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Whether you're Microsoft or Mel's Meat Market, the true power of social media and its impact on brands is really only beginning to be felt. As futurologist Ian Pearson stated in Gartner's Customer Relationship Management Summit earlier this year, the rapid pace of change in technology means that companies need to focus on agility instead of just optimization when it comes to integrating social media and CRM applications.

Both affordable and easy to use, tools for monitoring a brand or reputation are essential and keep getting better. Trackur, Nambu, and the social media discussion search engine backtype all come to mind. Creating and capturing market conversations with customers has also improved greatly with the advent of online branded communities such as Lotus Connections and Clearstep as well as Lithium's emphasis on community and CRM. We have monitoring, communities, and collaboration: but something still seems to be missing.

We need rules of engagement for social CRM.

In other words, how do you effectively manage your dialogue with the market in terms of sharing information, fast-tracking problems, and responding to questions, both internally and externally, with customers, prospects, employees, other stakeholders, and the public? Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang agrees there's a gap here.

Although social CRM platforms and tools continue to evolve and improve, more attention needs to be given to process, ideology and roles in social media engagement. Process could involve your listening strategy: is it enterprise-wide or centralized? For roles, how and when would online conversations get routed to customer service/support, and when would they get routed to your PR, marketing or sales department? Just as important is establishing responsibilities and guidelines for engagement. When does a complaint get routed to the CEO, or a product idea go to your R&D group?

Companies are beginning to figure out how to use social CRM more efficiently by adapting their applications and workflow and adding more "community managers." These include Dell, Intuit, H&R Block, and certainly Comcast. Several community platforms are morphing as well and show promise for providing more robust social CRM capabilities. Neighborhood America's ELAvate platform, for example, includes multiple components for generating ideas, collecting large-scale public comment, and creating a white-label social network. Likewise, Radian6 has introduced a social CRM solution to integrate with Salesforce.com's service cloud; with this, sales and support teams can cross-reference social media content with customer and prospect information, streamline workflow, and manage real-time responses across the enterprise.

Still, it appears social CRM technology is well ahead of the day-to-day reality of actually managing online conversations. We need more thought given to strategy, process, and roles for engaging with customers and non-customers alike: the next new frontier of social media. Are you prepared? Please comment!