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Social CRM: An Interview With Jon Ferrara
Posted on July 27, 2012

Meet Jon Ferrara from Nimble! 
A view on Social CRM can be given by Jon Ferrara, the founder of Nimble. Jon came up with the idea for Nimble out of his own need. He started to use social media about 4 years ago for his personal life and very quickly saw its application to business and started to look for a tool that enabled him to be more effective, but he realized he could not find it. He wanted a tool that enabled him to manage all the social networks and the contacts he made in these networks, because he did not want all the contacts scattered over the different networks, forcing him to keep multiple tabs open in his browser to stay up to date. He then tried HootSuite and discovered that while HootSuite was very effective to use for Twitter, they did not offer contact management. He then began to look for a tool that combined social media, contact management, social listening, and social engagement, but could not find such a tool. He also discovered that the CRM tools that existed were not even really about relationships. They concentrated on sales, sale forecasting, and manual logs of customer contact, and the contact management actually took place in the Google apps, Outlook, social media, etc. He needed a tool that combined all of the contact management and customer engagement in one simple tool. He then created Nimble. 

Nimble connects contacts, calendar, communication, and social listening and engagement. He calls it a social contact manager or a social relationship manager. 

Jon chose to make Nimble a web app instead of downloadable software, because he believes that people want their apps and data in the cloud. People have so many applications that they are starting to use the cloud for and by having it in the cloud it makes it easier to tie into those other applications and create a complete and cohesive tool. It is also easier to manage. There are no servers to set up, you do not need IT people that manage the software, you do not need to download anything, everybody is working with the same version of the application, and it is accessible from any location or device.

Jon started a relationship management company before Nimble, namely GoldMine. GoldMine helped pioneer the whole CRM and relationship management industry about twenty years ago. He ran that company for ten years and then he sold it. GoldMine was contact-focused and relationship-focused. After the start of all the CRM tools and application, CRM started to move from contact management to sales management and opportunity management. These tools were meant to track sales, access analytics, and used for acquiring and managing customers. But CRM is so much more than sales. It is about engagement with your customers. Customers today do not want to be acquired and managed, they want to have real contact with people they do business with and they want to be educated. Most business use social media for marketing, for yelling at the customer instead of listening. There are also businesses who hire people to do the listening for them, like community managers. But every department in the company should be listening and engaging. Social media should go beyond marketing and should be infused in every department. It is an ideal tool to get to know the wishes of the customers, but it is almost never used as such. 

- Social networks brings the conversation to the customer and in order for that to happen, the company has to be able to loosen its hold on the conversation, because social media and the conversation is owned by the customers. How do you advise companies to handle negative messages on social media?
I think it’s taking it a little bit far to say that “the customer owns the conversation” or even that they have control. I think that the balance of power has shifted, where in the old days the customer was outside the castle wall of a corporation and they had a single hole in the wall where they could communicate with the company, and there were separate conversations without a unified voice. Now, because of social media, those voices can be heard very publicly and can gather together and become a larger crowd. However, that does not mean that companies today do not have the ability to be engaged effectively in those conversations or that they are absolutely giving up any type of ability to affect the conversation in a positive or even negative way. 

I think the key thing that companies need to realize today is the need to be authentic, relevant, and honest with their customers and to be responsive. For companies that have run that way before it’s not a change, but it is a big culture change for a lot of companies. I think it’s going to be a positive change, making sure that the company starts listening and engaging with the customers, instead of just yelling at them in their marketing strategies.

- Is Social CRM suitable for every company, small or large? Should every company invest in Social CRM?
Let’s first talk about ‘what is Social CRM?’ I think that many companies are confused about what CRM is. If you then throw in the whole social thing, and it gets even more confusing. And if you just talk about ‘social’, companies are still confused and don’t know how to use it. I was on an airplane the other day and I was asking the person next to me: “What do you do?” That person answered: “I’m in sales, I sell lighting equipment.”  And then I asked him if he was using social media at all, and he responded: “Well, my wife has a Facebook account and I’m on LinkedIn. I talk to a lot of my customers and they’re not really using social media, so I don’t see why I should use it.” When you get outside of the social technology parts of the world, you see that a lot of people are still trying to figure out what social media is and how they can utilize it in their business. So when you throw terms around like Social and CRM, which even the vendors themselves find confusing, people are confused. There are so many different tools that claim they are Social CRM: social listening tools, social community tools, social service, social marketing tools, but ultimately all of them are really social customer facing automation tools for sales, marketing, customer service, community and social listening, and collaboration. 

Ultimately, for apps to truly be CRM it has to tie back to the storing of contacts, which is the heart of relationships, and that is what we’re doing with Nimble. We’re being that heart and then we’re tying into the social marketing, listening, and collaboration tools like ZenDesk, GetSatisfaction, Yammer, and other products to create a cohesive social business platform. However, I think Social CRM is way beyond most of the companies. I think that most of the companies are still trying to figure out how to have a decent website that gets found by people, and what to do with a person that visits your website, how to capture that person, and do something with it that has an effect for your business. 

All businesses are in the business of capturing the interest of people, meaning they need to attract and retain customers, and today you do that with a website, with content marketing that educates your customer about your products and services, and once that person shows  interest you need to do something with it. And that’s really the cycle that Social CRM starts to unfold. It starts with social marketing and engaging and nurturing with people who show an interest in your product, to get that person to become a customer. Then you need to use social service to effectively engage with that customer and support them in the use of your product. You also need to be active in your social community where you’re able to nurture the community and engage with them and foster conversations amongst the users. You also need to use internal social collaboration, where you’re internally collaborating with your team about the customers and prospects that you’re nurturing and connecting with in your social relationship manager. 

Ultimately, I think that’s where social business is going. 

Today, I think most businesses are still trying to figure out how to do basic listening, which they do with for instance with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and FourSquare, or you use something like HootSuite. They are trying to figure out what to do when you have started listening to somebody, what you need to do with that person, how you apply social selling or social contact management. I think that is the first step and most companies are doing that, they are taking their first steps in being social and using community management. And that is now evolving into social selling. 

- What other social CRM web apps can you mention that are promising or surprising?
On a day to day basis, I use a combination of Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Nimble. There is an app that I’ve been playing with lately calledSocialMention. SocialMention is a tool that allows me to see who’s talking about me and where they’re talking. You can also schedule alerts, which is a great feature. It also allows me to see who’s talking about certain topics in channels, and I can also search for different hashtags about my product. It is a great social monitoring tool and it works great with Nimble, because you can use SocialMention to find interesting channels and then use Nimble to follow those channels and connect with people. I use it sometimes to narrow down my focus, and connect with the people that truly matter. 

Also, I’ve been using Klout more and more, because Klout allows me to see what areas that person is influential in and then I can find other people that are influential in my particular categories that I’m trying to build connections with people on. 

Ultimately, I think one of the hardest things to do is as you begin to engage in social media, to determine out of all the people you are connecting with, who you should pay attention to and when you should pay attention to them. And this is one of the things that Nimble is beginning to do with something called “the Nimble Daily”. In it, we surface opportunities for engagement, people that you should be connecting with and then empower you to connect with them. I think that’s really where it’s starting to get more interesting. It’s not just having all my people and their channels in front of me, but actually beginning to surface the magic out of that. Telling me things I don’t know and introducing me to people I should be connecting with and telling me how to connect with them most effectively.

Coming back to Klout, I read an article that doubts the Klout scores and the way they are calculated. What is your experience with Klout? Do you feel that the scores are based and something and are useful or do you share these doubts?
I don’t really use Klout for the scores, I am much more interested in the areas that people are talking about than the scores themselves. When you look at my Klout page, you see that the topics I am most influential in are actually the topics I talk about all the time. So these topics are all true. I mostly use that part of Klout, just seeing what areas a person is influential in and what they’re are passionate about. This helps me finding people who are interesting to me and to find ways to connect with them on a personal level. 

I don’t think that you should base any kind of decision based solely on the Klout scores, since the other information offered by Klout is much more useful. These scores don’t really tell you anything interesting, and someone with a low score can still be very influential and interesting, and worth connecting with. 

- Do you believe there is a social networking bubble? Will social media still be here in 5 to 10 years?

I relate it back to the way people are. People are social. We love to communicate and talk with each other. We are chemically driven for engagement and social media is just exposing that. I think it’s less of a bubble and more of the beginning of a wave. Social media will break down the whole way that we as a world communicate and engage, personally and professionally. It will change the way companies interact with the constituencies. And the communities will have different expectations of the companies. It’s going to tear down the corporate walls between departments and between companies and its customers.

I’m sure there will be points of backlash. There will be people who start adopting it and don’t see the results they want to see, and people who are afraid for their privacy and what it means to actually engage in social media. Things will happen that will cause setbacks, but ultimately I think that the genie is out of the bottle. There is no stopping it now. 

- What would you say to people who are afraid of social media like Facebook and Twitter taking away their privacy? 
I don’t dispute the necessity for awareness and checks and balances in social media and companies that store personal data, like pictures, passwords, etcetera. However, I would like to point out that I think that our sense of privacy is really a modern idea. If you think back to the community that we all sort of came from, the small towns and small villages, where everybody knew everybody and and everybody’s stuff. There were no ‘secrets’  per se. I think that by sharing yourself, sharing your passions and your dreams, allows people to see you and connect with you in a more deeper way that fosters engagement and relationships. And that’s a powerful thing. 

I developed many friendships through social media by connecting to people who have similar passions and dreams, who have become a network of people that support each other. I don’t dispute that it can be used in a negative way, but I do hope that there are checks and balances that will develop that will protect us from the most egregious people utilizing it. I’m a big believer in privacy and allowing people to have their privacy, but also to allow people to share and build networks. 

Connect with Jon by reaching out to him on Twitter.

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