Salesforce.com is one of the leaders in cloud computing. At the recent “DreamForce” users annual conference, CEO Marc Benioff was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle as saying “Companies need to build social networks into their businesses or risk falling by the wayside.” His main point was that monitoring social media is the best way to hear your customers. I agree, but would take it a step further and say that social media is the best way to hear and be heard. Period.
I see social media as a fundamental change in how we communicate—as impactful as the move toward the Internet has been. The Internet merely accelerated existing business processes by making them electronic. Social media, on the other hand, will usher in a change in the underlying business process itself—changing how, when, and why people communicate. Information is exploding and in the next 10 years, the sheer volume of information will completely overwhelm traditional ways of communicating.
The ultimate value of communicating through a social medium is a result of the algorithmic filtering of information that takes place based on one’s affinity to people, groups, teams, locations, etc. The challenge going forward will be the creation of a single social network within your company—because initially, every vendor will independently develop social modes of communication, none of which will talk to each other. This will lead to a lot of starts and stops along the way, similar to how PDAs or Tablet PCs initially failed to achieve adoption until ubiquitous wireless access was available at work, on the road, and at home. Social media will struggle in the absence of standards, but we will get there.
Salesforce.com has a social network built into its cloud-based service called Chatter, which is a good start toward socializing sales information. If you log into Salesforce.com as a sales manager or support staff, you may see the “chatter” from co-workers and others you follow. For example, your home page might show a news feed for the accounts that you work with, with notations such as “At 4:15 p.m. yesterday, Joe Smith moved the closing date on the Pemrose deal up to March 15 and increased the probability of closing to 90 percent.” As you can imagine, with every edit in Salesforce.com creating chatter, the challenge will be deciding what news to present to you and in what order, since the sheer volume would otherwise become a deafening cacophony of noise.
Email is dying. News feeds are the future. With social news, a complex algorithm looks at hundreds of possible “headlines” to put in your news feed, ranks the importance of each item based upon your presence, and puts the most important items “above the fold.” Most people today read very little electronic information if it’s “below the fold”. This will be even more the case in the near future, because the action items generated by what is “above the fold” will typically keep people more than busy. Within a decade, being “above the fold” will not just be the concern of journalists—it will be the concern of everyone who needs to communicate.