Salesforce.com last week made its Chatter social-networking tool available to every business, not just its customers, for free. It even took valuable advertising spots at the Superbowl to spruik it.
According to Robin Daniels, Salesforce.com product marketing director, the idea was to use the free version as a form of springboard to the revenue model via having people adopt the premium version called Chatter Plus, or signing onto the company's core customer relationship management product.
The business social-networking tool, available in a desktop and browser version as well as on the iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry and soon Android, differs from traditional social-networking products in that conversations are kept within a business and are not shared widely. The company released the product last year to customers, but has now decided to make it more widely available.
Australian company Integrated Research implemented Chatter Plus early last month. It's rolled out 80 of its Salesforce.com users onto Chatter Plus, with another 20 users to take up the service who aren't currently using Salesforce.com. The next step will be rolling another 100 users onto the free Chatter.com.
Chatter Plus (US$15 per user per month) gives users additional functionality, such as seeing information from the company's Salesforce customer relationship management system.
The company has offices here, in the US, the UK and Germany. Chatter has enabled staff to respond more to each other's requirements across borders, according to Alison Page, sales operation analyst.
"It does actually allow for collaboration, not just email to one specific person," she said.
It also included people in a collaboration which perhaps otherwise wouldn't have been included because they weren't considered to be relevant, according to Page.
"You may not think this person might want to see this presentation," she said, but often they were. Users are notified if the discussion or document is in their area.
"It's information that's pushed to you," she said.
One example where Chatter had been helpful was when a marketing and communications employee in Australia had posted a whitepaper to get responses from people in the company. A consultant manager in the US picked it up and said he wanted to take it to customers. He then gave feedback on the whitepaper from the feedback he'd received.
Chatter enabled a rapid cycle of feedback according to Page. "[We get feedback] in terms of being able to see what's being spoken about," he said.
Another example involved an employee who wanted information on a customer, posted a query and within 24 hours received information from a US-based employee who had previously worked at that customer's company.
Integrated Research has also seen a reduction in the file sizes attached to emails, Page said.
However, when asked if she would recommend the tool to businesses not currently using Salesforce.com, Page said that it would "depend on what they were trying to gain out of it".