Is Salesforce.com’s Chatter Just More Noise?


Do you really need another social network?

When it comes to doing pure work, Salesforce.com believes it can provide one for you as part of its CRM suite to help reach out to and serve customers and potential customers.

It’s called "Chatter," and Salesforce.com launched it this week as an element of its cloud-based CRM dashboard. It’s got everything you’d expect from a social network: the ability to "friend" colleagues or others, the ability to provide status updates, file sharing, collaboration, private messaging and the ability to create special, focused groups on the fly.

What’s more, Salesforce.com has actually done a really good job at making Chatter visually appealing. It’s got the ability to provide an avatar or photo along with profile information for each user, an intuitive, Facebook-like feel to the basic console and desktop and mobile applications that allow you to follow the conversation, communication and collaboration even when you don’t have a web browser open.

Inside the browser, though, Chatter is a seamless part of the customer relationship management console. For the segment of the workforce that keeps Facebook open on their desktop all day long, along with all of its potential distractions, Salesforce.com Chatter weeds all that out and keeps the focus on customer contact and service. Chatter is less about, well, chatter and more about business.

So is there a problem?

A few concerns to keep in mind that are less technical and more social: Will employees treat customer conversations with the same casual, distracted approach they do with Facebook pokes, Farmville and Mafia Wars? Will Chatter expose customer information to less restrictive – and thus less secure – sharing within an organization? Administrative and management features do a good job and locking down file and information access where needed but, again, this is less of a technical concern than a human one.

For now, understand that Salesforce.com has taken a big – and what seems like a graceful – step toward the new collaboration use model. People have begun to expect to be able to communicate with others in a social networking template, and Chatter is a format that tries to keep the conversation in the realm of business, not distraction.