Facebook envy: Salesforce's dream of friending the customer

Salesforce.com promotes social enterprise vision at Dreamforce show, betting big on a phenomenon that hasn't taken off

This week's Dreamforce conference isn't so much about major tech announcements. Salesforce.com isn't showing off a whole lot by way of major new technologies (the biggest is probably the launch of Data.com, an online warehouse of contact info for CRM systems), preferring instead to tout smaller upgrades like an HTML5-based app for touch-enabled devices on the technology front.

Salesforce's message is that new technology won't be a game-changer, but rather the new ways in which to use technology -- specifically, leveraging the spread of social networking to benefit the enterprise in what the company calls the "social enterprise."

Of course, that's not exactly a new message from Salesforce either: It entered the social realm with the release last year of Chatter, which the company described as bringing Facebook into the enterprise. In terms of functionality, Chatter does indeed mimic social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter with capabilities like status updates and the ability to "follow" people and data.

But now Salesforce is arguing that the social enterprise is something deeper than merely having business tools ape social networking functionality. Instead, the company says being a social enterprise means linking internal business processes like sales, marketing, and customer support processes to the social Web. According to Salesforce's reasoning, a company's clients are already generating lots of information via social networking that perhaps could make the enterprise more efficient and effective in how it serves those customers.

"Because the point of a business is to serve the needs of your customers, Salesforce believes this overarching business goal will bring the bulk of the workforce into its collaborative platform, Chatter, as it works on customer problems," says Forrester Research analyst T.J. Keitt.

The "let's bring the magic of Facebook into the enterprise" meme isn't a new one, but there's been little pickup of the concept by enterprise workers. Keitt argues that this isn't because users don't want to do it, but because they haven't found a compelling reason. Therefore, Salesforce's main goal with Dreamforce this year is to show that there is a business use case: addressing the needs of customers.

Salesforce's consistent spin is that all its tech announcements, from Data.com to the touch apps, feed into the social enterprise concept by making it both worthwhile for workers to adopt and easy to use. It's a bold plan, and Saleforce sees much opportunity in it. But to succeed, enterprises will need to adopt social networking as part of their important business processes -- which they've not done thus far.

This story, "Facebook envy: Salesforce's dream of friending the customer," 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 developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.