While the Metallica concert and guest appearances by MC Hammer and Neil Young during Marc Benioff's opening keynote made Saleforce.com's Dreamforce 2011 entertaining, my principle reason for venturing out to San Francisco was to hear Salesforce's vision for how it was going to turn Chatter into an enterprise-wide collaboration platform. What they showed was an elegant, natural extension of their core value proposition as a CRM and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider. In a nutshell, Salesforce wants you to use Chatter to connect internal business processes to the external social web in which your partners and customers live. This is not a new vision, of course. We've argued the importance of external collaboration for purposes of product management and marketing and even profiled a company that has rolled out technology and changed its corporate culture to embrace intercompany collaboration. What makes Salesforce's story compelling is how it intertwines Chatter with its database, social listening, CRM and PaaS capabilities. Mr. Benioff presented this as a three part story:

  1. Create a social profile of the customer. The Radian6 acquisition is brought to bear here. Salesforce proposes using this technology not only to understand customer sentiment, but to take a snapshot of indivdual customers by using their interactions with social media to learn who they are. This information is used to build a "social database" which can round out a customer record in the CRM system.
  2. Create an employee social network. Here, Chatter is front and center with its enhancements from the Dimdim acquisition. Salesforce's social offering has always been a tool that makes processes tied to CRM and Force.com applications more collaborative. The additional Dimdim features manifest as Chatter Now, a presence and IM engine with screen-sharing capabilities which adds the ability to react in real-time to Chatter alerts. They've also added a workflow approval capability to the Chatter stream, which is aptly called Chatter Approval.
  3. Create a customer social network and a product social network. This is the confluence of the first two principles. In the latest rev of Chatter, Salesforce introduced Chatter Customer Groups, which allows businesses to create secure workspaces to interact with external parties. Salesforce also announced a feature called Chatter Service, which ties Chatter into the wider social web. How? Client issues raised in social networks like Facebook and Twitter are fed into Chatter where customer support staff can identify the problem and respond to the customer in the social network where the customer first complained. Tying this together, Radian6 allows groups across the organization to listen to and react to what clients and partners are saying.

For content and collaboration (C&C) professionals examining Salesforce Chatter, it raises an interesting question: How important is collaborating with the market to your collaboration strategy? And does your organization have the tools to listen to and respond to these external groups? Salesforce is putting together a compelling set of features here to address the challenge to working with groups beyond the firewall. Chatter and it's enhanced capabilities are tied into the Sales and Support Clouds, as well as running in the line of business applications developed on Force.com. And Salesforce touts how the AppExchange extends its offerings even further into various business processes. They still have work to do, though. For example, their presence capability is limited to Chatter, so they'll need to create integrations with solutions from Microsoft and IBM, as well as those based on XMPP. And, as Marc Benioff noted in his Q&A session with industry analysts, we're very early on in the creation of social profiles, so the ground rules are still being worked out. That said, C&C pros should kick the tires on what Salesforce is offering with Chatter for the extended enterprise.