Customer relationship management giant Salesforce.com just gobsmacked the fledgling community management industry with its launch of a customer support service called Service Cloud. While initially positioned as a tool for customer service, it also tracks interactions with various online communities.
This puts Salesforce on a collision course with community monitoring startups. After all, monitoring a conversation is one thing, but responding to it is another entirely — the domain of CRM, something Salesforce knows better than almost anyone else.
Get popular on the Internet, and you’ll have thousands of close personal friends who want you to pay attention to them. Unless you’re a social media rock star like Chris Brogan, who claims to be able to use Twitter at scale, you’re going to need some help.
Using a combination of keyword search, web crawling, and visualizations, companies such as Visible Technologies, Radian6, Techrigy, and Cymfony help you track your newfound popularity by measuring and organizing conversations with anyone who’s interested in your brand or your company. Others, such as Keenkong, are still in stealth mode.
But monitoring thousands of conversations across Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and blog comments is only part of the challenge. You still have to respond to them. If you automate your responses, you sound inauthentic. Imagine sending a message on Twitter and getting a 140-character form letter in return: You’d unfollow that person pretty fast. So you need to assign the task of following up to a human.
This moves community management tools from the world of social network analytics into that of customer relationship management. And while some of these startups have basic CRM features, that’s still a world Salesforce dominates.
While Service Cloud, which looks like the fruit of Salesforce’s 2008 acquisition of Instranet, initially targets customer service interactions, it’s a small step from there to marketing and sales interactions across social networks. Ultimately, Salesforce is building a tool that companies can use to engage with their markets across all online channels. Providers of community monitoring tools know they’ll need to pay attention to the new gorilla in their midst.