Dreamforce Hype Can't Dispel Doubts About Social Media's Effectiveness

NEWS ANALYSIS: Salesforce.com presented numerous case studies at Dreamforce 2012 on how enterprises are incorporating social media features into their enterprise application portfolios. But enterprise social media is a new thing to many organizations and they're still trying to figure it out.

Salesforce.com spent much of the time at its Dreamforce 2012 user conference in San Francisco presenting customer case studies showing how enterprises large and small are being successful implementing social media applications.


Most of the presentations came from household name companies such as General Electric, Ford Motor Co. and Men's Warehouse showing how they are gaining benefits by incorporating social media tools into their mission-critical business applications.

But while Dreamforce slickly packaged these presentations to deliver the message that enterprises are scoring great successes in implementing social media applications, the reality is less ebullient as some companies are proceeding cautiously with social networking.

The Web is replete with cautionary tales about what can go wrong if an enterprise social media strategy flops, if management buy-in isn't there or if some employees consider the company Facebook presence to be just as much a time waster as maintaining a personal Facebook page.

Not All Companies Jumping on Social Business Bandwagon Yet

A cautionary tale for them is Spacebook, the NASA version of Facebook for its employees, which was shut down because the space agency discovered that an average of only 14 employees were using it weekdays and none on the weekends. This prompted a humorous send-off for the program by late night TV host Stephen Colbert, who lamented that "we've lost the Spacebook race!"

But there's an important difference between an internal social media page to share photos of your boss playing volleyball at the company picnic and incorporating social media tools into your CRM, customer service and, now, marketing campaigns.

Still, industry analysts who attended the Dreamforce conference say customers are still figuring out how to integrate social networking into critical business applications and how deep a commitment they want to make to it.

At Dreamforce 2012, Salesforce demonstrated its Salesforce Marketing Cloud Sept. 20 and I found myself doing an eye roll when Michael Lazerow, chief marketing officer of the unit, boasted that "this is the largest change in marketing ever."

Does that mean it works better than free product samples, a Super Bowl ad or product placement on "American Idol?"

Success Stories Aim to Dispel Doubts

But enterprise customers were bombarded with success stories at Dreamforce as if to expunge any and all skepticism about the value of social media.

During Lazerow's keynote, Scott Monty, head of social media programs at Ford, showed how the automaker used social media to market the newly redesigned 2011 Ford Explorer SUV.

"We didn't just say 'Hey, here's our car.' We set up a bunch of stories because content is the currency of social," said Monty. Content included interviews with two engineers who helped design the Explorer and their personal stories. The Explorer page also chronicled launch events in several cities.

Ford recorded 99 million media impressions the day of the event, making it the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter.

"We were the No. 2 trending topic on Google [but that] was because that was the day Lindsay Lohan was being admitted to or released from some facility," Monty said.

Of course, that doesn't mean 99 million new Explorers are now on the road, and Marc Benioff, Salesforce's CEO, admitted at a news conference Sept. 19 that the return on investment (ROI) of enterprise social media isn't assured yet, but could be over time.

Anecdotally, David Fischer, vice president of business and marketing partnerships for Facebook, told the Dreamforce audience that Best Western reported a 20 percent increase in revenue from a promotion executed on Facebook and that people who "Like" Starbucks were 38 percent more likely to visit one of the company's ubiquitous coffee shops because of a Facebook campaign.

Most Business Information Passed On One-to-One

For companies still grappling with whether to roll out an enterprise social media campaign, such stories help, says Andrew Dailey, managing director of MGI Research.

"Talk to the anthropologists," Dailey said. "We all learn from stories and that's how so much information is passed on from one person to the next, one generation to the next, and that's been going on for time immemorial."

For his clients, enterprise social media started with one or two people monitoring social media mentions of the company and then assembling a small team within the marketing department to start a few projects. In 2012, though, they are starting to really get it.

"Now they are saying, 'Wait a minute. This has got to permeate a whole bunch of areas of the whole business. It's not about having a separate group, it's about incorporating it into the way we do business,'" Dailey said.