The greatest innovation I witnessed during my decade in Salesforce was Chatter. Its much more than a Facebook UI with Twitter syntax. Chatter in the context of Salesforce.com empowers contextual collaboration across an organization and also embraces customers, prospects and partners through communities. It’s about collaborating around projects, themes, sales opportunities, service cases, key customer accounts etc. It empowers one to socialize things in an incredibly productive way – sharing ideas, documents and iteratively progressing things through focussed conversations. Used correctly Chatter is the ultimate filter feeder for anyone looking to cut the noise out. And all this takes place in a secure environment. There was a lot of skepticism within Salesforce when Chatter was first launched, but it blew my mind from day 1. It’s now deeply baked into the Salesforce platform, but essentially it’s an integrated app like any other piece of software.
“Salesforce’s Chatter is what convinced me that the company understood what is going on in the enterprise; this was the biggest attraction for me. I saw that Salesforce understands social.”
J. P. Rangaswami (Chief Scientist, Salesforce.com)
Note: For those already familiar with Chatter and interested in practical advice, Part 2 will conclude with a focus on tips for getting the best out of Chatter.
i. What does it do?
Chatter socializes everything built on the Salesforce.com1 platform. I am bundling in Communities with Chatter (although it’s a separate product) because, although you do not need ‘Chatter’ for ‘Communities’, the latter essentially is an extension of the innovation that occurred when Chatter was created in Salesforce.com. So I’m going to use the word Chatter to cover this area. Chatter socializes standard objects and any custom objects you create. It allows you to rapidly create groups and communities on any topic and invite whomever you want to contribute to that community. It is the ultimate app for collaboration because it’s embedded into the Salesforce ecosystem. So you can do all sorts of clever stuff like automatically call in swarms of SMEs using workflows and triggers when a key event happens e.g. a when a service case with a key customer is escalated. Chatter is embedded into Salesforce to the point where Salesforce in 2014 would be unrecognizable without it.
Chatter was and is a quantum leap in the evolution of the world’s greatest platform for the enterprise because it allows Salesforce users to collaborate in context – that might be on an opportunity, a project, a case, a campaign or any object you choose to create. Context is the key. Additionally you can create internal communities built in seconds around any topic you feel people want to collaborate on e.g. a targeted industrial vertical, a competitor, a technology, a product line – whatever. The great thing is you can invite non-users of Salesforce into this group – this is powerful when working with key customers or prospect accounts. You can create a branded Chatter group to allow one of your teams share documents and discuss topics with invited group members from your target account. There are no limits here – for example you can extend access to a community to the entire supply chain if you are a manufacturer. Imagination is the only limit.
All of this happens in a secure environment and is instantly scalable. Once you have your teams adopting Chatter, you have an audit trail of discussions on anything relevant to your business. And here’s something huge…..the search facility is incredibly powerful. After a while you will use the general search facility in Salesforce less, because you’ll regularly search Chatter to see what conversations have taken place around your topic of interest. I can’t stress enough the power of being able to search global conversations on any topic inside your organization. I lived that for years in Salesforce and its incredibly empowering.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
ii. Why is it so important for the Salesforce ecosystem?
It’s been incredibly important since the day of its launch. Initially it was all about collaboration in context amongst employees. Its now also about building extended communities that can include customers, partners, suppliers and any relevant party. Its compelling because it allows you to rapidly, contextually and selectively socialize everything and anything you are doing. It allows you to do all of that in a secure environment. Since its introduction in Salesforce evolving releases of Chatter have marked a consistent drop off in email which is far more one dimensional and private, but definitely not gone. However email’s demise has been greatly exaggerated with purpose by Salesforce and other innovative companies wishing to accelerate our movements towards an inexorable future. Why? Because innovative companies are best positioned for that future. The faster we get there, the quicker they will dominate. Mark Twain was pronounced dead twice – 13 years before his death and subsequently 3 years before his final demise in 1910. Email usage will very slowly and gradually decline and will be pronounced dead more than twice before it fades to far les less significance. However any company ignoring email as a marketing tool today is ignoring cold stats and living in a part of the cloud known as cuckoo land.
There are a few in this space, but none to compare with Chatter. Ironically its highest profile competitor Yammer is at its best when used with Salesforce. What’s the point though? Chatter is far superior when used in Salesforce. Yammer was a cool app with a bright future, but it was programmed for lesser things the day Microsoft bought it. It still works fine as a person-to-person stand-alone communication tool. However if we are talking about the enterprise, it’s now reduced to the tormented role of making Microsoft’s unholy trinity (SharePoint, NetSuite and Active Directory) just a little less painful. It should have been a kingmaker in the enterprise, but it’s now on a one-way road to being little more than an over-hyped expensive bandage. Just ask Mac users. Same old cobbled together proprietary software. Forget about scale i.e. forget about the enterprise. Actually the same can be said for Netsuite’s suite of products which were reasonably good the day Microsoft ate them and innovation stopped. Another “Once upon a time” story. Sorry Bill. I like you two thirds of the day. Two out of three 3 ain’t bad!
iv. What does it help your customer facing staff do?
It allows them to collaborate with customers on cases, potential deals, projects etc. It allows you to create a branded, secure environment in which to do this. It also empowers you to rapidly search for any conversations with a specific customer (or other party) on any specific topic. Imagine building a customer branded community and inviting your contacts to join 5 minutes after a meeting. Speaking from experience it never fails to impress. Another great use I found was sourcing answers from expert colleagues when I was onsite with key clients.
“A knotty puzzle may hold a scientist up for a century, when it may be that a colleague has the solution already and is not even aware of the puzzle that it might solve.”
― Isaac Asimov
v. Main users?
Anyone. Chatter is relevant to anyone with an internet connection. However it’s set apart from the rest of the pack for Salesforce.com users. Make no mistake – it’s a quantum leap beyond any similar tool when used by Salesforce users. There is simply no comparison. Contextual collaboration and the ability to automate the event triggered swarming of appropriate collaborators around service cases, opportunities or anything critical to your business is pure platinum.
vi. How does it demo?
It’s the easiest thing in the world to demo because there’s no smoke and mirrors. It works exactly the same way in a demo as it does in ‘real life’ because it would be infinitely harder to do a mock up. That’s how Salesforce works. You can actually request for the demo itself to be set up in front of your eyes – so you can see the simplicity of configuration and administration involved. If you have a connected device, you should expect the person delivering the demo to invite you into the scenario by giving you access to a Chatter group in real-time. As a stand-alone its good, but if you demo it in the context of a Salesforce Org, then the power is simply astounding.
Here’s a great Chatter intro video from Salesforce.com:
Chatter and Communities
vii. Latest and Greatest news (for those of you familiar with Chatter):
Spring 14 :
a. Chatter Group Announcements – a group owner/manager or users with ‘modify all data permissions’ can post an important persistent announcement to the group – it stays visible in a prominent position.
b. Members in Communities can send each other private Chatter messages.
c. In Communities you can flag inappropriate items and triggers can launch these. Moderations are auditable.
viii. Anything I would change/add regarding Chatter?
Not really but I’d love to see comments on this. I don’t particularly like the name ‘Chatter’. As with a lot of world-class apps, most negatives tend towards the cosmetic rather than the functional. Chatter has a pejorative sound to it. T.S. Elliot’s “Clatter of Chatter” and “Idle Chatter” come to mind. There’s nothing idle in the vast majority of chatter you’ll see in a typical Salesforce Org. Chatter empowers you to filter out the noise, not augment it. Of course users who connect to 100s of people turn their main feed into pure noise, but that’s not the app’s fault. Luckily the object specific feeds remain uncluttered by this unproductive follow back instinct. I never liked it being originally marketed as the ‘Facebook for the Enterprise’. It’s never been a Facebook for the Enterprise – except in UI terms. Facebook is an incredible platform, but nobody could say Facebook is all about productivity. Chatter is all about productivity. It has no peer in the world of social media when it comes to productivity. Chalk and Cheese.
* I’ve just added comments to Amasat blog-posts so all feedback is welcome.
* There’s no monthly Alpha App Award now – they will be awarded on an ongoing basis though. Amasat is right now revisiting its business strategy in a great startup incubator, New Frontiers (supported by Enterprise Ireland). For the next few months there’s a bigger focus on creating a scalable business model than onboarding apps, but we’ll keep publishing.
About Amasat: Founded in 2013, Amasat identifies and promotes global best in class cloud apps within the Salesforce ecosystem. We call these apps Alpha Apps. We help companies choose the best Apps in a crowded market place. We help software companies with Alpha Apps become rapidly successful. We help Salesforce.com deliver even more value by encouraging selection of Alpha Apps for projects.
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