Facebook for Business: Why Chatter Works


By Tony Kontzer If you're an IT executive and have any remaining doubts about the potential value of social media to your operation, look no further than a panel of CIOs that gathered at Salesforce.com's Dreamforce 2010 conference in San Francisco on December 7, 2010, to discuss their fast-growing use of Salesforce's Chatter application.

Chatter, which is most simply described as a Facebook-style social media app for business, has spread like wildfire at Reed Exhibitions, organizer of 440 trade shows in 35 countries. The company first started dabbling in social media 18 months ago to break down silos and encourage organization-wide collaboration, and it quickly turned its attention to Chatter. CIO Dominic Shine not only saw it as a powerful tool, but one with the added benefit of being able to integrate easily with the various Salesforce.com applications Reed depends on.

Once it was deployed, it wasn't so much accepted as it was coddled. "People were very worried that we were going to turn it off," said Shine.

Initially, Chatter was seen as a Salesforce add-on. Some 1,300 users of Salesforce.com's flagship CRM service quickly depended on it, as did another 1,400. The eager embracing of Chatter, combined with discussion of using closed social media platforms at events, led Shine to unleash the tool company-wide.

"The whole organization was thirsty for knowledge and social media," said Shine. Fueled by that thirst, employees in every part of the company were quick to jump on the Chatter bandwagon, setting up groups in their native languages and using it to collaborate within their unit. It didn't take long for cross-unit collaboration groups to pop up, too.

"All it needs is for people to have a couple of 'aha' moments, where they start to realize the value, and then they keep coming back," said Shine, who foresees Chatter completely replacing Microsoft SharePoint once a few other wrinkles are added.

Another Salesforce.com customer, Joe Drouin, CIO of $4.5 billion staffing services firm Kelly Services, took a measured approach to rolling out Chatter, rolling it out to the company's 300-person IT staff. He quickly discovered that he couldn't keep the genie in the bottle.

While initial enthusiasm led to many banal posts such as "going to get coffee," things settled down. People quickly found compelling ways of using Chatter for collaboration, such as posting updates from meetings so that the entire IT team could be kept informed on what was being discussed. With such compelling usage examples, Drouin decided he needed to roll it out to the rest of the Kelly ranks. Some 6,000 of the company's 8,000 employees now use Chatter, and it won't be long before every employee is on it.

Drouin recently discovered the power of Chatter himself, while sitting at a business dinner. Across the table sat one of Kelly's clients, and Drouin carefully pulled out his iPhone under the table, used his Chatter app to inquire with the sales team about the customer, and was quickly informed of an ongoing issue that hadn't been resolved. Drouin was able to inquire about the situation and provide peace of mind to the customer.

Incidentally, soon you won't have to be a Salesforce.com customer to use Chatter. The company announced at Dreamforce that it will launch a web site, Chatter.com, next year that will enable any company to adopt Chatter for free.


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