Cloud

Salesforce.com CEO: Chatter is an enterprise social network, but that’s just the start

One of Salesforce.com’s latest and most-touted features in its enterprise social network, Chatter, lets you bring in people from external businesses and customers, so they can participate in activity streams alongside your employees.

The ability to bring in outsiders into a secure network is just a small subset of the newest tools the company unveiled at its annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Calif.

“When talking to customers, it’s obviously geared toward customer relationship management,” Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff told VentureBeat in an interview today. “We still see Chatter as an enterprise social network. Presence is obviously something every enterprise social network needs to have, and you’re going to see video capability coming into Chatter too.”

Benioff spent part of his keynote address on Wednesday showing off the new feature as a way to engage with customers and get a better sense of what they are looking for from an enterprise. But he told VentureBeat that while Salesforce.com is positioning that feature as a customer group, it’s still just a generalized function.

Salesforce.com is one of the top customer relationship management (CRM) software providers in the world and got on board the cloud computing train before almost anyone else. It has always delivered its computing-intensive applications from remote servers that customers can access through the Internet. It’s a space the company knows well, even though it has since expanded into social customer engagement through Chatter and its acquisition of Radian6.

“It’s natural to expect them to try and include a CRM app in whatever they make,” enterprise social network Yammer chief executive David Sacks told VentureBeat. “It’s what they know best.”

But Salesforce is just about as new as everyone else to the enterprise social networking space, which also carries a few upstarts like enterprise collaboration providers Yammer and Huddle. Salesforce.com initially launched its Chatter micro-blogging service to make a splash in the collaboration space. It then evolved into a more Facebook-like social network designed to handle all internal communication in a company.

That carries a lot of additional responsibilities for larger companies, which have strict governance requirements and need to have tight control over what communication happens inside the company and how much gets out to external sources. That means that customer interaction in Chatter could pose some problems for companies that are looking for a strictly enterprise social network, Sacks said.

“If you’re building a CRM app or something for your CRM app, then it’s fine, but if you’re building an enterprise social network you can’t really bring in external communication,” Sacks said. “It raises a lot of questions about security and governance.”

But that hasn’t stopped Salesforce.com’s charge into the enterprise social networking space. When last reported, Chatter had around 60,000 customers, although though that number has grown significantly since then, Benioff said.

Salesforce.com’s biggest customer, Dell, has around 100,000 active users. The rest of its paying clients have around 5,000 active users each, on average.

Benioff said he plans to hire an additional 1,000 people at Salesforce.com this year. While the company is only 13 years old, Benioff said he felt it has become a role model of sorts for cloud computing companies that are preparing to go public. Since it launched, Salesforce has already landed a market cap of more than $17 billion and it’s on track to generate $2 billion in revenue this year.

“When we say we have 100,000 Chatter customers, those aren’t trials or people who have just signed up, those are active networks. No one has numbers like that,” Benioff told VentureBeat. “It is the most successful of all the social networks because it’s an open service that you can develop on top of.”