It wasn't so long ago that Twitter was being mocked for being nothing more than a forum for people to share trivial things such as what they're eating for breakfast or what they're watching on TV. Suddenly, Twitter is getting some mainstream respect, the latest coming today in the form of a an application being added into salesforce.com platform.
In one respect, the salesforce announcement showcases how large companies - especially those who interact with consumers - can engage with their customers faster and more efficiently than they could via a call center. From a larger viewpoint, the announcement also illustrates another way that cloud computing is enabling companies to react to technology trends - such as social networking and microblogging - as it's happening, instead of a year or two later. In January, salesforce - using force.com - added apps for Amazon, Google and Facebook.
As for the Twitter application itself, salesforce is enabling companies to query the tweets that are being blasted through the Twittersphere as they relate to the company's brand, products or even competitors and monitor - in real time - what people are saying. A company like Comcast might quickly learn when a city is experiencing an outage or service problem, for example, while a company like AT&T might be able to monitor what's being said about iPhone service in a particular region. At the same time, they would be able to communicate individually with customers or even send a mass "We know about the problem and we're working on it" update - a solution that is much better than angry customers bombarding a call center to complain.
Separately, the companies could also monitor the advice being shared over Twitter by other folks familiar with the products or settings. Maybe there's a shortcut in the settings or a reboot fix to a small problem that a customer found on his own and is now sharing on the Internet. The company could add those fixes into the same knowledge base that support teams in the call center use to troubleshoot over the phone. I know when I have a problem with a product or service, I usually turn to Google for advice before picking up the phone and calling an 800 number.
The Twitter app - which is being provided free of charge - provides almost immediate value to the companies. But, more importantly, the announcement further validates the power of the cloud and its ability to enable companies to move faster and keep up with trends in marketing, sales and other forms of interaction with customers. In the old days, it might have taken a year or more to develop and sell this sort of application into a hardware platform. Salesforce said customers just started asking about a Twitter application about couple of months ago. Today, they have it - for no additional charge.
That's the beauty of the flexibility you get with the cloud. No one knows what the next big thing will be or when the latest thing will fall. But when that happens, cloud-based services like salesforce are already showing that they have the flexibility to react quickly and tap into the power of the fad - before it fades.