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IT beyond the recession: Your recipe for social media and customer relationship success

Over recent years, companies across Europe have seen IT budgets squeezed, teams cut and resources stretched. This has meant that for many businesses, the focus has been on simply making sure existing customers are happy, and less on attracting new ones.

Things are beginning to change. The headlines are changing from doom and gloom to cautious optimism as economies stabilise and consumers once again begin to loosen their purse strings. Now companies are looking at once again at broadening their market reach, and investing in systems to address new customers after years of neglect.

So what steps can be taken to rapidly take advantage of growing markets? In particular, what systems do companies need to think about, and what is technology's role in supporting these first signs of growth?

Luckily, the team over at Outbox Group are here to help with this handy three-part series.

First, we'll look at how companies' customer relationship management and social media strategy will change as we move out of the recession.

Customer relationship management

In a recession, you need to work smarter, not just harder. During economic difficulty businesses tend to become less tactical and more strategic. Many forget about short term goals, such as a quick sale or monitoring competition and instead prepare for the long haul, evaluating existing resources, concentrating on better serving customers and developing relationships.

The strong customer base

The key to weathering the storm is maintaining a strong customer base that is loyal to your brand. This is where a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system becomes essential to developing a customer driven strategy. With a range of data, from purchase history to warm prospects, CRM can be an inexpensive way to identify and manage interactions with these key customers.

Inevitably, some customers will be lost to the competition. In a downturn, priorities change and factors, such as price, heavily influence purchasing decisions. While every customer is important when business is slow, some are worth more than others. CRM can help businesses categorise customers, and products, into different groups. This also improves internal efficiency, as more time can be spent on targeting customers who can offer more to your bottom line.

Don't give up on new customers

Many think it is easier to sell to existing rather than new customers. However, just because the economy is in a slump does not mean companies should stop trying to attract new customers. With CRM data, sales reps can identify which leads are most likely to become sales and what they are likely to purchase.

As economies shift and companies head along the road to recovery many can afford to be picky and chase higher sales margins. Now CRM systems can be used to automate as much as possible low end customers and nurture the more profitable ones.

In a booming economy, businesses should invest more time and money collecting data from different channels, such as mobile and tablet. By branching out and using apps and social sites, the scope for interaction increases. As more customer information is embedded into comprehensive CRM software systems, companies can analyse new data fields, helping identify new markets to enter, demographics to target and leads to pursue.

CRM systems offer businesses the ability to adapt to market changes and switch focus depending on economic conditions.

Social media 

With many of us increasingly interacting with social media sites there is a good chance your prospects are present on at least one, if not multiple platforms. With millions of people actively conversing online, these channels present an opportunity for brands to reach and engage customers on a once unimaginable scale.

The versatility of social networking

During a recession, marketers are often forced to reduce budgets; in fact, it is one of the first buckets to get trimmed. To help survive the economic downturn, customer retention and brand loyalty become a pivotal part of weathering the storm. With marketing resources depleted, many turn to social networking to maintain existing relationships and gather information on customers.

According to Forrester, 52 per cent of marketers planned to increase spending on social media strategies during the recession. With so many platforms, to name but a few Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, it can quickly become a very expensive and time-consuming process managing multiple accounts.

Each requires a different approach and levels of commitment, with some better for generating awareness, while others at generating leads. In a slump, the last thing anyone needs is time and budget wasted on pursuing the wrong channel. This is why companies need to learn quickly and implement social strategy that best supports their business.

Social media in the recession

Although social media predated the recession, more businesses adopt social and use it to sustain relationships during economic difficulty. It is now widely accepted by marketing leaders as a cost effective medium that can channel targeted marketing messages to different customer segments. Now, with more budget it is time to take action and convert friends, fans and followers into leads and customers.

Having a presence online is not enough to secure or establish a decent follower base. Companies need to publish content regularly to keep audiences engaged. Developing material to post can be difficult, especially with marketing and advertising cuts. A workaround is automating posts, which can keep you one step ahead of competitors, but make sure you keep content compelling.

In a booming economy, strategies change and businesses take bigger risks pursuing more profitable leads. As budgets are reinstated companies can now widen their social channels and ramp up analytical activity. By taking time to view insights, such as engagement and page impressions, companies can establish social media policies and targets.

Investing in social media analytics is a great way to find out whether or not content is reaching and engaging audiences. With social monitoring tools, companies can quickly identify when customers are most active on social sites and the best times to interact.

This data is a great way to build up information, extract knowledge and take action. With insights from different social channels, this can be fed right into core businesses processes to help identify new sales leads, resolve customer complaint cases, share new product ideas, unearth talent sourcing pools, and build relationships with partner suppliers.

Outbox Group is a consultancy delivering IT solutions to boost customer experience through personalisation, social relationships empowerment and CRM.

For a comprehensive list of social media articles on ITProportal check out our article social media - the conundrum.

At the end of this article are links to many other guides and features on how to protect your social media offering and how to use social media effectively in business.

Image: Flickr (Sebastian Fissore)