Salesforce.com Chatter Teaches Lessons About Social Networks

We've all heard the noise about the Chatter application. But it's not just noise, it's a serious experiment in applying social networking inside the enterprise. What can you learn from it for your other IT initiatives?

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Contrast that to classic CRM access, which is more modal:

• Power users who are on several hours a day via a browser, motivated by the need to access and update specific records.

• Road warriors who are on sporadically via their mobile device, typically searching for specific data points or status changes.

• Executives who log on infrequently via a browser, looking for dashboards, reports, or global updates.

Because Chatter mixes classic CRM with social networking, we'll all be discovering some new patterns in access, user personas, device preference (watch out for iPads!), and document storage.

Usability Lessons

The Chatter development team talked with the folks at Twitter, Facebook, Google, and elsewhere to trade ideas about user interface. It goes without saying that simplicity and intuitiveness are the first steps towards user adoption. But it's not just a nice look and feel.

The UI must offer some new value to users. In the case of CRM, this meant providing new group / workspace metaphors that allowed users to collaborate on a project or solving a problem, rather than just inspecting an abstract record. It meant providing a different way of sharing document drafts and commentary. And it meant providing a publish/subscribe model for status updates that could actually reduce the need for internal e-mails over time.

Taking the historical perspective, it took us years to truly integrate e-mail into the way we communicate and manage information. In the process, users changed e-mail (with attachments, better tools, and more complex policies) as much as e-mail changed user habits (the way we spend our time and organize information). This same process is just starting with social networking in the enterprise, and the evolution on both sides will take a while.

David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, "Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel, and India, and David has over 25 years experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.

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