Salesforce Communities mixes business with social

New platform lets companies create social networks for engaging with customers and partners in a Facebook-esque fashion

Salesforce.com today revealed Salesforce Communities, a platform that lets companies create social networks with Facebook-esque features for employees to engage with customers, business partners, and one another.

Salesforce.com has invested heavily in social in recent months, sinking over $300 million into buying social monitoring company Radian6 last year and snagging social marketing vendor Buddy Media for $689 million last June. The goal has been "putting customers at the heart of your business," said Doug Bewsher, senior VP of marketing at Salesforce Chatter

The offering builds on Chatter, the cloud giant's two-year-old social collaboration engine, to combine familiar social networking features -- profiles, real-time feeds, trending topics, and recommendations -- with business information and processes from Salesforce. That means a company rep not only could engage with a customer about general questions as they might in a traditional support forum ("Does my warrant cover water damage?"), they also can call up the details about a specific order ("I see you bought your device on May 3, 2011, so it is still under warranty") to more quickly resolve user problems.

A company can use the Salesforce Communities wizard to create various types of networks to address different customer and partner needs, explained Dave King, senior director of product marketing at Salesforce Chatter in a brief demo of the product. For example, a company might create a public-facing support network where customers could search a knowledge base for answers to questions or start a thread to pose their queries.

Salesforce Communities mixes business with social

The threads look and function similarly to threads on Facebook or Google+. Other users can weigh in, complete with the ability to Like other people's posts or to tag individuals. A support rep, meanwhile, could post a private answer to the thread, visible only to the questioner. He or she also could pull up customer- or partner-specific information on the spot, such as details about a specific order. Questions that don't get answered in a timely manner can be set to automatically escalate after a set period to ensure they don't go ignored.

Also as with Facebook, users can create polls and events, upload files for sharing, create groups and events, and subscribe to and follow particular types of threads in their feeds.

Beyond creating a network for general customer support, a company could create exclusive, invitation-only communities reserved for, say, channel partners or for small- and midsize business owners or platinum card members. Employees also could create internal communities for connecting across various business units within the company.

Salesforce Communities isn't just about customer service or peer collaboration; it's also for driving sales, according to the company. Beyond offering the ability to collaborate in real time with potential customers, the platform has tools for customers to register for deals.

From a marketing perspective, companies can tailor their networks to ensure the design is consistent with the rest of their websites.

This article, "Salesforce Communities mixes business with social," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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