Salesforce.com announced the official release of the Salesforce1 Community Cloud today, essentially making their Communities product released in June, 2013 an official product with a cloud of its own.
The idea is to build on the earlier product and give companies a way to build specialized online communities where customers can interact with one another and with company personnel if required. They want to link the Community cloud to the broader set of Salesforce services like Salesforce1 Service Cloud where unanswered or difficult questions can be escalated if need be.
They also have built in business logic, so the system can be configured to send the question to a customer service queue after a certain amount of time. Nasi Jazayeri, executive vice president, Salesforce1 Community Cloud, says they think of it almost like a private LinkedIn because it is an online social community focused on a specific product, brand or task.
Rob Koplowitz, an analyst with Forrester Research says the social aspect is key to this approach. “SFDC continues to focus on sales and customer support as social activities. Extending these processes out to customers is a natural progression. It’s less external social and more leveraging social as a critical channel for creating deeper relationships in the context of critical business activities.”
Jazayeri points out that it’s not essential that these communities are customer facing though, and customers have been using the tools for internal tasks such as an HR Help Desk or a social intranet for employees.
Vanessa Thompson, research director at IDC says this is a logical replacement for some legacy solutions and it comes at an opportune time. “Salesforce.com is not just offering communities, they are offering an alternative to existing community solutions as well as websites, social intranets and portals. Salesforce.com has also struck the market at the right time [when] the enabling technologies that help onboarding, cloud and mobile have matured to a level where they become table stakes as part of a ‘connected experience’ for a customer,” she said.
The product has been designed with Responsive Web Design principles, so it will shrink or grow to fit whatever size device you are using. In the demo they gave me, the product continued to be usable, readable and attractive even on the smallest smartphone screen.
Thompson says this is a natural extension of the Communities product that came out last year, but it’s more than simple rebranding. “This is just a continuation of the existing communities product but the communities cloud is a recognition by salesforce.com that they are serious about helping companies target that ongoing conversation as well as connect communities to other parts of the business.”
In a time when online communities haven’t been doing as well people once believed they would back in the heady days of 2008, Jazayeri still believes his company has a leg up here because they are connected to customers on so many other levels through the CRM, customer service, marketing automation and so forth.
He acknowledges, however, that not everyone will buy into an all-SFDC solution and Salesforce says it’s prepared for that by offering open APIs and ways to connect to third-party products, providing the same business process advantages of communicating across programs, even when all of those programs might not be part of the Salesforce family.
Jazayeri says his company has also formed a partnership with Deloitte Consulting where Deloitte will be offering services such as building specialized communities for certain verticals such as healthcare, retail and public sector. They could also help integrate the Salesforce product with a company’s systems of record in more complex integration scenarios. Finally, they can advise them on the intricacies of community building.