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An Algorithmic Versus a Heuristic Business Approach (to Customer Engagement)

Posted by on September 6, 2010

I’ve been reading Dan Pink’s book, “Drive,” and while I’m only 50 or so pages in, I can say that so far it’s a pretty interesting read.  One particular area of the book mentions the difference between algorithmic vs heuristic ways of getting things done.  Dan breaks down the difference between algorithmic and heuristic ways of working as being the same as process centric vs more creative ways of working – with algorithmic being process centric.  If you want the full definition here’s Wikipedia:

An algorithm is an effective method for solving a problem expressed as a finite sequence of instructions.

A heuristic is a “rule of thumb”, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment or simply common sense. A heuristic is a general way of solving a problem.

For customer engagement and social media I feel like we all started off with a general, creative, “heuristic” approach to solving business problems but, as we start to integrate deeper within an organization we notice that the “algorithmic” or process-centric approach is becoming more and more important to understand.  It also makes sense to look at the front end of social media engagement as being heuristic while the back end is much more algorithmic.  This might sound familiar to those of you who swim in the social media pools because an oftentimes debated topic is “how do you take unstructured data from the web and present it in a structured way”.  While this concept is focused around data – and I know folks like Radian 6 and Attensity already do a pretty good job there – my question is around the strategy or perhaps the business side of bringing together structured and unstructured practices.

In the enterprise 2.0 world (or internal collaboration) unstructured collaboration has become the most successful way to approach things.  I believe that this same form of unstructured collaboration needs to be applied to the customer engagement or Social CRM side of things as well.  Instead, I oftentimes feel as though we are doing the exact opposite and are trying to instill a structured way of doing things.  Herein lies what I believe to be an interesting challenge.  I would categorize CRM as an algorithmic practice, one that is dependent on business rules, processes, and a specific sequence of instructions that need to be carried out.  Social media on the other hand is what I believe to be a much more heuristic type of practice (even though many people are trying to turn it into something more algorithmic), one that doesn’t have strict business rules and defined processes but instead depends much more on creativity and perhaps ad-hoc solutions.

So how do social and CRM need to work together?  How do you merge and bring together a heuristic business discipline and make it work with an algorithmic discipline?  More importantly, how do you do it well or can you?  Again, I think this is one of the challenges we are starting to see creep up amongst companies that are getting involved with social media.

I mean, clearly there are plenty of companies out there that have been involved with social initiatives for quite some time now and it seems as though these organizations are quite pleased with the current results they are seeing, but what’s going to happen in the future?  At CRM Evolution the consensus was that data and analytics are the largest untapped and under utilized field within Social CRM at the moment so I think it will be interesting to see what develops there.

I have some thoughts on this but let’s open this up to a general discussion.  What do you think?

  • Jacob – creative of you to draw the parallel between social business ROI and Dan Pink's terms “Heuristic” vs. “Algorithmic.”

    As Mark Tamis told me recently…analytics are the next big everything…while some might roll their eyes and say “duhhh” … ROI on structured and unstructured data in social is much more complicated and involved than any of us can really see. The June launch of blueKiwi (as you know) includes e20, social CRM and social media capabilities–and this year we plan to really focus on the service side to understand as much as humanly possible about the specific business challenges we need to tackle…This can be a luxury of working with an SMB. That's why it seems to me a lot of the best social biz case studies are coming from SMBs. They can afford to try new things. A lot of brands are doing things for the first time–it's important the social initiatives are a little malleable in the beginning…

    We all need to be a little malleable right now according to SPECIFIC biz needs. All their own animal…

    Great writing as usual!

    • thanks, it's an interesting book 🙂 I definitely think the SMBs have more play room in terms of testing and trying things out. They also have less to worry about when it comes time to implementing as they are usually much more nimble and agile.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Chip Tudor

    This is a timely post for me as I've been considering this thought in my own marketing efforts. How much time do I spend attempting to build links to increase traffic to my website and blog and how much time do I spend creating relationships through social media? Gaining notice on Google is difficult for the small do-it-yourselfer when others have money to pay seo professionals. Building relationships through social media is a never ending time investment. Both can be productive, but somewhere in there, I still have to manage the actual copywriting projects that pay the bills. I'm interested in hearing what others are doing.

    • Howdy Chip,

      That is very true, social never ends but like you said, sometimes you have to focus on actual paying work first. It's always a juggling act. Thanks for the comment!

  • Kat

    I think you've been reading my mind. As an internet marketer surrounded by classical thinking, I've found it extremely challenging to explain “Why' and 'How' social media is effective to my superiors. I think that each process does not have to be mutually exclusive. What I mean is, social media is just that: social. However, I think we've all learned through experience that some things we 'say' and how we say them impact the people we communicate with differently. No matter how we claim to know our audience, the fact is personalities differ and the art of communication will always be an art–a heuristic approach. What can be algorithmic, however, is the frequency in which we share or link or comment or blog, etc. Someone may be the best conversationalist in the nation, but if he doesn't conform to some process or routine, he will not be known, not gain reactions and not build his brand.

    I think social media measurement doesn't result in a definitive formula or calculation. What it means to the bottom line can't always be justified in some equation . However, the more it's done (the 'algorithm') the more impact it will have. Analysis of how the audience reacts to within the social circle can give companies an idea of what's working and what's not.

    • Jacobmorgan8

      Of course I've been reading your mind 🙂 I haven't actually experiences much push back in terms of explaining how and why social media is effective as it's fairly easy to understand (for mos execs) that customers drive revenue, customers talk, and customers talk about you and things relevant to you. There have been so many studies and reports published showing why social is important and how and where customers interact online that I feel there shouldn't be much debate.

      I'd be curious as to the pushback you're getting and how you are overcoming it. What org are you with?

      Thanks for the comment!

  • most of the social media is a joke. In a few cases maybe not