Salesforce.com's Winter -11 release jumped Chatter features and adoption tools to the top of the page, thereby significantly enhancing social media in a business setting.
Significant enhancements to Chatter in the Winter -11 release include the ability to filter the Chatter stream according to groups, opportunities and cases, while also adding Facebook-like recommendations for people and groups to follow in the social media platform. And in a nod to knowledge workers who may not be up on how to use social media, a newly minted "What to do Next" box has now appeared prominently at the top right of the Chatter screen.
In my test use of Chatter, which is included in the Winter -11 release of all Salesforce.com editions, it became clear that Chatter fulfills my requirements for a business-class communication tool that can be securely and reliably used to promote social interaction without losing control of the business opportunities that are the subject of conversation. Winter -11 was released to Salesforce.com customers on Oct. 22. The feature is available at no extra subscription charge for all editions. Organizations can add Chatter-only users for $15 per month per user.
One of the pitfalls of social media in the enterprise is that the stream of data can be fast flowing and overwhelming. In a nod to Twitter, Chatter now supports hash tags. For example, I was able to reference #eweek in my "chats." At any time afterwards, I was able to search on "#eweek" and see all the references, in time and date order, that included the "#eweek" tag. This feature joins the newly added filters that now make it easier to find all chats that meet a specific condition. For example, I was able to find all chats directed at me, about groups or accounts that I follow and a host of other criteria. Unlike old-school filters that require administrative input to create a condition builder that runs against a data set, Chatter filters appeared based on who or what I followed. Less apparent to users is the new inclusion of the Chatter stream in Salesforce search. When I searched for specific terms in Salesforce, chats about that topic returned as results. This helps to lessen the likelihood of missing an important piece of the conversation because a user was busy doing something other than staring at their chat stream.
While the technology involved in Chatter works fine, adoption and usage policies still require management oversight. The good news for Salesforce administrators is that the "What to do Next" feature box is a well-designed, simple tool that provides quick guide to using Chatter. Most users should be able to use the short video and all of the tips in under 15 minutes. Usage policies are another matter entirely. For most organizations, Chatter should likely be added to the human resources policy guide alongside email. The do's and don'ts of Chatter mostly follow those that apply to email and other written communication.
In the Winter -11 release, Chatter has added a "recommendations" list that suggests people and groups to follow. This new addition should help new users with Chatter adoption while making it easier for those versed in the world of social media tools to more easily connect to resources they might not have previously known.