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8/18/2011
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University Finds Chatter Cuts 'Reply To All' Problem

Fresno Pacific University deploys Salesforce.com social software on departmental basis, nixes wall-to-wall rollout.

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Since Fresno Pacific University adopted Salesforce.com's Chatter social network as part of an effort to improve the recruiting process, it has begun expanding, department by department, across the university based in Fresno, Calif.

Jonathan Maher, institutional research data analyst at the university, said Chatter was originally adopted in early 2010 as part of an implementation of Salesforce.com, with customizations specific to recruiting built on Force.com. Since then, its use has been slowly growing throughout the university and now covers five departments. For example, now that the tutoring faculty is on the system, a recruiter who gets a question from a Spanish-speaking student worried about his English skills can use Chatter to query a tutor about the help the school has available, he said.

"The faculty is not currently in it, although one of the deans came to me recently talking about his interest in having faculty members create accounts," Maher said. "I'd love for everyone to have a Chatter account, but right now adoption needs to be department by department."

Maher said the concern is not cost--he doesn't pay on a per-user basis--but simply taking time to make sure each new group of users is prepared to use the tool effectively. That's a pattern that matches up with some expert advice on more effective adoption of social media. The danger of expanding too fast, without getting users geared up to use the software, is that there will not be enough content in the system to meet user expectations, he said.

Salesforce.com says it has more than 80,000 customers using the commercial version of Chatter launched last summer, plus another 10,000 who use the free Chatter.com version introduced in February. Those numbers will likely be revised upward during an earnings call on Thursday. Director of product marketing Sarah Patterson said the product is used for a wide variety of collaborative tasks, including those outside of sales and support, but its biggest strength remains its integration with the Salesforce.com application platform.

Still, some large customers such as Dell and CA have rolled out Chatter "wall-to-wall" within their organizations because they want everyone to be able to use it, she said.

Salesforce says that users surveyed report that they have been able to reduce meetings by 28% and email by 32%, on average, with the use of Chatter.

Maher said he still has Chatter configured to send him email notifications about activity "because to me it's not about reducing email, it's about improving communication." On the other hand, Chatter is very effective at reducing the kind of group email communication where employees "reply to all"--even though only a fraction of the audience really needs to receive their message. Chatter allows employees to listen in on different conversations and follow different people according to their level of interest, setting email notifications for some communications and periodically checking others when they have a spare moment.

"What I see is that there is definitely less forced communication, where everyone gets something shoved down their throat," Maher said.

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Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2011 | 2:07:14 PM
re: University Finds Chatter Cuts 'Reply To All' Problem
It seems like one of the big benefits of enterprise social collaboration apps over traditional email is the connections made between/among people who might not otherwise be invited or even know about conversations. It's culture-changing. (But the reduction in reply-to-alls is pretty nice, too :)

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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