Software-as-a-service vendor Salesforce.com is introducing a number of upcoming new services to enable companies to use social networks to understand their customers and their employees, as well as to improve their businesses. The "social enterprise" was a big theme pushed at this week’s Dreamforce 2011 conference in San Francisco. While the company is developing new services to use social networking tools in order for companies to be competitive, a survey of attendees shows that some still have reservations about the practice.
Salesforce CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff compared the revolutionary impact of social media on business to the revolutionary impact of social media on dictators during this year’s Arab Spring uprisings. In his keynote, he showed photos of protesters in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya holding signs that thanked Facebook for helping them organize their protests.
"It’s not too long from now that we’re going to hear about a Corporate Spring, an Enterprise Spring. We’ve seen Mubarak fall, we’ve seen Qaddafi fall. When will we see the first corporate CEO fall for the same reasons, because his or her customers are rising up or because they’re not listening to their employees?" Benioff asked.
In pushing the social enterprise mantra, Benioff and other executives touted new features--many based on the Salesforce Chatter internal social network platform the company introduced two years ago--in a keynote program. However, most of the services announced won’t be available until winter 2012.
Among them are tools to develop customer social profiles based on information gleaned from the social networks customers use--primarily, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. More than just customers who friend a company on Facebook or follow a company on Twitter, companies could scan social network profiles for opinions and other information consumers have on their products and services.
"We’re taking advantage of the open APIs from the public social networks, and we’re feeding that information into Salesforce," said Dan Darcy, VP of product marketing for Salesforce. "But it’s not just the public social networks. We’ve built the social profile from every corner of the business, the sales cloud, service cloud, your back-end systems like order management and third-party apps on the App Exchange."
A Salesforce spokesperson clarified that companies could obtain Facebook information only from customers who had essentially friended the company into their Facebook lists; the same restrictions would apply to LinkedIn. Twitter, however, is completely open to the public.