No doubt by now you've heard Salesforce.com plans to add Twitter to its Service cloud solution and offer integration with customer data to subscribers soon.
If you read the news you know the basics, but to ensure everyone is up to speed:
- This is a free add-on to an existing Service Cloud, which is most definitely not free at $995 a month. Service Cloud already lets companies monitor a number of online services, including Facebook, Google Search, LinkedIn and other social companies.
- The Twitter add-on will allow companies a chance to monitor, search and respond to comments made about their company via Twitter.
- While you'd think the purpose would be to sell more products, IT Analysis blogger David Tebbutt points out that Salesforce is actually pitching this as a customer-service solution, wherein companies can monitor for problems or complaints and respond individually or en masse.
- This is all made possible through the magic of integration, since Salesforce will plug into Twitter's API and customer-service reps can then search Twitter and import the Twitter threads directly through Salesforce, which is kinda neat.
- It'll be offered this summer.
It seems like an easy marketing ploy and no big deal, right? But hold on. There's actually more to the story and some real issues to consider before you jump on the bandwagon, according to Datamonitor, which recently e-mailed me a press release on this very topic.
Salesforce.com is a step ahead of its competitors, and even its customers, recognizing the need for social-networking integration before companies even knew they wanted it, according to Datamonitor. Since the Service Cloud launched in January, 6,800 companies have signed on, including Bank of America, Comcast, JetBlue, and Zappos.
Datamonitor believes other CRM vendors will soon follow suit. And it's not just because they want to be trendy. According to Datamonitor, Twitter and other social-networking resources are becoming too significant to ignore:
Datamonitor believes this timing is right because websites such as Facebook and Twitter are undergoing a rapid uptake in users. According to TweetRush, a service providing estimated statistics on Twitter usage, in early February Twitter had around 400,000 active users per day; this figure had risen to over 600,000 active users on average per day by the end of March. Facebook now has 175 million active users and, interestingly, from the website's own statistics page, more than four million users become fans of Pages each day.
But now we come to the problems. By my count, Datamonitor raised three excellent questions and one pretty good question about this deal.
1. Will this integration actually work as promised? Datamonitor notes that although the integration with Twitter has been announced, there's not actually an available solution. It's possible things the actual data integration might not happen as seamless or as quickly as as the Salesforce.com announcement would lead us to believe.
2. What about the inevitable security and privacy issues that always surface when you deal with online data integration. Datamonitor warns:
At the moment, it is difficult to validate the authenticity of postings and advisors, and data ownership. Analyzing the continuous flow of information could prove challenging for Salesforce.com, which is not traditionally an analytics or business intelligence (BI) company.
3. Is Twitter even reliable enough to make this useful? I can't tell you how many times I've tried to log on, only to see the flying fail whale of exceeded capacity. Apparently, I'm not alone, because the happy fail whale even has his own fan club. Focusing on integration with other products when Twitter isn't even out of the research phase might be problematic, as Datamonitor points out:
The reliability of Twitter is questionable, with information being updated very slowly and error messages often occurring. These problems are likely to increase as it grows to support more users. Twitter is not currently a money-making business, rather a social-networking experiment, and is still in the research phase. Until the technology matures, these problems are likely to remain.
4. Can you actually learn anything useful in 140 characters? This is the pretty good question I mentioned, because, frankly, it would be pretty low on my list of concerns, given the other issues and the fact that Twitter is a free add-on to a broader social-networking offering. Still, as we look at integrating Twitter into more solutions, it's worth considering.
Datamonitor has raised several legitimate questions about the viability of the Twitter/Salesforce integration. I would add one more: Are you sure you're ready for this? Customer service is a notorious problem for companies. If you're not capable of being responsive to the problems that walk in your door - or reach you via the phone - are you really ready to be pro-active? I'm not an expert - maybe it would help. But I'd definitely want to think about how I'd respond when the social networks found a problem that couldn't be quickly and easily resolved.
The Web moves fast and social networks move faster. Is it possible a misstep in social networks could cost you more in public ill will than the goodwill you'd gain?