Salesforce.com has expanded its software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings to include social media marketing, following a $1 billion splurge on cloud social media specialists Buddy Media and Radian6 over the last 18 months. Was it money well spent?
The company's Marketing Cloud, launched in September, integrates Radian6's social media monitoring capabilities with the content generation and social media advertising capabilities of Buddy Media. The company claims the service already has 3,000 customers, including 55 percent of Fortune 100 customers.
It's not hard to understand Salesforce's motivation for moving in to the social media marketing space. From a business point of view, both its CRM and salesforce automation services are relatively mature. But social media marketing -- and tools that automate it -- are likely to explode in popularity in the near future.
An AdAge and Citigroup survey in June 2012 found that 72.9 percent of respondents said they expected their overall social media budget to increase over the next year. IBM's 2012 CEO Global Study predicts that social media-based customer interaction is set to grow by a whopping 245 percent within five years.
"Social media is the biggest thing to have happened in marketing in the last 60 years," says Gordon Evans, Salesforce's senior director of product marketing for Marketing Cloud. As proof, he points out that Procter & Gamble, the world's biggest advertiser, has abandoned TV soap opera sponsorship after nearly 80 years and has launched a big push into social media marketing instead.
Selling Social to the CMO
Cloud-based SaaS companies like Salesforce are in a good position to capitalize if the social media marketing explosion does come about as predicted, believes William Band, a principal analyst at Forrester Research – especially if marketing departments become more active buyers of technology.
"Most technology vendors are observing that IT spend and decision making is moving away from the IT department and toward other areas of the business - particularly marketers - because they are dependent on technology to support their activities such as search marketing and so on. So Salesforce is deliberately targeting this space," he says.
Band adds that marketers are used to buying from agencies or data providers via a service model, so a cloud-based social marketing automation tool suite like Marketing Cloud fits well with the way marketers work already: buying services they need without the need to involve the IT department at all.
Marketing Cloud Capabilities
So what exactly can Marketing Cloud do? In essence, it's Radian6 and Buddy Media bundled into a single product offering, although Evans admits that there is still much work to be done to truly integrate the two products together.
Evans says it offers six key capabilities:
- Social listening
- Social content creation
- Customer engagement
- Workflow and automation
- Social advertising
These six capabilities encompass a wide range of activities including: monitoring social networks to keep track of what people are saying about a company or brand; responding to these comments; creating content such as photo galleries from templates and posting them on sites such as Facebook; routing queries about a company and its products to appropriate departments; enabling staff to respond using the same communications channel; advertising - particularly on Facebook; and measuring the results of individual marketing initiatives.
In October Salesforce also announced that the analytics capabilities of 20 partners, including multi-lingual sentiment analysis provider Clarabridge and social influence specialist Klout, could be added to the service using optional add-on modules.
Consolidation in the Cloud
These activities can be carried out independently, but Evans says organizations need to take a more holistic approach to social marketing.
"At the moment PR teams are doing one thing, another guy is doing tweets. There are a lot of point solutions and no one has a consistent view of the world," he says. "We feel the immediate value of Marketing Cloud is to manage all of your social marketing from a single place. You may have 12 Twitter channels, six Facebook pages and so on, and you need to manage all of that together."
Marketing Cloud can be used by one or two staff handling all social marketing activities, Evans says. But it can also scale to accommodate companies with hundreds of staff dedicated to social marketing - some listening and responding to tweets and Facebook messages, others generating social content, still others concerning themselves with analytics -- all using the same centralized set of tools.
An Integrated Marketing Approach
Although integration is still at an early phase, one of the most intriguing possibilities is that Marketing Cloud's value could be enhanced if customers also subscribe to Salesforce's CRM and salesforce automation services. Evans describes a situation where a potential customer announces (perhaps on Facebook or Twitter) that they need a new laptop. "With a single click your social media manager can add that as a lead in Salesforce, and a salesperson who receives that lead can respond to it. If the original message was on Twitter, the salesperson can respond to it on Twitter - perhaps with a special deal or coupon code."
Messages can be routed manually in the fashion described above, or automatically using rules. (For example, a message containing the name of a product and the word "problem" could be automatically routed to customer support agents, Evans says.)
Another area where integration with Salesforce's other services could be valuable is advertising - for example using Facebook Custom Audiences. Marketing Cloud enables the targeting of specific audiences on Facebook such as "men over 40 who live in San Francisco and have mentioned cloud computing on their Facebook page in the last 30 days," but with Facebook Custom Audiences it can take a segment from a Salesforce CRM database and target those people on Facebook (if they have Facebook accounts,) Evans says.
It's ironic that at the moment Marketing Cloud doesn't take advantage of social networking for internal corporate use itself, but Evans says integration with Salesforce's Facebook-style Chatter social networking system is on the roadmap for the future.
Aside from the fact that the components of Marketing Cloud are not fully integrated yet, Forrester's Band believes there are other potential problems with the suite.
"A large consumer company would actually use Salesforce.com to interact with its trade partners, not its customers," he points out. "A common database for social tools and other salesforce information would only be of use for business-to-business companies, but for them much of what you get with Buddy Media would be irrelevant."
Band also believes the suite lacks many of the components necessary to be a true marketing suite. "It doesn't have anything for campaign execution, or resource management, in fact hardly any of the components that you would need for marketing," he says.
Salesforce is still working to get Marketing Cloud onto a sound financial footing. Combining Radian6 and Buddy Media has led to Salesforce shedding about a hundred staff from the two companies over the last few months, and figures released in October show that Buddy Media lost $20.6 million in the first six months of 2012.
It's also worth mentioning that Marketing Cloud will operate in a market that is becoming increasingly crowded. Oracle launched a product called Social Relationship Management in September, integrating social data into traditional enterprise applications like Oracle Fusion Marketing, Oracle Fusion Sales Catalog, Oracle ATG Web Commerce and Oracle ERP. Companies like SAP and IBM are also dipping a toe into the social media marketing pool.
That means the success of Marketing Cloud is far from assured.
Salesforce Marketing Cloud is available now from $5,000 per month for unlimited users monitoring up to five social presences and social listening to up to 20,000 mentions. Other packages are available that include up to 50 social presence and social listening to up to 7.5 million mentions.
Paul Rubens has been covering enterprise technology topics for over 20 years. In that time he has written for leading UK and international publications including The Economist, The Times, Financial Times, the BBC, Computing and ServerWatch.