Salesforce.com announces private customer communities, aims for Social Business leadership

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Salesforce.com just announced a new online community offering to enable enterprises to create private communities for customers and partners. This is essentially an extension to Chatter, which thus far has been focused on internal collaboration for authenticated users.

Although the press release says that Salesforce Communities was “unveiled,” the reality is that this was a pre-announcement. Some might call it vaporware. Limited pilots will be available this fall, and general availability is planned for the 2nd half of 2013.

That’s right, a year or more from now. Wow.

My speculation is that this move was a reaction to Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Yammer. Although starting with internal collaboration a la Chatter, Yammer has been rapidly enhanced in the past couple of years to also include lightweight external (customer/partner) communities. This announcement will give some assurance to Salesforce.com prospects that they’ll (eventually) have a similar capability.

Microsoft aside, the Salesforce announcement will no doubt give other online community vendors something to think (and worry) about. Like Jive and Telligent, which have tended to focus more on internal collaboration.

Or GetSatisfaction, a Salesforce partner that will become more of a competitor in the future. CEO Wendy Lea told me that the good news was that Salesforce.com would help validate the market. I agree, but I’ve seen too many cases over the years where the “validator” rolls over the companies that helped establish a new niche.

In this case, GetSatisfaction should be OK so long as Salesforce.com continues to focus on B2B. Lea says the B2C market is “wide open” and that GetSatisfaction has tremendous range to serve small businesses up to giants like Wal-Mart and P&G. A big difference in the consumer space is that companies usually want communities to be open and searchable, so that Google and other search engines can “see” the content. A private community, such as what Salesforce will provide, is generally hidden from search engines although public snippets may be provided.

I haven’t seen Salesforce’s new solution, but my guess is that it won’t pose much of a threat initially to vendors focused on public communities and/or serving large enterprises. However, this could be just the beginning of Salesforce attempting to become a more general purpose “social business” leader, uniting internal and external collaboration.

Oracle and SAP haven’t show much interest in the social software space in terms of standalone solutions, although they are increasingly socializing their existing apps. But Microsoft would take Yammer and make a stronger play in the coming months.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Desk.com is a case management tool for service reps. It does offer a searchable knowledge base for customers, but that’s not an online community.

    “Community” is the newer term, but basically we’re talking about online forums, which have been around for a long time. Salesforce.com will be providing private forums based on its Chatter product.

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