Salesforce’s Answer To Facebook? Communities: A Private Social Network For You And Your Customers

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Salesforce has officially closed its acquisition of Buddy Media, but it looks like it is far from closing the door on what it intends to do in the space of enterprise and social communication. Today the company announced Social Communities, a private social networking service where users can engage with customers and partners using some of the features that have largely become commonplace in this era of social media. These include user profiles, real-time feeds, trending topics, recommendations and influence measurement. The platform also incorporates the cloud-based business processes and database services that form the core of Salesforce’s business today. Set for a limited pilot in the autumn 2012, the service will be available generally in the second half of 2013.

The move looks like a clear salvo from Salesforce to competitors that are also converging on the nexus of social tools and enterprise services. They include Microsoft — which already has Sharepoint and is upping the ante now with Yammer; as well as smaller companies like Huddle and Hootsuite, which respectively offer cloud-based collaboration platforms and social media dashboards to serve the two sides of enterprises’ social media needs.

It is also another step in the increasing consumerization of enterprise services. Salesforce notes that nearly a quarter of all time spent online is spent on social networks like Facebook and that people access the Internet more from mobile devices than from desktops.

And what it also does is potentially extend out the kinds of customers that Salesforce can target with its services: if the comany’s ethos started as a cloud-based database for people to track and reach out to sales leads, this product shows how Saleforce could potentially use its platform for significantly more.

“Today, more than ever, companies need to put customers at the heart of their business,” said Doug Bewsher, senior vice president, Salesforce Chatter, in a statement. “With Salesforce Communities, enterprises will be able to break the boundaries of their companies, connecting them much closer to their customers and partners.”

The move is part of Salesforce’s push to capitalize on that surge in interest in social media services, both as a way for people to collaborate with each other, but in the sales and marketing world, as a way of monitoring how well a campaign or brand is resonating with consumers. In that sense, Salesforce Communities looks like an all-things-to-all-people product: not only is it a social network for users to interact with each other, but it can be used as a place for people to research and mine social information that is relevant to their sales and marketing goals. Buddy Media and Saleforce’s other holdings are not mentioned in the release, but this IP will presumably also be included in the mix. Among the features:

- the ability to create “customer service communities” as well as ad-hoc marketing communities for particular campaigns

- networks for companies to serve their partners, suppliers and distributors, “to drive more sales through seamless deal registration, access to proven sales tools and collaboration with the right experts.”

- creating social networks for specific functions, such as retailers “delivering custom shopping experiences” and universities creating alumni networks.

There is even an element of Facebook Groups to Communities: One customer that is using it, GE Capital, noted that it had used the platform to deploy “more than 50 custom communities,” between the firm and its partner companies. “Our goal was to build deeper relationships with our mid-size business partners across the world, and be seen as builders, not just bankers,” said Ian Forrest, vice president, Global Marketing, GE Capital, in a statement.