Eighteen months ago, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff unveiled a new Facebook-like social networking tool, called Chatter. Announced at the 2009 Dreamforce user conference, response to the product seemed to contain as much apprehension as excitement.
At the time, many of the corporate decision-makers attending the event responded to the idea of Facebook for the office with a basic question: Why do we need a social networking tool in our organization or business?
They could easily see how Facebook and Twitter were quickly becoming essential marketing tools to promote and sell their products and services. But they were very uneasy about bringing a Facebook or Twitter-like tool into their organizations. They were afraid these tools would become a needless distraction or even a disruptive force within the workplace.
Over the last year and a half, Salesforce.com has worked hard to convince its current customers and others of the business case for Chatter, capped off with an intense promotional campaign during its Dreamforce ’11 conference this past week.
The company has given away Chatter accounts to current customers, and it launched a consumer version of the solution at Chatter.com during the last Super Bowl. Salesforce paraded a growing list of brand-name companies and organizations using Chatter to encourage better employee collaboration, customer service and partner support.
Just as corporate executive resistance to bringing instant messaging into the office years ago gave way to practical implementation of the formerly consumer-only tool, corporate decision-makers now recognize the inevitability and operational advantages of social networking within the enterprise. Dispersed employees, more demanding customers and intensifying competition have all made the need for more effective, real-time communications techniques and data sharing imperative.
In the same way we have become accustomed to sharing information real-time in our personal lives via Facebook and Twitter, we are now expecting the same level of connectedness in our professional lives. And, being more ‘social’ also comes with an expectation that the tool will be readily available on our mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.
It’s easy to see start-ups composed of 20-30 year olds routinely adopting a social networking tool to support their fast-paced companies. We’re now seeing more and more traditional businesses and many Fortune 500/Global 2000 companies employing social networking tools as well to energize their organizations and better compete in the marketplace.
During Dreamforce ’11, executives from Burberry, Kelly International, NBC Universal and other major companies talked about how they are using social networking tools to change the way they interact with customers and coordinate their teams. Companies such as Toyota are even redesigning their products to make them more social. You can expect to see many more customer success stories in the months to come.
However, becoming a ‘Social Enterprise’ takes more than just deploying today’s increasingly economical and easy-to-use tools. It takes the right vision to properly utilize the tools to develop and deliver social applications for internal and external uses. It also requires the right level of skills and analytics to properly administer and optimize the utilization of these tools. The good news is that the best of these tools have been designed to be intuitive and provide a basic level of built-in analytics.
Now the question is: are you ready to take advantage of these tools to address your escalating business challenges and capitalize on today’s exciting social enterprise market opportunities?
Kaplan is Managing Director of THINKstrategies (www.thinkstrategies.com), an independent consulting firm focused on the business implications of the on-demand services movement. He is also the founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace (www.cloudshowplace.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.