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John Gorup

With the buzz around Einstein and Bono at Dreamforce this year, Community Cloud may have flown a bit under the radar. (You can watch the Community Cloud Keynote here.) Rather than being released in one big-bang announcement, Community Cloud has evolved over the years, and is now a full-fledged solution that can add real business value to organizations. There are now over 90 million members on Salesforce Communities.

Of course, the popularity of the solution alone shouldn’t drive organizations’ decisions to use it. Instead, it’s important to understand what exactly people are doing with Community Cloud. On a high-level, Community Cloud is about connected people doing business and having access to all the things that Salesforce CRM does. It’s important to note the tight connection with CRM. Having a community connected to leads, opportunities, cases, and everything you do in CRM is key to making Community Cloud powerful. Connecting people on a platform builds efficiency, but also needs to be nicely branded, mobile, scalable, and intelligent. Salesforce Communities does all this, but partner-built Lighting Bolt solutions — introduced this year — make communities even faster to implement for certain business cases. Many of these use cases can be broken down into 3 categories: customers, partners, and employees.

salesforce-community-cloudCustomer Communities

In many industries, virtual communities have become beneficial to customers and the vendors that serve them; one example is Spotify for music. In Spotify, I connect with people I know, and the music they enjoy influences my choices. The community enhances my experience as a consumer of music, but community also benefits the vendors — and the sometimes obscure musicians I would never have heard of if it wasn’t for the suggestions of my community. This is basically how the economics of a customer community works. And research has shown that membership in a community affects 6 phases of a consumer’s purchase decision: 1) need recognition 2) search for information 3) evaluation of alternatives 4) purchase 5) consumption 6) post-purchase evaluation.

What Community Cloud gives companies is a way to provide a branded community that facilitates this process. Giving customers more power has the bonus side effect of deflecting low-value support or sales inquiries. This improves the quality and efficiency of conversations and speeds engagement.

Partner Communities

For businesses running with a franchise model or a partner channel/reseller model, communities is fast becoming the standard of engagement to improve the B2B experience. For partners, Communities acts as a clearinghouse for data. It helps partners get the help they need quickly, stay on message, and ultimately, leads to increased sales.

A partner community works in any situation where the front lines of sales and service are in direct contact with customers at physical locations — like in the retail, hi-tech, and manufacturing industries. For companies using retail outlets (in either a franchise or corporate-owned model), Appirio built an installable Lighting Bolt Community.

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Employee Communities

The essence of having a good Worker Experience is treating your employees like customers. An employee community is a great replacement for the old, stale intranet. The intranet used to be HR’s tool to house policies and procedures that were often outdated and not in the least bit engaging.  And if any solution in an organization needs a replacement, it’s the intranet. Prescient Digital Media conducted  a survey that found only 13 percent of employees reported participating in their intranet daily. (A full 31 percent said they never do.) Employee Communities need to provide knowledge, a place where people go to collaborate and connect with their peers, derive data and analytics, and transact in a Facebook-like ease-of-use. In addition to traditional employee/HR transactions (benefits, payroll, change of address) it should serve as a tool for onboarding, career development, and connecting employees to the organization’s brand and mission.

Start by building a strategy

Salesforce Communities has come-of-age as a full-on collaboration solution that sits on top of Sales, Service, and Marketing clouds. But as most IT professionals know, a great tool is worthless without good data and a sensible business process around it. This is especially true with Communities, which requires an actionable strategy and continued care through content and employee engagement.

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