Enterprise Social Media - What's all the Chatter About?

Convergence Corner

Enterprise Social Media - What's all the Chatter About?

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  August 01, 2010

I suspect neither Biz Stone nor Mark Zuckerberg (News - Alert) could have imagined the impact their services would have in a few short years (though, like any good entrepreneur, their hope was they would). But I expect if I asked every attendee at ITEXPO West in October if they have a Facebook (News - Alert) account, the total number of negative responses would be a single-digit percentage.

So think about the tools you use as you communicate with your friends, think about the benefits of bringing those sharing and following and commenting features into your office environment. Now, you more than likely have some of your colleagues as Facebook friends, but while that offers some of the benefits, it also comes with its own challenges, not the least of which is separating your social from your business interactions.

I started on this topic in last month’s issue, discussing the value of bringing elements of social media interactions into an enterprise context. I want to continue that theme this month, largely because in a recent trip to San Jose, our team met with 101 tech companies in three days, and the one topic that came up more than any other was social media. In addition, I also want to point out that we have launched a new event, Social CRM EXPO, which will be collocated with ITEXPO (News - Alert) West, focusing on the impact of social media on customer behavior, and why every business needs to have a social media strategy.

Indeed, many companies are already looking at social media as a mechanism for connecting more effectively with their customers. And they should. After all, the customer – more specifically, customer satisfaction – drives business success.

But, within any business, there are small networks of co-workers who have to regularly interact to achieve success on various projects. Until now, they have relied primarily on email for executing these initiatives. What services like Facebook have taught us is the immense value of the group mentality engendered by social media. Importantly, because all the information we require is pushed to us through these services, it takes very little effort to get updates on everything you need to know.

Even Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff (News - Alert) says he starts each day on Facebook because it is a one-stop source for everything he cares about in his social life – and that’s likely where the Chatter idea was born.

In fact, it’s the same simplicity of sharing on which Salesforce.com built Chatter, as the company looked to bring the same transformation to the business environment that Facebook has delivered to the consumer market. Chatter, according to Benioff, combines the best features of consumer social media applications, applying them to business collaboration, such that business activities are reflected in real-time in an easy-to-access format.

“It’s the same idea as Facebook, where you follow workgroups, processes, and other business initiatives,” concurs Robin Daniels, director of product marketing for Chatter. “It’s not about just people connecting – there are a lot of solutions for that; it’s also about the data and the objects connecting.”

Now you’re thinking, “But Salesforce.com is a CRM company.” That’s true, and Chatter with its social functionality obviously integrates into its CRM systems. But, it is also available for non-CRM users.

“This is really our first app that can be used by everyone,” explained Daniels. “It really fired up the whole company, which is when we realized we had in front of us a truly enterprise-wide product.”

The idea is that users need to have better, easier access to information without having to spend time searching for it, while providing a central data and document store. For instance, businesses can leverage Chatter to replace their corporate Intranets with a simpler, automatic method for updating the documents various users need to access. It also provides a tool for sharing large files – a fairly common need today, with the increased use of video and other multimedia files. We’ve all certainly had challenges emailing large files due to attachment size limitations. A social media application provides the ability to quickly and easily provide access to such data without creating a need for multiple versions stored on networks.

“Chatter is all about user empowerment,” said Daniels. “They decide what they want to use, how they want to use it, and when.”

Based on early returns, users are embracing that power – at the end of the beta stage, Salesforce had about 5,000 customers interested in Chatter and now have some 80,000 customers using it. According to Daniels, early feedback resulted in language he had never heard used to describe enterprise applications – words like, “mind-blowing,” “revolutionary,” amazing,” and, even “fun.”

With results like that, it’s easy to understand why Benioff asked, “Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?” The answer is that someday it just may be, if he has anything to say about it. But in the near term, the idea is that the features that have made social networking so popular can also increase the collaboration capabilities and overall productivity of entire businesses. Chatter is only the tip of the iceberg – enterprise social media is likely to become as popular as Facebook in the consumer space.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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