is “doubling down on communities” in the age of connected everything.

The company announced today it is expanding its Communities product into a full-fledged Community Cloud. The vision: responsive online communities of any collection of people or products based around a given interest and connected to business processes.

“Your toothbrush [will be connected] to the dentist,” VP of business operations Lisa Hammit said in an interview with VentureBeat. But “not until your dentist, you, and your toothbrush are part of a collaborative community [designed] to promote oral health” will it all “come to life.”

Salesforce’s role model for this vision of collaborating customers, employees, or partners — in any configuration — is LinkedIn‘s community for getting business done.

“What if you could create a trusted [community] to connect customers, partners, and employees through your own LinkedIn community?” Hammit asked.

The company said that the Communities product, launched a little over a year ago, has resulted in more than 2,000 active groups.

But millions of connected devices — including your toothbrush — are coming online, and as Hammit said, “Behind all those devices are customers.”

So the idea is that Salesforce’s users can engage all those customers behind all those devices through communities connected to business capabilities, such as the company’s Service Cloud or a company’s own resources.

“We believe that communities are the battleground for customer engagement,” Hammit said. One example she gave: a health-oriented community that is actually tied into electronic medical records and other medical resources.

However, the conceptual distinction between the older Communities and the new Community Cloud is — shall we say — somewhat clouded.

The Communities webpage, for instance, similarly describes its purpose as “connecting customers, partners, and employees directly to your business” for sales, marketing, customer service, and employees.

On a feature level, nearly three dozen new functions are being rolled out in this new cloud, including rich topics and profiles, reputation management, endorsements, SEO optimization, responsive design by device type, custom branding, and templates for communities. Consulting firm Deloitte has also set up a new practice with over 2,000 consultants for handling Community Cloud assignments.

Hammit also said that the new Community Cloud can build its online communities through interest graphs, where material and contacts most appropriate to a user are served up by the system.

How does this differ from other content management platforms with integrated community and personalization?

“The key differentiator,” she said, “is this is the first time you’ve seen this level of personalization connected to business processes.”

“Now resellers can update leads, employees can create and escalate service cases, and customers can review and rate products all from within the community,” the company said.


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