Salesforce Chatter receives analytics boost

Slated for release next month, refresh of cloud computing vendor's social networking tool will include "dozens of new features" to help companies gain visibility of followers and interactions, company exec reveals.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Salesforce.com's social networking collaboration tool, Chatter, will sport a refresh three months after its initial launch and boast new data analytics-based features, among others, according to a company executive.

Jeremy Cooper, regional vice president for marketing at Salesforce.com Asia-Pacific, said Tuesday in a concall with regional media that the new iteration, Chatter 2, will include "dozens of new features" and offered at no additional cost to existing subscribers of Salesforce's CRM software and Force.com platform. Chatter can also be purchased for additional workers not using any of the two products for US$15 per user per month, and is supported on mobile devices including Apple's iPhone and iPad, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Google Android-powered phones.

The new release is expected to be made available globally in October this year, according to Cooper, and will also be made available as native apps on Apple and BlackBerry mobile devices.

The new features include Chatter Analytics, which will allow IT administrators to create reports and dashboards of how employees are using the social networking tool in their companies. He said this will provide visibility into the major contributors and insights across users and their followers, feeds, comments and interactions within user groups.

"These information streams can then be used to determine best practices, further increase Chatter adoption and enable more effective collaboration," he added.

He also noted that since Chatter is built on the company's Force.com application platform, users, developers and partners can leverage the information derived from Chatter Analytics to make their apps "stickier and more collaborative" without additional coding.

Other Chatter 2 features include a "Recommended People" function that will suggest colleagues within a user's social graph to befriend, and the ability to trawl Salesforce.com's entire database for relevant topics using hashtags, he said.

"Chatter 2 is very much inspired by social apps such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which are the guiding metaphors for developers like us," said Cooper.

This is in line with the initial design brief, outlined by the company when Chatter was launched in June, to provide a Facebook-like platform for businesses. Salesforce.com's senior vice president, Kraig Swensrud, then pointed out that Facebook had trained the global Internet community on how to collaborate so users of Chatter do not need to go to a training class to figure out how to use the application.

Jean Chaney, global CRM (customer relationship management) leader at corporate travel management company, FCm Travel Solutions, backed the design philosophy behind Chatter.

Chaney, who sat in on the same concall, explained that FCm's initial aim for deploying Chatter was to connect its employees located worldwide. Since the rollout, connections have been established "almost immediate", she said.

"Within 48 hours, the program was picked up by 50 percent of our users who went on to upload pictures and updates on to their Chatter pages," she revealed, attributing the quick adoption rate to the familiar user interface (UI) that Chatter applies.

Such customer confidence could be the reason for Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff's optimism for the collaboration tool, despite pessimism among industry analysts. Benioff last month revealed that Chatter has generated more than 20,000 subscribers since its launch, a result he described as the "most successful new software released ever".

E-mail collaborations outdated
Cooper noted that Chatter 2's Facebook-like UI and Chatter Analytics feature will differentiate Salesforce.com from existing collaboration tools offered by its competitors. Current market alternatives for collaborative tools include IBM's Lotus Notes and Cisco Systems' Webex E-mail services.

However, he called these e-mail-based tools "outdated", noting that companies today are "struggling" with uncoordinated inboxes and trying to constantly connect the dots with the many e-mail messages that flow in daily.

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