In MarketingSherpa’s recent social marketing benchmark survey, 38 percent of marketers responded that they have not yet begun planning a social CRM initiative. So what’s holding them back?

Most business leaders are well aware of the power of social media and the communication revolution that it represents. It gives businesses a new ability to forge deeper relationships with customers and to do so in a resource-effective manner.

But, like anything that’s done in public (or at least semi-public), it holds pitfalls. Do something inappropriate or insensitive and many people will see it and hold you accountable for it.

Shocking Survey Results

Perhaps that’s behind the reticence of some companies to seize the moment. MarketingSherpa’s social marketing benchmark survey polled more than 3,300 marketers and discovered that just six percent of them felt their social CRM initiative was fully deployed. Another 20 percent said it was partially deployed, and 36 percent said things were still in the planning stage.

However, the largest percentage -- 38 percent -- responded that they had not yet begun planning a social CRM initiative. That’s shocking -- nearly four out of 10 companies involved in the survey were, through inaction, indecisiveness or indifference, allowing the social media revolution to rush past them.

What’s keeping this 38 percent from moving forward? Speaking with CRM users battling to get the social CRM ball rolling can be revealing. One of the culprits is the collection of myths about social CRM rattling around the boardrooms and front offices of the world that are readily dispelled but which still cause leaders to balk at efforts at greater engagement and deeper data about customers.

The 3 Biggest “Impediments”

Here are the three biggest imaginary impediments to social CRM initiatives:

1. You can’t quantify Social CRM ROI

“Calculating a social media ROI has challenges because you have to hold three complex concepts in mind -- traditional business, social business and financial analysis,” said Kathy Herrmann, the author of Simplifying Social Business and an independent consultant who helps businesses develop ROI methodologies for social CRM. “There are a lot of smart people in social circles, but many don’t have the necessary experience to tackle the calculation. For them, determining ROI seems impossible.”

Another reason for this myth is that there are unknowns associate with social initiatives. “That can be true -- but this is true of any corporate initiative,” Herrmann said. “Dealing with unknowns in calculations like ROI is a combination of science and art.”

So, while the blind spots people have about ROI and social media are understandable, they are not insurmountable. Start by defining the business case for your social programs. Herrmann recommends determining, in this order, your objectives, strategy, key performance indicators (KPIs) and your expected business results, including demonstrating a return on investment.

“The ROI is your narrative or underlying story that supports your strategy -- and it’s nothing more than a numerical view of your strategy,” said Herrmann.

Getting to that view can be complicated, because there’s lots of variability between social media projects from business to business. Herrmann and her collaborative partner Dr. Natalie Petouhoff start with a base methodology, “but then each company requires customization to their respective social media ROI model,” because each social program has its own characteristics that impact the ROI, said Herrmann.

“For example, a customer service versus a marketing initiative will have different operational metrics impacting the model. ROI will also be impacted by the social channel. Determining the ROI of an initiative that is centered on a community versus Twitter activities requires different social metrics.”

So, computing ROI for social CRM can be done -- but, said Herrmann, “not everyone can do it because not everyone has the right experiential mix of understanding of traditional business, social business and financial analysis.”

2. Our people aren’t ready for social

That would make them exceptionally rare people indeed. Penetration of social media is tremendous; while people 45 and under have been using social media in tremendous numbers, with over 90 percent using it daily, the fastest growing segments are ages 45 to 54 (an 11 percent jump in 2010), 55 to 64 (a 16 percent increase) and age 65-plus (a 15 percent jump).

So, you say, the customers are using social media. What about my employees? Well, your employees are these people. They use the technology at home, and they probably use it in their buying behaviors in their private lives. They may already be using it within your business for critical tasks without your knowledge.

Another fact: Over 80 percent of companies use social media for recruiting, according to Search Engine Journal. Recruiting has a lot in common with other aspects of your business; it requires tracking of candidates and their critical documentation, the construction of an interaction history, and a relationship management strategy. And four out of five companies use social media to generate “leads” for recruiting and to maintain those relationships. So -- how exactly is it that your people aren’t ready for this communications revolution when they’re already participating in it?

They already get it. The question becomes this: Do the people in your organization who will manage social media and social CRM efforts understand it?

3. Social Media is a liability exposure

There’s always the fear that, when you engage in conversations, you may say the wrong thing. It may be embarrassing, or it may be offensive and cost you customers. In some industries that are heavily regulated -- like banking, insurance or pharmaceuticals -- saying the wrong thing can get you in serious trouble. So some business leaders opt to say nothing.

That’s a mistake. Your silence says as much about your opinion of the customer’s control of the conversation as your participation, and it also says that you have done nothing internally to cope with the social media revolution.

First, you need to have people in social media roles that you trust. They do, in fact, have the ability to send messages to a wide audience on your company’s behalf, so they could cause you difficulties by sending the wrong message. But you already have numerous people in your organization that interface with the public through various channels -- namely, sales, marketing and PR. You trust these people to get it right; your social media team should have the same degree of accountability. Why would you hire someone for any of these roles that you did not trust to represent your business in an appropriate and effective way? Just to reinforce your aims, develop a set of policies for social media use, and make sure your teams use it.

As for those regulated industries: just because there are some things you can’t say, you shouldn’t say nothing. The odds are good that you’ve already developed some customer-targeted content, and that it’s passed muster with legal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with steering people toward this material in a Tweet or a Facebook posting when appropriate.

Social media’s also a great way to steer people toward the correct channels for discussing issues that are too sensitive or too regulated to talk about through social media. Be straightforward, and say that you can’t discuss something because of ethical and regulatory issues in social media, but you can contact someone at the appropriate phone number or e-mail address. One of the watchwords of social media is authenticity; acknowledging your regulatory limitations and working with customers to get them information in the most acceptable manner reinforces the idea of authenticity.

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