One thing that impressed me about Dreamforce was Salesforce’s ability to be creative, to invent something completely unexpected to announce in Chatter. Whether Chatter will be any good when it is released next year is debatable but Salesforce did what it was supposed to do in bringing out a big new idea for its assembled customers.
Most importantly, the Chatter announcement made a mockery of the attempts by SugarCRM and Microsoft to anticipate and respond. I think those efforts fizzled because they were largely expecting a more conventional set of announcements than they got.
It was like baseball. If you’re a pitcher and you have a batter with a 3-2 count sitting on a fastball you might throw one but it might be better not to, instead opting for a breaking ball. If you have to throw the heater you want to make sure it’s just out of the zone to make the batter question whether to swing or take what ought to be ball four. Lots of good hitters end up striking out in that situation because they’re momentarily frozen.
Some of that happened at Dreamforce and parenthetically, I have to commend Oracle for wisely deciding not to anticipate Salesforce’s announcements with a truth squad though they certainly could have.
So now Salesforce has this new, new thing to explain and about six months to do it. I have to say that the idea both new and not new and getting your head around it might be challenging, I know it was for me. Let me try again to describe it now that I have slept on it a bit more.
Think about social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook for they are the closest analogies. Social networks operate on three key elements, according to Salesforce and I have no strong objections to this model. The elements of success in social media are people, content and applications. Social media are only valuable if lots of people use them (the network effect) and they use these media to get content or to use applications.
That’s fairly abstract but think about Facebook whose content is supplied by users who provide all the details of their lives including photos. Facebook is the largest photo sharing site on the internet, I am told. So notes about your life and photos, that’s pretty much the content side. The other bit is applications. We use applications on Facebook to enrich our experience and to get more information and content from others.
The people at Salesforce remind me that the content and applications are only valuable if they are in circulation, if they are used by members. Like a relay race, it doesn’t matter which person is running, what does matter is how fast the baton moves around the track. In the same way, if information is static because it is stored on a network drive somewhere and few people know about it, then it has much less utility than if it was being used by many people. The more people that use applications and data within you company to do business the more value they have.
Now, where is all this information and where are the applications. Of course they are in your in-house repositories, in the data center. But there is also information stored in people’s heads that has potential value such as the deep backgrounds of employees, their skills and things they know that may not directly impact their jobs.
But what if that information too could be surfaced and stored for easy applicability? In Chatter all of that information is easily rendered as well as information about information and all of it can be subscribed to. In an earlier post I offered the idea of subscribing to the data of a sales forecast so that when it changes the subscriber is notified. It’s not much different from becoming friended on Facebook – you get updates when something changes on a friend’s page and it is your decision whether or not to use it — that’s what makes social media work.
Social media is like a big exception machine notifying you about the deltas in life. It’s management by exception and it gives you the ability to keep up with a lot without devoting much attention to the minutia. If you think something is important you post it and your friends or followers have the discretion to decide if it’s worth absorbing.
This model could do a lot for business if implemented properly but there are many if’s associated with that statement. The if’s will begin to be filled in by the first strategic use cases and with them we should begin to get an idea of best practices and all the rest. That will be extremely important.
Not long ago I read Niall Ferguson’s “The Ascent of Money” in which there was an intriguing quote from George Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist. Soros said, “Every bubble consists of a trend and a misconception that interact in a reflexive manner.” But what are product innovations if not bubbles that attract attention and money for a time before the bubble bursts and we move on to new bubbles, new paradigms? The experience economy was such a bubble and customer experience is its misconception. Social media in business is a bubble too. What will its misconception be?