Social media has become the new soapbox, and public conversations about companies and products have changed how customer relationship management systems and business processes should be developed, according to a Forrester Research report published on Tuesday.

The report, entitled “Social CRM Goes Mainstream,” suggests that CRM solutions should now include technologies that support business processes for acquiring, retaining, targeting, understanding and collaborating socially with customers. Business process professionals should design their future plans around that vision, it says.

Forrester believes that the social Web is forcing business process professionals to expand their thinking beyond the traditional two-way channel of communication between enterprise and customers to also include the interactions that customers have among themselves.

“CRM is evolving from its traditional focus on optimizing customer-facing transactional processes to include the strategies and technologies to develop collaborative and social connections with customers, suppliers, and even competitors,” it states.

Forrester vice president and principal analyst William Band and senior analyst Natalie Petouhoff contributed to the report.

The social trend has not gone unnoticed by CRM solution makers, both new and old.

New York-based startup Bantam Live is building its CRM platform around social CRM, and Salesforce has introduced a new capability called Chatter to its subscribers.

Social CRM was initially adopted by large organizations such as Comcast and Zappos on the customer support side, but also gives businesses the ability to listen and respond to the voice of the customer, said Bantam CEO John Rourke. That ability has shifted social CRM back to where CRM started: sales and marketing, he said.

The Twitter API made it possible for wide adoption of social CRM, and other social networks are copying its API functions to enable applications to pull in information, said Bantam CTO Henry Poydar.

Bantam uses its service to draw information from Twitter to discover new customer prospects, Rourke said. “We search for ‘Salesforce,’ and reach out to people, asking, ‘Have you considered us?’ “

Conversations are imported into a business process to create tasks for a sales team member to follow up with individuals, Poydar said. The company intends to introduce an API in Q2, and it will be integrating new project management capabilities into its platform.

Salesforce announced the integration of social CRM into its platform at the Dreamforce Global Gathering 2009 in December. Chatter is a layer of functionality that infuses social information into its existing application, said Salesforce’s director of platform research Peter Coffee.

“The most important thing to understand about Chatter is the tremendous recognition of the role of social networks as places people find each other and have important conversations,” Coffee said. “There’s also tremendous concern that there’s a downhill direction of sharing to people you know less and less well.”

Chatter leverages Salesforce’s existing governance and trust model to give customers the ability to look at and edit data items that are a coherent part of the architecture that customers already understand and use, Coffee added. “The architecture is based on well-defined APIs.”

“The world’s leading expert on your product or service probably doesn’t work for you anymore,” he said. “A customer has been forced by demands on their job to find a way to stretch your product or service in ways you may never have anticipated…Innovation is not limited to the producer of a product or service, but becomes a democratized process in which entire communities participate directly.”