Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Closer Look at’s “Social Enterprise” Strategy

At the annual Dreamforce conference last week,’s Marc Benioff unveiled his company’s “Social Enterprise” initiative before a very crowded and highly enthusiastic audience.  In the first of his two keynotes, Mr. Benioff described his plans for social networks for employees, customers, and products.   This post looks specifically at those offerings.  Look for other Dreamforce analysis to follow.
In my view, the company’s collective genius comes in delivering brand-new-to-the-market-software while simultaneously providing dramatic improvements on existing concepts.  For example, any one who built an intranet portal using Plumtree or worked on the internal team that created IBM’s BluePages, could argue that they were ahead of the curve on employee social networks.  Likewise, Communispace would claim that it has a 12-year head start developing digital communities around consumer brands.
The difference, though, is in salesforce’s ability to seamlessly integrate/embed all of the new software into its existing platform.  It then leverages its user experience to create strong, favorable buzz, stimulate global demand, and execute on a broad scale. 
If you’re thinking that my view may have been altered by standing too close to the stage while Metallica performed at the opening night soiree, then you don’t understand the rapport that Mr. Benioff and team have with their customers.  It’s very Apple-like.
 Here’s a closer look at the three new social networks, and some speculation on what could come next.
Employee social networks:  What does your company use to help speed information-sharing? 
How do you find out about the status of a development project or a large $MM deal?  Do you subscribe to those teams or do you email/call friends involved?  Tools like Yammer are OK if you want people to know what you’re doing, but they were not designed for real-time collaboration.’s Chatter changes all of that.  During the opening keynote, I sat next to one of the company’s top executives.  Pointing to his iPad, he showed me how he used it to keep track of specific deals, customers, sales teams, and documents.  The new release of Chatter adds support for presence, chat, sharing, workflow, and approvals.  There is also an API for third party vendors so that their apps can “talk” to Chatter.  Chatter also allows customers and partners to be linked in to the conversation.
The only pieces missing seemed to be a template for actually creating an employee profile and a framework for talent management.  While you could use your LinkedIn profile as a base, that’s really designed to attract attention outside of your company.  In addition, there’s a lot of proprietary information that you would not put into that network.  (Note:  Many customers use to create these employee-centric applets/applications.)
Customer social networks:  Extending your brand
The best argument for customer social networks came when Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts joined Mr. Benioff on stage.  Ms. Ahrendts had a slide of the napkin that Mr. Benioff had used to draw all of the links between her company’s goals and the various constituencies that her company serves, and the various ways that his company could help hers.  She then described how Mr. Benioff had whipped out his iPhone to snap a photo of the results of their impromptu brainstorming session and then emailed it to his team to solicit input for how they could best help the $2B fashion leader.  Immediately, ideas come in from around the globe via Chatter.
Burberry’s employees tend to be young – more than 70% are under 30.  This Facebook generation is a natural for collaboration tools like Chatter.  Its employee social network appears to be tightly linked to the new product launch of Burberry Body fragrance.  Combining the two networks creates a high level of transparency around the campaign and results.
There’s more to customer social nets than Chatter and a cool website.  There’s also the ability to monitor and respond to all of the comments that consumers are making about your brand.  As Mr. Benioff noted, there’s a lot of social traffic to navigate.  Every day more than 200 million tweets traverse the globe.  Meanwhile, you and your peers are updating your Facebook page to the tune of 1.5 billion posts a day.
Again, there have been tools like Umbria that provide sentiment analysis.  Let me remind you though that the salesforce difference is that everything is seamlessly integrated into the core.  There’s no jumping in and out of disconnected apps or multiple log-ins and windows.  It’s all right there on your laptop, iPad, or smart-phone.
One last point, I see customer social networks (and the product version, too) as creating a whole new sales channel in the creative community, especially the interactive agencies who want to leverage their research capabilities and creative skills.  This has enormous potential.
Product social networks:  Linking to the Internet of Things
Four years ago Mr. Benioff used the Dreamforce stage to unveil Ideas, a website designed to gather customer likes /dislikes on products, services, and policies.  This started as an internal tool and quickly spread to Dell and Starbucks.  Thanks to one customer’s post on, coffee drinkers now have the option of putting a “splash stick” in the hole on the lid to keep the contents in the cup.
While Ideas seems to have receded into the archives, I was really intrigued by the concept of a product social network.  The idea came from discussions that Mr. Benioff had had with Toyota. Instead of friending the car company, your BFF could be your Prius.
Personally, I couldn’t imagine being a frequent visitor to a car company’s website.  But, if I was a Prius owner, I might be interesting in improving my mileage or extending the life of the vehicle.  In the future, after your commute home, your Prius could connect to and report the number of miles driven, the average speed, and details about fuel consumption.  In the morning a message could be pushed to your iPhone offering a graph on how you did yesterday against your peers and offering suggestions for improvement.
There are already tools like that in use today.  Nike and Adidas have designed software for runners that track distances, speed, and performance relative to goals.  Wait until this expands to other exercise equipment, medical devices, and prescription drugs.
The product social network has already extended into routers from Enterasys.  While I’m not sure what kind of conversation you could have with a piece of networking gear, I can envision a world where sensors and the physical plant can provide status reports and alerts over Chatter.
Where will salesforce go next with social networks?
Given my background as a long-time supply chain analyst, I would assume that someone inside is already thinking about social networks for suppliers, trading partners, logistics, and distribution. 
Product lifecycle management is another area ripe for information sharing and collaboration.  I remember the bewildered looks on the faces of PTC executives when I suggested that they add market-related information to Windchill. 
I would also look for social networks geared around the public sector – whether something like an Open311 initiative for a municipality or a campus-wide offering for your alma mater covering everything from curricula to intramural sports or a hub for your favorite cultural activity or charity.  All could benefit from getting closer to constituents. 
I could also make the case for social networks built around your favorite sport/sports team or hobby.  Think of the opportunities for highly targeted marketing.
And lastly, what about the home version?  Forget about emailing or texting your spouse and kids.  Set up Chatter streams to track activities, projects, vacations, family obligations, homework, and the like.
What do you think?
OK, OK, so maybe I’ve gotten way ahead of where is headed.  I did want you to get a sense for why I think the social enterprise/social economy is such a Big Idea.
As always, I welcome your feedback and ideas.  Please add your thoughts to the conversation.


  1. Bruce, I do not think you are getting ahead of yourself or with your comments. I think they are right on the money. As an aside, I am teaching 2 classes this semester at NJIT and one is Professional Sales and there is a Salesforce.Com lab exercise built into each weeks assignments for the students. So graduates will be entering the workforce with a sound understanding of this tool. Great comments and I will use them with my class. Best wishes

  2. Bruce - interesting points of view and a good depiction of what the horizon may have in store for companies and personal consumption in the social elements. My thoughts are how far down the road are your projections given that many companies are struggling to identify what a true social strategy is? Also, is there a contingency between adoption in the corporate world before there is adoption in the personal world (i.e. Chatter for the family household)?