Chatter, Salesforce.com’s social collaboration tool goes GA today — that’s general availability for the acronym challenged among us. I think it’s a good thing for many reasons.
Chatter is new, perhaps a new category of business software and that’s something we haven’t seen in a while. It took the company only eight months to go from concept to today, a great performance for any software vendor but even more so for not only building but inventing something like this. It’s a tribute to the people involved but also the Forcce.com platform, which underpins the new application. I’ll let you read some other writers to learn more about Chatter’s functionality and, instead, skip to the thing that I think is most important.
Chatter is arguably the first bit of social business software that was built for the unique demands of the business environment. Prior to Chatter we have a raft of software that was built, in some cases in a dorm room, to enhance the personal social outreach of its users. While those tools are good and worthy and most of you reading this already use them, you have to admit that in a business context they leave a lot to be desired.
Applying personal social software to business reminds me of early attempts at building a flying machine — like those grainy black and white movies with syncopated piano music backgrounds of early test flights. They could have been scripted — an inventor straps wings to his back and jumps off a bridge. You know what happens. To me, that’s what personal social media in business has been, great hopes, an adrenalin rush and cold water in the face.
The lesson here is that you can’t invent simply by emulating an old paradigm you have to think anew. Salesforce saw this clearly, analyzed the need and built a product for the need it saw rather than simply copying something that worked in another context. In other words, Chatter has no feathers. Now, it must be said that the comparisons with the Facebook user interface are many and Salesforce leads the comparison parade. That’s fine because the result is more than a UI.
The business process that Salesforce saw and sees has been in our faces for a long time though we were stumped over how to address it. How do you foster a contextually rich and running dialog between relevant parties over company business in a dynamic and evolving setting. email didn’t work, portals had limited appeal and voice mail?
The number of point to point connections in a company of even ten people can be big and in a company with five hundred or five thousand it’s just not possible. Chatter supports an always on human network that ensures that the necessary people stay in touch over relevant issues. That’s what is important about Chatter and what’s a bit different about it from personal social media.
We might be witnessing the beginning of an important new era in business software and in a future that I think will require business to build more sustainable business processes — defined as processes that are more efficient and that incorporate customers as a renewable resource — I think products like Chatter will play an important role.
SAS introduced its Social Media analytics product today and, given that SAS is SAS, it will serve to give some new legitimacy to the field. Social Media analytics has been around for a long time, probably as long as the Web minus a day or two. But that doesn’t mean that SAS can’t add to the conversation in some important dimensions.
For instance, two of the major constraints on analytics have always been CPU throughput and memory. The more CPU cycles you can throw at the problem of finding a needle in a proverbial haystack the faster you can find that needle. But CPU only works on the data in memory and if you need more data from disk each seek slows you down. So SAS has done a lot to provide the highest performance possible by throwing CPU and memory at the problem.
Last night at the opening keynote, Dr. Jim Goodnight, showed what this can mean. He took an analysis process from a bank that had taken eighteen hours to load and reduced it to a couple of minutes by putting the whole shebang in memory and dividing the task among just over a thousand processors with multiple cores. The importance here should be obvious, that massive amounts of data that a large enterprise might typically generate or have generated about it can now be analyzed in time to make the result relevant for ongoing business processes.
The simple performance demonstration preceded today’s announcement of SAS’s social media analytics for a good reason. If you add together high performance and the very large datasets you arrive at a useful solution for corporate marketers trying to make sense of the twitter-facebook-blog-and-other-social-media data streams that are a fact of life today. As the demo at the press conference made clear, it’s nice to know that sentiment may be up or down but it’s even better if you can analyze it by source, season and other parameters. The result may enable a marketer to pinpoint a particular article or post and determine the most effective course of action.
In the right hands, Social Media analytics can also help you understand the unintentional information that’s given off by your competitors whenever they enter the social web or when the market reacts to something they do.
SAS is offering its analytics as an on-demand package but it’s not simple or something that you buy this morning and start using this afternoon. The company has a well thought out process for on-boarding customers and sticking with them over time to mentor, coach and occasionally perform consulting projects. This all seems very reasonable.
Several smaller Web marketing and marketing analytics companies have taken the same approach lately of providing product and ongoing service and it’s a business model that I think will become more common over time. We’ve spent decades trying to make analytics simpler to use and the results have been good. But the reality is that it will always be something close to rocket science to understand and use tools that predict what people might do with a given amount of information. Also, the marketplace is changing. In a zero-sum marketplace, like the one we’ll be in for a while, it is shrewd for a company to cross sell service rather than another product. Selling service further cements the bond and enables further discovery leading to more cross and upselling.
So the net of the SAS announcement. Interesting that SAS has put a stake in the ground in social media analytics, their enterprise customers will appreciate it and I think it’s important for the continued growth of the company to offer a service like this.
There’s a huge discussion raging on the Internet started by a provocative question from Bob Thompson. Can you do Social CRM without social media/networks?
The question came to me via Paul Greenberg’s blog http://bit.ly/c71GzI and I find it curious that I am not in agreement with much of the discussion or, more to the point, I might agree with the conclusion but not the underpinnings.
The discussion — and there is a lot of it to wade through — and its conclusion falls too quickly, in my estimate, to Paul’s declaration that,
“The business ecosystem is controlled by the customer. Period. That means its NOT controlled by the company and its NOT jointly controlled. The controller of this ecosystem is going to be whatever group drives demand and, currently that is I think, indisputably, the customer (if it isn’t that – meaning you want to dispute it – prove it to me.”
Now I’m feeling like John McEnroe in the rental car commercial, at first screaming “Take any car? You cannot be serious!” Then meekly saying “Ok.”
First, let’s be clear, it is a social and socialized world out there. Customers do have the upper hand in an economy with a bias to save rather than spend. Demand is weak. Customers do speak with one another and share the good, bad and ugly about their vendors. There’s no use disputing this, there is too much evidence. However, let’s also be clear on another point, this more defines a retail situation than business to business where vendor-customer partnership is governed by long-term agreements and the idea at least receives lip service these days.
Even if we are simply talking about business to consumer situation (70% of the economy), I think we might be looking through the wrong end of the telescope when we say it’s all in customers’ hands. Customers frequently are not social — a minority of them are and catering to a vocal minority without controls on what amounts to market experiments can be dicey. It’s part of a problem that emanates from over use of the word community to refer to the customer base and I think that’s a mistake precisely because only a minority of customers participate in social forums.
As I have written many times before, membership is not participation. Numerous studies show that most members simply observe and that’s a long way from active participation. A Harvard Business School study recently revealed that 90 per cent of Tweets came from ten percent of Twitter members. The same study showed that the average Twitter member issued one tweet every 74 days. Be still may heart! Can the system handle all the input? Pew Research recently published a big study showing that majorities in the 60 percent range at popular Social networking sites were women. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but it does poke a hole in theories about social customers and efficacy of raw social media as business tools for gauging customers.
In my mind, we’re using Social CRM as a paradigm extension for conventional CRM. Translated, that means we use social media to find less expensive ways to broadcast messages or conduct uncontrolled experiments (a.k.a. surveys) on customers. The result is a dog’s breakfast.
The result of all this is a system that is badly reactionary when it needs to be proactive. It is reactive to follow customers around trying to capture a crumb of an idea in the hope of extrapolating it into a full-blown product idea, marketing message or offer. It’s like playing CSI by following a bad guy around until he spits on the street so that you can swipe up the sample and extract DNA. The CSI approach tells you what was but doesn’t shed much light on what will be and we really want to know what will be.
The right approach is to ask customers directly what they think and to do it before a crisis hits a la Nestle. That means having ongoing deep market research into customer attitudes, biases and needs. This is real proactivity and it provides the necessary insights into customer opinion, motivation and bias that you need today to make rational decisions about product, messaging and interaction. There’s no sense waiting until you’ve stirred up a hornets’ nest to sample customer opinion because it won’t be reliable.
To do this, forget crowd sourcing. I know it’s popular, but it is limited. You can’t learn anything new or gain real insight from sampling the opinion of people who happen to be mad enough to express it. Research shows that these opinions may only be a small sample and may not be indicative of the larger group. When we fall into this trap we end up reacting and reacting and reacting. First to what the minority said when it was mad, then to the mad over-reaction and so forth.
Getting out of this death spiral requires that we form real communities of people we select for their diversity and willingness to participate before anything hits the fan. Such communities exist and they are very useful but they require discipline and constancy — you can’t gen up a community only when you might want to know something about yesterday, you need to be in the game all the time.
The information we get out of these communities will not be perfect and, in fact, you might want to call it qualitative. In that case you will at least have a hypothesis to test with a larger group or even the whole population. But you’ll be proactive in this, not waiting for something to hit you in the face that you will then have to react to. More importantly you will have real numbers to work with.
So, to the question, can you do Social CRM without technology? I think, yes, but in a limited way. Think of it as going from Boston to San Francisco. People did this long before there were rails and airplanes. But they did so infrequently simply because of the expense and rigor of the trip.
Paul Greenberg gives some great examples of Social CRM without technology but the thing you have to acknowledge is that it doesn’t scale. The real question that I think Bob Thompson was asking, or at least the one I would like to respond to, is can it be done today in our civilization to meet the needs of both customers and vendors? I think, no, it can’t. You need technology to do something serious like that.