Salesforce.com Inc.'s announcement that it will integrate Twitter into its Service Cloud offering may be a great way to ascertain brand reputation, but experts warn of "Big Brother" fears among Twitter users.
The San Francisco-based company will release, this summer, its customer relationship management (CRM) tool for Twitter, which will allow companies to perform keyword searches in the social networking platform. The idea is that companies can assess sentiments regarding their products or services, pull that data into their CRM, and even perhaps identify the user who made the comments.
But there is the potential the community will raise privacy concerns, said Aphrodite Brinsmead, New York-based customer interaction technologies analyst with research firm Datamonitor. "If people using Twitter know that someone is pulling every single last word they say like a Big Brother scenario, people might be a bit more wary about what they're posting," said Brinsmead.
Another potential issue is the value of information circulating on Twitter. The fact that Twitter entries are limited to 140 characters, said Brinsmead, means that "users might not necessarily be able to explain in full what their problems are." Adding to that is the identity of Twitter users and the validity of the entries can also come into question, she said.
According to Chris Fletcher, research director with Boston, Mass.-based AMR Research Inc., one concern with a platform like Twitter is the sheer volume of Tweets produced. "The support team could also find itself inundated as conversations on a product multiply exponentially," wrote Fletcher in a white paper following Salesforce.com's announcement of its use of Twitter.
But the degree to which a company will find information reaped from Twitter useful will really depend on the individual company, said Warren Shiau, senior associate with Toronto-based consulting firm The Strategic Counsel. Shiau explained his point using the example of a car manufacturer seeking customer sentiment by trolling bulletin boards dedicated to particular makes of cars. "It was an avenue that was fairly easy to get data from because the site was dedicated to that manufacturer or model," he said. "But Twitter is not dedicated."
But the ability to identify prospects among the Twitter community is another useful, and perhaps unspoken, objective of the integration of the social networking platform, said Shiau. Echoing Brinsmead's suggestion of Big Brother fears, Shiau said, "that is the side that isn't necessarily so much publicized because people always become uneasy when a social networking-type application or platform starts to be used for marketing purposes."
Shiau can't say whether remaining mum on the topic is intentional on the part of Salesfore.com, but the company is choosing to play up the customer service side of the offering.