It is no secret that social media platforms have the potential to deliver significant benefits to businesses. In fact, carefully executed campaigns present many opportunities for brand promotion, enhanced customer service and a better understanding of consumers that will foster further engagement, according to Gavin Hammar, founder and CEO of Sendible. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

But beyond these obvious advantages there is also a marketing aspect that, when successfully managed, offers the ultimate sales tool for businesses and can have a substantial impact on an organisation's bottom line.

One recent example that illustrates the power of social media platforms is the John Lewis Christmas advert. The TV advert went viral after being launched via a teaser on YouTube and was subsequently shared and liked thousands of times across Facebook, and shared on Twitter, including trending hashtags. The PR and publicity benefits were obvious and as a marketing campaign it generated a significant sales increase for the John Lewis partnership.

The key to achieving this level of marketing success is to use the social media channels effectively. Many businesses fall into the trap of treating social media marketing like email or SMS - posting updates about the company and using social media as a noticeboard more than a platform for engagement. Twitter, for example, is probably the most successful way for a company to engage with customers and generate leads, the trick is to develop a strategy that paves the way for this.

Going beyond the traditional marketing endeavours, a social media strategy targeted at identifying and nurturing sales leads needs to focus on listening to conversations, adding value and building relationships. This approach is underlined by the emerging trend of social CRM that has the potential to really impact on the sales success of a business.

Social CRM
Social CRM is one of the fastest growing trends in the social media marketing arena. In essence, it enables users to identify prospective customers, regardless of the social media platform, get to know them, engage with them and ultimately transform them into a warm sales lead that can be incorporated directly into a company's CRM system. They can then be added to a relevant campaign, further engaged with and subsequently converted into a sale.

Getting the most out of a social media strategy can prove to be a stumbling block for businesses such as SMEs, who don't have the available budget or internal resource to dedicate to this aspect of marketing. This is where a social media marketing management platform can play a significant role in terms of making the most of available resource, cost efficiency and functionality.

The functions and features of social CRM platforms vary according to the provider. Common capabilities include everything from in depth searches of social media platforms, to providing automatic responses to pre agreed queues or even specific social analytics software that gives users more detailed analytics on profiles in terms of location, influencers, content shared, interests and followers.

Better than going in 'cold'
The potential of social CRM is so much greater than traditional cold calling because of the wealth of information that is available on potential customers.

In addition to the valuable knowledge that can be gleaned in terms of where they are, what they are talking about and who they are communicating with, further research and sites like Klout and Peer Index will enable a savvy marketer to quickly determine a prospect's interests and influence.

More than that, Peer Index for example, offers up information on location, influencers, content shared and followers, all of which can be used to create a picture of the potential customer.

In addition to the platform assisting with the social CRM function, depending on the type of tool set and vendor, additional features can also add value to an organisation. Functionality includes detailed reporting and analytics, message scheduling and automated responses, while social CRM functionality can include tools that enable users to track each customer interaction, categorise contacts, save profiles and create notes.

"There is little doubt that social CRM can be a powerful and effective sales tool. The exponential growth in social media users means that marketers need to take full advantage of the many opportunities these platforms present," concluded Hammar. "However, it is important to remember that social CRM cannot necessarily function in isolation and needs to work with other social media management tools, as well as the sales and marketing function of the organisation as a whole."