Social CRM is a big red London bus

By Richard Hughes on November 04, 2011

I had the pleasure of speaking at Social CRM New York yesterday. It was a great day, with lots of great speakers and case studies of social CRM in action. 

I presented The Rise of Social CRM – What It Means To Your Company in which I likened Social CRM to a big red London bus. Anyone viewing the slides who wasn’t at the event is going to find this metaphor a little baffling, so let me explain…

The first time I ever went to New York was in 1997. I must admit, I can’t remember exactly what the purpose of the trip was, but I do remember having a bit of time to walk around the city. I remember thinking that so much of the city looks just it does in TV, so I already felt fairly familiar with it.

But the one sight which I’ve never forgotten was going to the top of the Empire State Building and looking down. Nothing you could see on TV could ever come close to seeing that for real. I remember looking down and seeing all the tiny yellow cabs buzzing around the city.

Of course, the yellow cab is another iconic image of New York. And it occurred to me many years later that New York yellow cabs are quite a good metaphor for how we used the internet in the first 10 years or so. Lots of individuals moving around the web independently, all going to different places. And if you’re a retailer, a manufacturer, a supplier, a brand on the web, when the customer came to your site, you were firmly in control. You were driving the cab. 

But the web has moved on a lot since then. And these days, I think the iconic image of another city now symbolises the way we use the web. A big red London bus. 

Travelling on a bus is great, isn’t it? It’s cheap. You can get on the bus with all your friends and have laugh. Far more social than being in a cab on your own. 

It’s often struck me that conversations on social media are just like conversations on buses. The friends having a private conversation on Facebook are suddenly appalled when they realise that everyone else can hear what they’re saying because they forgot to talk a bit more quietly. And the self-important guy yelling trivialities into his cellphone making people listen to him whether they want to or not has a lot of similarities with Twitter.

All of which makes the bus a pretty noisy place to be. And this most social form of transport can end up hosting some pretty anti-social behaviour.

So where are you on this bus? You, the retailer. You, the brand.

You didn’t think you were the driver did you? You didn’t think you could go back there and throw the guys causing the trouble off the bus? Oh no. You’re not the driver. It’s the social media services themselves, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. They own the bus and pay the driver. You’re just another one of the passengers. So when the other guys on the bus start talking about you, saying bad things about you, what are you going to do?

Are you going to just turn up the volume on your iPod and try and block it out? 

Or are you going get off the bus completely?

Are you going to yell back at them? That could be a bit risky – you never know how that’s going to work out.

Or are you maybe going to sit down the other passengers, and talk to them?

Social CRM is about sitting down with other passengers on the bus, listening to what they have to say and understanding their opinion.

So if you’re going to ride on the Social CRM bus, there’s really not a lot of point sitting there on your own with your headphones on, wearing a t-shirt that says “please Like me”. And there’s no point yelling at the other passengers if they say things you don’t like.

If you’re going to ride on the bus, you really need to sit down, talk to the other passengers and enjoy the ride.

This post is also published on enterprisinglysocial.com.