunity (a sales rep, a pre-sales engineer, a partner, etc.) and they may have their own interactions with the prospect at various points of the sales cycle.

Add to this the number of online outlets where the prospect can interact with the company during the sales process -- such as commenting on a blog, asking a question in a webinar or participating in a forum -- and you start to see both a challenge and an opportunity.

These multiple contact points can quickly create a situation of “information asymmetry” -- where important information about a customer’s needs or intent may exist, but isn’t necessarily available to all of the team members involved. What about that question the prospect asked in the webinar, or the comment they posted to the corporate blog? Considering the vast array of inputs, the curation of these data points is critical to success.

This is the process of collaboratively identifying the most important pieces of information in the activity stream and promoting them in context. This increases your signal to noise ratio, and in this use case, helps you drive stronger, more profitable customer relationships.

This is the information advantage that web engagement can provide, yet it requires the collaboration characteristics of Enterprise 2.0 -- the fluid delivery of information from multiple data sources to a real-time infrastructure.

This “Collaborative CRM” approach -- the joining of your social outlets with your human-based systems to create a full view of your customer conversations -- will be a key requirement moving forward as these interactions leave the physical desktop and move almost entirely to the web.