Why Salesforce.com's Social Media Smarts Could Get You Closer to Customers

When it comes to social media, Salesforce.com leads rivals like Oracle and SAP — and its success could help your company reach customers. Case in point: Salesforce.com apps now work with social networking services like Twitter and Facebook.

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Salesforce.com, for its part, holds a definition of cloud computing that isn't limited to the enterprise-focused software market it competes in along with Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. In many ways, Salesforce.com's strategy seems to include all the moving parts of the Web — search, social networks, instant messaging — as coming together in one unified view for workers.

"It's not only the movement for companies to subscribe to services like ours, but all of them, whether it be Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or Google," Salesforce.com's Swensrud says. "It's about making all these services work together so we can collaborate and communicate."

Beating the Old Guys

The efforts by Salesforce.com's competitors to make their products more social and Web-friendly have either been speculative or half-baked in their conception. Oracle hinted that its newest package of software, called Fusion Applications, would include social networking and "Web 2.0-like" features, but customers will have to wait to see them. Fusion won't hit the market until 2010 at the earliest. In February, SAP launched its "Business Suite 7" software product, in which SAP executives, with a mouth-full of jargon, alluded to "Twitter-like" functionality in parts of the next-generation software suite," but that won't be ready until late 2009.

Analysts say Salesforce.com's competitors have struggled to incorporate consumer Web applications due to their business models and technology foundations. Oracle and SAP garner the majority of their revenue from on-premise software (which customers install on their own servers and computers). Salesforce.com, on the other hand, runs purely on the Web. For customers of Oracle and SAP, this antiquated model presents technological challenges in hooking their on-premise software up to Web-based applications like a Facebook or Twitter.

"It's just generally easier to do with Salesforce.com because [the software] is more open," says the Yankee Group's Kingstone.

Paul Greenberg, an analyst from the 56 group, says that Salesforce.com has not only been innovative in fashioning the proper technology, but smart in its approach to start with customer service (instead of sales) when it comes to connecting its products with social networks. Social networking users, especially on Twitter, don't want to be sold to directly unless they ask for it. Instead, they want to have conversations with companies about their products.

"The Twitter-verse would not respond well to pushing sales down that channel," he says. "When push comes to shove, the uber-benefit of dealing with these external social channels is customer service."

Many companies have had success using social networking applications, specifically Twitter, to respond to customer inquiries. Frank Eliason, a customer service representative from Comcast who runs the Comcast Cares Twitter page, has become a notable figure in social media circles by responding to messages concerning the cable company's products. He says he has been in discussions with Salesforce.com about its Cloud Services product, because, in addition to social networking add-ons, it works with core customer service technologies that have existed for years.

"We are not using it at this time, but we are working with them and sharing our expertise," he says. "We would consider it. It is nice because it integrates the variety of communications channels a customer may choose such as phone, email, chat or social media, such as Twitter. It also helps to align the data from each method."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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