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Private social networks playing Facebook role in more workplaces

Carolyn Duffy Marsan | Oct. 21, 2011
From retail chains to electric utilities to manufacturers, a growing number of U.S. corporations are harnessing the power of social networks to modernize how their employees communicate with each other, business partners and customers -- making these firms more nimble in the marketplace and leaving their less Facebook-savvy rivals trailing.

"What we're seeing happening with social technologies is that the barriers are falling down in terms of who is an influencer,'' says Scott Holden, senior director of product marketing, Sales Cloud at "Everyone gets a voice, and the best ideas are bubbling to the top. Employees are using these technologies to turn themselves into meaningful voices in the room."

In surveys, more than a third of Chatter users say they are seeing productivity gains from the social platform. Specifically, 30% said they are sending less e-mail, 27% report attending fewer meetings and 52% say they are finding key information faster.

The latest version of Chatter, which shipped a week ago, allows users to communicate with customers as well as to send private messages internally. The file sharing features are improved, and the latest version of the desktop makes it easier to follow Chatter updates from key people and groups.

Holden says companies need to prepare their employees for social applications like Chatter. They need to be clear that the purpose is to share business information, not make frivolous statements. They also need to share use cases and explain proper etiquette.

"This is not Facebook for your company. This is taking the best social features of Facebook to make you more productive," Holden adds.

DenMat has overhauled its IT and its corporate culture since rolling out Chatter and Salesforce in February 2010. More than half of Den-Mat's 400 employees use Chatter, and the rest of the employees are being added to Chatter this month.

"DenMat has been around 30 years. The infrastructure from an IT point of view was all AS/400 [server] systems and green screens," Green explains. "We introduced Salesforce to the group, and immediately people started poking around with Chatter and relationships started forming. Our sales people started chatting with the accounting department about particular accounts."

DenMat didn't force employees to adopt Chatter. Instead, the firm let the application grow organically as employees started using it to collaborate with each other. Soon Chatter expanded from the IT and sales departments to marketing, customer service, accounting and R&D.

"Before Chatter, there was a lot of e-mail, but there wasn't a tremendous amount of collaboration. People were pretty much head down on their own jobs. We didn't have sales talking to accounting," Green says. "Now we're putting the rest of the company on Chatter because we've seen how it can work for us."

Problems resolved

Green can identify 20 major problems that DenMat has been able to resolve within 24 hours due to Chatter conversations. For example, one customer was complaining to his sales rep that his Web site wasn't getting prominent enough display on DenMat's Web site. DenMat's IT department was able to quickly gather documents that showed exactly how often this Web site was mentioned and the number of people who clicked on it.


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