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12 ways to extract maximum value from Chatter

Salesforce.com’s Chatter is probably the king of all Alpha Apps. Here are some tips to fully realise its value.

'girl laughing' from stephencummins.com, amasat.com, Chatter, Alpha Apps

1. Don’t follow tons of people. Follow records, groups etc.

Chatter is about connecting in context. It’s not about socializing or brown nosing. Chatter is about socializing things. The things that matter to your business give the context. If you follow 100s of people, you reduce your general Chatter feed to a meaningless distraction. The problem in the age of Twitter is that people feel pressure to follow people back. That pressure is multiplied many times in medium to large sized enterprises where people feel they really need to follow others back. In my last couple of years in Salesforce I followed a number that varied between 3 and 4 (that was almost unique). An extremely large number was following me (that was not unusual). Now if you are connected to tons of people, Chatter still is highly valuable because you can still collaborate on key records, in key groups etc, but you need to go to those places to get that value (unless you use selective email alerts but that’s usually duplication). The electronic secretary that is your general Chatter feed is now reduced to background noise. Obviously in small organisations following people is less of an issue. Connect with people in context by connecting with records and groups. Keep that precious general feed clean!

2. Write Chatter usage into your processes.

Revisit those processes once a month for the 1st 3 to 6 months, and then once a quarter ongoing.

3. Communicate Best User Practices and Train People.

Ensure that an executive sponsor for Salesforce/Chatter communicates guidelines for usage. There’s a tendency sometimes to just allow Chatter to go ‘viral’ in an organisation. Very bad idea. Always give strong guidance first. You need to ensure that usage is focused on defined KPIs – whether that’s increased productivity, better communication, better collaboration, shorter sales cycles, faster iteration through service cases etc. That doesn’t just happen. Plan for it to happen and deliver a short training session to the various departments and teams that will use Chatter. Obviously training should be different for a customer service rep as compared to a consultancy team or a sales team. That goes for rolling out Salesforce as a whole. Letting people loose and just referring them to some best practice docs is sub-optimal. It’s foolhardy primarily because you will get a ton of clutter and adoption quickly tailing off as a result.

4. Encourage people to post value.

>90% of posts should be short, factual info based around the object (record or group) one is collaborating on. 
<10% should be ‘awesome result’ or ‘way to go!’ or ‘you killed it’ posts. It’s important to encourage colleagues and energise each other with positive feedback. However if more than 10% of the messages are of this ilk, there’s a problem with brown-nosing and time wasting. Sometimes people responsible for Chatter adoption will make the mistake of encouraging any type of communication. Mere adoption is not success. For Chatter, quality adoption with consistent adherence to processes and communication of value in context is success.

5. Remember to disconnect from records and groups.

Chatter usage should be fluid. It’s almost as important to remember to disconnect from objects as it is to connect to currently vital objects. Normally after an opportunity closes or a case is resolved or a project is finished one should un-follow these objects. Don’t hold on to past glories – un-follow, move on, and keep your feed clean.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
Henry Ford

6. Create some amazing new groups.

When Chatter is first rolled out, immediately create a few useful Chatter groups and get one communicative subject matter expert to run each one. Pull employees into them selectively. Ensure that every employee has been brought into at least 1 group. The creation of these communities will immediately demonstrate some extra value to users and encourage adoption. The 1st groups might revolve around a competitor, a technology area, a fast evolving product/service (line), an internal course some teams of employees are taking etc.

7. Identify and involve other A players and early adopters.

Task them with creating at least one useful group each in the 2nd or 3rd week. For example a Strategic Account Manager should create a group for a Key Account and brand and socialize it to other members of the account team, partners and key contacts in that account. Alternatively a Product Marketing Manager might create a group for the product they are responsible for or may create a competitive group etc.

8. Advise everyone to consider creating a Chatter group.

In the next phase, encourage employees at the customer facing level to create at least one useful Chatter group and socialize it. Don’t push it too hard. You don’t want your Salesforce instance (or Org) cluttered with groups created for the sake of it. Employees who make time to get involved in more than just chasing their own targets deserve merit and pro-activity is one very positive indicator of future promotion material.

9. Use Chatter search.

Once Chatter is established and is a now a rich fountain of contextualized conversations around business critical topics, remind people of the power of searching Chatter for key info. The larger the organization and the better the adoption, the more unbelievably powerful this becomes.

10. Don’t listen to myths about giving people an internal Facebook to mess with.

It is absolutely untrue that Chatter is commonly used to ‘chat’ and waste time. In my time at Salesforce I never visited (or heard from) a customer with this problem.  I only ever heard the question pop up as a pre-sales concern. Think about it. Most people behave themselves very well on LinkedIn and post professional content. Most of the annoying behaviour on LinkedIn comes from not understanding optimal use of that platform – half of it because people have not adjusted their activity broadcasts. However, only a small minority intentionally post material of little/no value. There’s sometimes a lack of authenticity and a fear of sounding negative at the expense of balanced analysis – but that’s another day’s work and that has more to do with human nature than LinkedIn. Your communications in Chatter are extremely visible to a much more personally influential group than for LinkedIn. They are also much more findable than LinkedIn utterances. Therefore people behave extremely professionally as a rule on Chatter. And communications are more direct – almost invariably focused on a specific task in hand.

11. Mandate usage.

That advice holds for rolling out Salesforce.com in general. Never ever give people access to apps that are crucial to your processes and customer interactions and ask them to “please” use it. The CEO (or as close as possible) should tell people in advance of any training delivered that high quality usage is now part of their job description. Full stop. If you play a soccer match with just 5 or 6 players, is the team 50% weakened? No. It’s completely decimated. So why would you let half of your teams use Chatter. Chatter is about collaboration. It’s about teamwork. Mandate its use at the start. Most people prefer clarity and clear directions anyway – especially in medium to large organisations. If you feel this is impossible (personally I feel there’s zero excuse not to mandate), then as a minimum you need to be sure it’s mandated for all of the Kings and Queens of knowledge and all key customer facing personnel in your company.

12. Don’t “post up the chain”.

This is related to the 1st point. Salesforce almost unerringly advises best practice. They run their business extremely well on their peerless platform. However this is an important aspect of Chatter usage where I’m going to differ with their policy. The only reason it’s published as a recommended behaviour is because in Salesforce itself, as with most organisations, too many people are following too many people. If my best strategy to get a document seen by a team of 100 Sales Reps is to post a few levels up the chain to the VP of sales, then that means people are over-following. Chatter should be breaking down inefficient structures for vertical flows of information, not creating them. There should also be a relevant group to cover publications for any team – they can be employee role specific, language specific, country specific, vertical specific etc.

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About Amasat: Founded in 2013, Amasat helps Salesforce customers find the best apps. We also help ISVs that deliver those great apps to get the recognition they deserve, no matter what size their organization is. We call these great apps Alpha Apps. If you believe you have an app with best in class attributes or a unique app that creates a new market, please email me and describe in a single sentence what makes your app an Alpha App. You’ll find contact details and more info here: Amasat

Stephen Cummins, 
CEO & Founder of 
Amasat