Expands Social Networking Lineup With New "Communities" Service

The new Salesforce Communities service is currently in a limited pilot stage and is slated to be generally available in mid-2013. Salesforce will be demonstrating the service at its upcoming Dreamforce conference next month.

Earlier this week, Salesforce also completed its acquisition of Buddy Media, a developer of social media marketing software. Salesforce is expected to combine the Buddy Media service with the Radian6, the social media "listening" service Salesforce acquired in March 2011, to create the Salesforce Marketing Cloud platform.

[Related: Gartner: Spending On Public Cloud Services Growing rapidly ]

Salesforce already offers Chatter, the social networking service businesses use to connect employees within an organization. Salesforce launched Chatter two years ago and now has more than 150,000 active networks, said Doug Bewsher, senior marketing vice president for Chatter, in an interview with CRN.

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But, businesses also have a need to establish communities that include customers, suppliers and other business partners outside of a company's firewall. Salesforce Communities "is really a way to create a virtual enterprise," he said. "This is really about extending the social transformation."

Salesforce Communities uses features of the core Salesforce Chatter engine such as profiles, real-time feeds, trending topics, recommendations and influence measurement, according to the company. It can also tap into business information in Salesforce's flagship CRM applications. But, Salesforce Communities will be a separate service from Chatter.

Some businesses rely on social discussion forums to communicate with partners and customers, but this method doesn't incorporate business processes such as allowing a customer to view an invoice or check their account status. Enterprise portals provide those capabilities, but without the social network features. Salesforce Communities will bring both sets of capabilities together in one service, Bewsher said, enabling a wide range of sales, service and marketing interactions.

Salesforce's solution provider and ISV partners will be able to develop applications and services around Salesforce Communities, he added.

Pricing for the Salesforce Communities service hasn't been set.