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9/20/2012
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Coca-Cola On Chatter: Beyond The Secret Formula

Coca-Cola wants Saleforce.com's Chatter to be a force for innovation, if the company can get past its 'secret formula culture.'

Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
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Though it has the most popular Facebook page of any retail brand, with more than 50 million fans, the Coca-Cola Company is finding that success on its Chatter enterprise social network is a different kind of challenge.

"We're working on transforming our company into a knowledge sharing company, a knowledge enterprise, but that means moving from being a secret formula culture to a sharing culture," said Rachel Cain, global business director for knowledge sharing at Coca-Cola. She and Anthony Newstead, the IT innovation executive leading the Chatter implementation, gave a presentation Wednesday at Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce.com user conference.

Coca-Cola has been protecting and refining the secret formula behind its signature drink since 1886, so it has a tradition of keeping some things buttoned up tight, she said. That's why she made sure research and development, with its institutionalized caution toward sharing, was one of the first groups to try Chatter. Other groups included in the pilot phase included marketing, public relations, and IT. Coca-Cola now has about 12,000 Chatter accounts active (out of a target user base of about 100,000) and 561 Chatter collaboration groups created. This is the result of a controlled introduction, coordinated with sponsors in each business unit, Newstead said. "We didn't want it to go viral," he said, because early users needed more support to learn how to use the tool successfully.

[ Meanwhile at Dreamforce: Salesforce.com Goes To Work.com. ]

At some later stage of the game, when Chatter adoption has reached critical mass, Coca-Cola does hope to let employees enroll or invite their friends at will, Cain said.

Coca-Cola was one of the customers Salesforce.com highlighted in CEO Marc Benioff's Wednesday keynote, which put a heavy emphasis on developments in Chatter and the social-centric Marketing Cloud built around the acquisitions of Radian6 and Buddy Media. The keynote featured some bleeding-edge applications like tapping data from Coca-Cola Freestyle drink dispensers, which serve up custom soda mixes and allow you to save a recipe using your social identity or a mobile application.

Cain and Newstead told a more down-to-earth story about embracing social collaboration within the enterprise.

Because the goal was to innovate with social collaboration, Newstead said it was necessary to deviate from IT's traditional "gated process" for system implementation, which is built around identifying all variables and eliminating risks in advance "so when you go to production, you're in a state of certainty." That may be fine for an SAP or SharePoint implementation "because these are known quantities," but a project oriented toward innovation requires more learning as you go, he said. "You have to be able to work through the issues iteratively, rather than trying to figure everything out up front."

In a three month pilot that Coca-Cola completed last October, Chatter was implemented in parallel with Tibbr, the enterprise social network from Tibco. Different departments were exposed to each tool, and the IT group experimented with both of them. When users were surveyed at the end of the pilot, they generally said they had found the social collaboration tools useful, Newstead said.

When they were asked whether the tool they had tried ought to be deployed across the company, however, "Chatter was very positive, but Tibbr was a little more ambivalent," Newstead said. While 92% of those surveyed voted in favor of company-wide Chatter, only 44% said Tibbr ought to be broadly adopted. Though the products are similarly stream-centric, Tibbr was structured more around following topics rather than following people, he said.

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