The Future of Twitter: Social CRM

Twitter has multiple business models to choose from
I get asked over and over: “How do you think Twitter will monetize? What’s their business model?” While it’s clear they’re already experimenting with ‘house’ ads, ads that promote features of their service, I’m not sure that’s going to be the right direction for them. We already know that click through rates on social networks are low, why? because people are there to communicate with each other –not search for information like Google or on a media site. It’s possible they could turn on ads in the search tool, as people are seeking information. Yet all of these tactics have been done on other social sites, I think that Twitter has a unique opportunity to tap into the lucrative CRM space.

Manually tracking a large brand within Twitter isn’t scalable
It’s important to first realize that managing a large brand on Twitter isn’t scalable, with hundreds –maybe thousands of tweets about a marketplace a day, individuals will have a very difficult time managing, Brian Solis has some relevant stats on growth. The next challenge? determining who these people are, and if they are a potential customer is important, who are these people, are they important, where do they live? Lastly, responding in near real time is going to be key –as some users may ask their peers for product recommendations during point of sale, right in the store.

Twitter has two of the three key features of a CRM system
First, let’s break down why Twitter is going to be a Social CRM, let’s start by analyzing what entails Customer Relationship Management:

1) Customers: Yes, they got that. More than that, they have prospects, which to some marketers is far more valuable. As prospects start to talk about products, they’re indicating engagement, and could be further down the buying process. Both are valuable, however the challenge is mapping which Twitter ID is which customer –many don’t use their real names.

2) Relationships: Got that too. Now I realize that the intended definitions of CRM meant the relationships between customers and employees of a brand, but now you can see how people in Twitter are connecting to each other, and those that follow a brand, their indicating affinity towards them. The interesting thing is they don’t just offer affinity towards your brand, but also competitors, which helps in segmenting your market, and can help with poaching.

3) Management: Here lies the opportunity Twitter has no management tools to support this, as a result, their data is being whisked away in the API and being aggregated by two types of companies. The first company? Traditional CRM companies are importing the data into their own systems, in fact we know bits and pieces of this are happening for Facebook. Secondly, brand monitoring companies like Radian6, are importing twitter data into their listening platforms, and then offering simple workflow and task management.

CRM Incumbents Moving In
Today, SalesForce announces it’s integration with Twitter, or at least, their aggregation of their data in what’s called the ‘Twitter Firehose’ in order to suck in the discussions and allow it to be managed within the SalesForce system. As a result, brands will start to monitor –then manage– the discussions that happen online. I was briefed by Clara Shih (related book), the creator of FaceForce (now called Faceconnector) (Facebook + SalesForce integration) last week, and while I think they’ve taken one step forward –there’s more to be done in confirming IDs, influence, and intent to buy. Update: Here’s the Service Cloud site, which emphasizes customer service and support.

Twitter’s Opportunity –should they decide to take it
Although they have not directly said it, I think Twitter can go further than this, they could be their own CRM system, by perhaps offering their own analytics system to brands, that will help them to track and manage the conversations within the 140 sphere. This has tremendous opportunities for Twitter should they create their own brand management system that they can resell to the world’s companies to monitor, alert, track, prioritize, triage, assign, followup, and report on the interactions with brands. The myriad of authority based tools will need to be incorporated, as some users have a larger network and are therefore more influential than others. On the other hand, they just might leave the firehose open for the incumbent CRM companies to take advantage of –and miss this opportunity, hell, Scoble is already expecting brands to contact him when he has a major life event. Either way, with a recent funding amount of $35mm, they’ve enough run rate to first manage growth, then prepare for monetization.

There are a few layers when it comes to how Social CRM can evolve, I’ll save that for a future post. On a related note, this is one of the key findings from our many interviews for the upcoming report: The Future of the Social Web.