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Is Facebook Becoming a CRM Platform for SMBs?

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In its quest to become an all-encompassing marketing solution for local businesses, Facebook announced a number of new tools and messaging features for Pages. At the same time the company also announced that there are now more than 50 million active business Pages on the site globally.

In an email exchange with me Facebook wouldn’t say exactly how many of the 50 million are SMBs vs. enterprises — but most of them are SMBs. In the past Facebook announced that there were 45 million active SMB Pages. I don’t recall the company’s definition of active but it probably refers to a minimum of monthly activity.

Over the summer Facebook created a badge for Page owners who respond to 90% of consumer messages within five minutes. Those Pages receive a “very responsive” badge. Beyond communicating that a Page owner delivers good service to consumers, this badge operates as an incentive for businesses to use Facebook as a communications and customer service tool.

Expanding on that idea Facebook is providing a number of new options regarding customer communications and response times. Page owners can now indicate they’ll respond “within minutes,” “within an hour,” “within hours” or “within a day.” They can also offer an “away” message and new “instant replies,” which are automatic (e.g., “Thanks for contacting us . . . “).

activity

There are also new tools for organizing and responding to in-bound messages that enable the Page administrator to see more information about the inquiring party and to better manage follow up:

Now when Page admins message with people, they’ll see past interactions the person has had with the Page, as well as information the person shares publicly on their profile, like their current city. Admins can also add notes about the person, like current orders, past customer service preferences, or any other relevant information. Admins can also add tags to categorize conversations and make them easier to find and respond to later. Notes and tags are visible to Page admins only and, especially for Pages with more than one admin, empower Pages to communicate with customers in a personalized and seamless way.

What’s interesting to me about these developments is that they take on a CRM-lite quality. Pages are now a more robust (sorry) way to manage customer interactions. The history and contextual information about customers and prospects is part of that functionality.

Facebook has been pushing the idea that its Pages are a digital presence solution for local businesses, online but especially on mobile. It has also been building out Messenger as a customer service tool for enterprises. These new features offer corresponding capabilities for SMBs.

Whereas once Facebook Pages were about Likes and Followers, they’re now more pragmatically about customer acquisition, feedback and retention. The company is rapidly building out a powerful argument for its Pages as customer experience/service platform. And that could represent a real problem for Twitter’s identity in the market.

It’s obvious that businesses more engaged with Facebook are more likely to become paying advertisers as well. But beyond advertising and the digital presence angle, what do you think about Facebook as a CRM tool for local businesses? It gives Pages a renewed reason for being.

What’s missing is the customer database, but I’m guessing that Facebook will do something with that over time. (Custom Audiences relies on uploading a customer list/database.) In the interim, do you agree with my CRM remarks here? If so, what else do you see happening in the near future.

9 Responses to “Is Facebook Becoming a CRM Platform for SMBs?”

  1. Perry says:

    So, the cynic would view messaging as the next installment of free services that grab momentum before they are morphed into new paid ad models.

    Did SMBs sufficiently lose their trust in FB look to actively look “outside the wall” for solutions to customer list creation/management and live customer messaging? I think there’s a compelling opportunity there, but I think it would have to be a serious and well executed open product model to go up against the plan that looks to be in aggressive execution.

    Personally, I think Google could be well positioned here, but their pace and execution track record with clean new products isn’t stellar.

  2. I agree they are making significant moves to own local search on mobile. They have several important advantages as we have discussed elsewhere. Agree they need SMBs to import a complete customer list to become a CRM. Interesting to watch. Great opp for FB but we’ve seen other players with similar opps (eg Google) fail to engage/inspire SMBs despite considerable advantages. Execution as always will be key.

    On a side note I have felt for a long time that FB should allow us to separate local updates from social updates. Blending them together means local updates get lost in the noise best case and are an annoying distraction worst case. I for one would love to filter updates from friends vs. people/special interest websites I follow vs. my favorite local businesses.

  3. Really good analysis, Greg. Facebook is the dominant social media platform for local businesses (many of whom are SMBs) … and I like the new tools that they’ve recently rolled out.

    But SMBs should be very careful about making their Facebook page the center of their digital presence. As the saying goes, “Don’t build your house on rented land.”

    Just as we’ve seen on Google My Business search results and with organic reach of Facebook pages, those companies can change the rules of the game at any time. And that is their end goal — to get SMBs to spend more money with them.

    SMBs should still own their own website and email list and make those the center of their digital marketing efforts. Social media properties, and even key local listings like Google My Business, should be part of the overall mix, but they should just be tools to get people into a direct web / email and business relationship. SMBs should not rely on Facebook to BE the platform for their business.

  4. Walter says:

    Facebook knows so much about a Facebook Page’s visitors that offering CRM insights to the SMB’s owner is the logical next step. This could even come as a product, i.e. at a cost, as SMBs could improve their offering based on these insights.

    Already today’s Pages stats are incredibly insightful. Facebook could add easy to read, Quill Engage type reportings that help SMBs identify new market potentials. All Facebook needs to do is keep it more easy and user-friendly than Google’s AdWords…

  5. Greg Sterling says:

    It’s a good suggestion Malcolm re separating the business news from the personal.

  6. Greg Sterling says:

    Perry: Certainly the issue of “declining organic reach” is one that would appear to validate your thinking.

  7. Greg Sterling says:

    Making these tools extremely simple is step one and then educating to generate user engagement is step two.

  8. Greg Sterling says:

    Your advice is well taken — many businesses staked their success on Google SEO and that’s a moving target. The same caution applies here. FB is a powerful supplement to owned assets but ultimately businesses need to diversify and not be dependent on any single lead or traffic source. Problem is that they want simplicity and fewer not more channels to deal with.

  9. Emily Stone says:

    This is a good analysis of the social platform, you’ve mentioned some interesting points however as for CRM tool, I think Facebook needs to make few more developments to give it a competitive stance in the market.

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