SALESFORCE.COM launched a mobile application for Chatter, their “Facebook for business”, this week. An employer would not be alone if she baulked at the thought of her workers checking their friends’ status updates during the working day. Particularly when a study conducted by Peninsula, the employment law firm, has found that 233m hours are lost every month as a result of employees “wasting time” on social networking. Major banks such as Lloyds and many government agencies have reacted to this by blocking some of their staff from sites such as Facebook to prevent procrastination. If social networking is such a timewaster, is there really value to a small business in an internal social network?
Collins, Salesforce.com’s marketing guru, argues that the concept provides a collaborative space to share data, replacing “dead” company intranets that nobody likes or knows how to use. Status updates are designed to keep people in the loop and the feed filters help better target information relevant for employees.
There is clearly a market here: another company called Yammer has developed an internal twitter-style service for businesses that is also doing well.
Collins says that one of the biggest advantages of Chatter mobile is that it is accessible from anywhere. Entrepreneur Paul Shelton-Smith, who runs a children’s party supplies business called Bounce UK, should be the ideal market for this product as his business relies on communicating with a mobile workforce. He is sceptical. He says that “sometimes it is just simpler to give someone a call.”
The director of start-up publishing firm Public Matters Alex Hilton says he already uses an internal project management system which offers many of the features of Chatter. He says he can see the value: “the remote accessibility enables the whole team to access the most up-to-date data no matter where they are, plus it gives me an excellent overview of projects.”
When asked about the network’s potential for procrastination Hilton said “the social element encourages people to use a system that would otherwise have no attraction. I think it has increased our productivity.”
Unlike Facebook, Chatter enables employers to monitor their employees’ activity. Collins says that this function can help highlight under-appreciated members of staff who work collaboratively. When asked if it could create office rivalry, he that “sometimes a little bit of rivalry can be a good thing.” Employees might not agree.