When I interviewed CRM authority Paul Greenberg about companies incorporating social networks into their CRM initiatives, I asked why vendors didn't offer tools to facilitate this kind of interaction. He singled out Salesforce.com as a company that seemed to be missing a prime opportunity to do so. He said:
"(Salesforce.com has) been the leading innovator for the entire software world, and yet they don't get it. They still operate from a traditional mold of where CRM comes from, which is sales, marketing and support."
Two years after I spoke to Greenberg, the company now appears to "get" it. Salesforce later this year will give its users the ability to monitor, search and respond directly to comments on Twitter via its Service Cloud tool. Similar capabilities are available for Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other social media.
As VentureBeat's Anthony Ha writes, 6,800 companies have signed on to use the Service Cloud since it launched in January. He calls it "pretty powerful," noting that while companies can already perform those functions within Twitter, Salesforce makes it more convenient and valuable by allowing companies to create a kind of "master dashboard' of this activity. You can see a screen shot of what this might look like at ReadWriteWeb.
Both Ha and ReadWriteWeb's Bernard Lunn make much of the fact that more customers are turning away from traditional channels like company Web sites and call centers and to social channels like Twitter for assistance with customer-service questions. (I wrote about companies' increasing attention to social channels like Twitter in July.) Of course, companies could avoid a lot of this by simply providing better service through the traditional channels. But that's another post.
Twitter's biggest differentiator is its real-time interface, which is why it is somewhat better suited to the Service Cloud, writes Lunn. While customer service is the most obvious application, there is value for sales as well, adds Lunn. He writes:
Before contacting someone on an important call, a quick check on what is being said about them, about you or your firm, and/or about the subject of your call is simply good preparation.
Jeremiah Owyang wonders if Twitter won't want to capitalize on what seems like a pretty big opportunity by creating its own brand management system and throwing in more sophisticated analytic capabilities than those available with the Service Cloud. That's one of the options mentioned in the many articles about how to monetize Twitter, this one from Boston.com.
Many people, including some folks quoted in this story, seem to believe Twitter's end game is to be acquired by a behemoth like Google. However, board member Bijan Sabet says in the short video that accompanies the story that the company is going its own way. It did just raise $35 million in a Series C funding round, no easy feat in this tough economy.
Jason Calacanis says Twitter could earn a hefty amount of dough simply by offering high-profile "suggested user" slots on Twitter to advertisers, who in theory will be willing to pay a premium to capture users' attention within a "giant, open e-mail box that we all hang out in every day." (Well, not all of us. Among those largely resistant to Twitter's lure are deal architect blogger Vinnie Mirchandani and IT Business Edge's own Ken-Hardin.)