Cloud software provider Salesforce.com has announced plans to revamp its products to make social networking a key focus for the company.
Many experts have pointed out that customer engagement is a key priority for businesses, especially during the downturn. Steve Garnett, European chairman of Salesforce.com, said CEOs recognise that their employees need to deal with customers in a different way, not just through traditional CRM [customer relationship management] tools.
"There is a wealth of information on social networks. The days are gone that when something goes wrong you call the vendor. If you get a problem, you Google it, or you go to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. the days of customers calling you are over," he said.
At the supplier's Cloudforce.com conference in London, a survey of 150 CEOs conducted by Coleman-Parkes Research for Salesforce.com revealed that 73% of CEOs said that social networks were important to build brands. A further 68% said social networks were important to launch products and 61% saw social networks as a way to engage with customers.
Coleman Parkes founder Ian Parkes said CEOs believe social networks can make a big impact on their business. "As more organisations become mobile, social networks become important for cascading information to a disparate workforce. Social networks are also used to attract new staff," he said.
Salesforce.com is pitching the idea of the social enterprise, said the supplier's CEO Marc Benioff: "Companies need to rebuild their front office, using APIs for Twitter and Facebook...to engage with customers."
One example is Coca Cola, which has signed Salesforce.com's first Social Enterprise licence agreement. Benioff said the drinks maker was looking at how it can engage more closely with the 33 million fans it has on its Facebook page, what this means to the next generation of drinks machines, and how it all links in with its back-end SAP system.
Similarly, Toyota Friend is an electric car that updates its status using proprietary and public social networking sites, allowing the car's owner, dealers and Toyota to share information, such as the level of power remaining, whether it is due for a service, and even tyre pressure.
Kevin Beatty, CEO at Daily Mail publisher A&N Media, said, "I get really excited looking at the external customer perspective. Customers are setting business the challenge of reading their minds. There is a whole new vocabulary around this. In A&N if we allow the regulations people to close [social media] down, we won't get anywhere. Let's stop all this lock-down. It is time to open up."
Beatty said that in companies there will always be people who break the rules and will be caught. But blocking everyone's access to social media sites is not the answer, He said that stopping access to social media stops legitimate users, such as staff who are the "ambassadors of the company."
Andrew Greenway, Accenture's global cloud computing lead, added, "The successful strategies in using social media tools internally are sponsored by the CEO. The CEO has a huge impact on the proper use of these tools."
Due to the nature of how organisations work, Greenway noted that business-to-consumer companies are much further ahead in using social networking effectively than the business-to-business sector, which is now starting to catch-up by collaborating with their supply chain and customers.
Bola Rotibi, analyst at Creative Intellect Consulting, said, "It's early days for social networking [in business]. It's important to have clear guidelines. There should be a trial period. Some companies will be much more locked down, while others will be far more open."
Ian Cohen, group CIO at risk management company Jardine Lloyd Thompson, said social media is defined by the type of organisation you are.
"You have to get into sharp focus on who you are as a company. Remind people who they are. From an IT perspective you should step back and listen," he said.
"The CIO role needs to adapt because of social media. IT is starting to grow up so it can facilitate the debate. We have to do a lot more listening than telling and it is vitally important to step back. Give people enough guidelines to prevent them doing bad stuff, then step back."
Cohen urges CIOs to be flexible with security policies. "I work in a regulated industry. It is not one size fits all. You need to create a flexible IT environment. There are some areas, like the call centre and production environments where it is not feasible to bring in your own laptop. in." But he says that much of the business can support such access.