Salesforce is back at it again with another feature to help its company customers be more social. This time it’s looking to help combine the world of business processes with the one of social interactions to launch Salesforce Communities. Leveraging the Chatter platform, along with other Salesforce products, businesses can create external portals that will allow consumers and partners to communicate directly with the company.

Salesforce’s move today highlights its continued effort to make Chatter, its enterprise social network product, the base layer of its entire offering. The enterprise software provider said the problem that businesses are having is using inadequate legacy platforms.

Salesforce Communities has actually been around for at least a year, having been available through a pilot program for a small group of customer companies. Today marks the official launch of the service, although it won’t really be available until this summer, according to Salesforce.

Screen Shot 2013 05 01 at 8.59.06 AM 220x320 Salesforce announces summer launch for Communities, its service to unite customer and business conversations

The issue Salesforce is trying to resolve is an ability to bring conversations into company sites and applications. Think about it in this perspective: if you’re a Nordstrom department store fan, you might visit their website to do some shopping or manage your account. But if you were looking for a discussion with other customers online about the latest fashion, article of clothing, or maybe to share with others, it doesn’t exist.

This problem raises the possibility of shopping cart abandonment, and it’s not limited to retail. What’s happening is that customers are sending emails to their friends and family asking them questions, posting messages on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, but all of these conversations are happening without the involvement of businesses, potentially steering customers to competitor sites.

Available through a subscription plan that charges companies $500 per community per month, Salesforce Communities offers for a wide array of topics, including for sales, service, marketing, or for any experience.

  • Salesforce Communities for Sales: Companies can now create communities for their partners, distributors, resellers and suppliers. Through this, companies can help drive more sales and hopefully increase their revenue through a collaborative manner, simplifying the experience to communicate with one another.
  • Salesforce Communities for Service: Basically a customer service portal, companies can create a place where customers can get answers to their questions quickly.
  • Salesforce Communities for Marketing: Not all communities need to be consumer-focused and Salesforce enables companies to create destinations to communicate with customers and agencies to help produce better marketing material.
  • Salesforce Communities for Any Experience: If you’re not interested in any of the above segments, then Salesforce enables you to create your own community.

It’s important to note that Communities is not going to create a stand-alone or bespoke app for companies to distribute out to their customers. Rather, it helps set up a community that can be added into an existing app using Salesforce’s API. But it’s not just available on mobile — there is a Web component that will be familiar to a company’s team of partners, resellers, and vendors.

Screen Shot 2013 05 01 at 9.00.35 AM 730x447 Salesforce announces summer launch for Communities, its service to unite customer and business conversations

The release of Communities comes as Salesforce has been making a rather aggressive push in introducing quite a few updates to its Chatter and other social products. In April, the company announced the debut of Social.com and launched an advertising service that integrated with both Twitter and Facebook’s ad platforms.

A couple of weeks before that, it updated Chatter with its “Topics and Expertise” feature to allow users to discover better answers. Also of note, in March, Salesforce unveiled new mobile updates to its Android and iOS apps allowing Salesforce CRM data to be accessed from within the app.

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