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This past month was the Dreamforce conference, salesforce.com’s annual massive event. This year attracted some 19,000 registrants apparently (fueled by the free access to Expo and keynotes). The keynotes seated 10,000, and the hall before arrival (see photo to right) was incredible – a vast sea of chairs. And the community is getting huge – there are now almost 70,000 paying customers on the platform.

This was my first Dreamforce and I was really impressed by the community. Everyone I met was very friendly, all about sharing knowledge, and passionate about salesforce. I spent a lot of time talking to people, went to a couple really good sessions, and saw a lot of new, cool stuff happening on the platform. I also came away from the event really excited about the work we are doing creating an integrated relationship management platform that includes an easy-to-use website with salesforce.com. I feared this would be blown away by the excitement of Sites and apps, but really it seems there is more of a need for that than I had anticipated (if you’d like to check out the demos we do of an open source platform integrated with salesforce, sign up for a free webinar offered monthly).

Strangely, I was 2,500 miles from home and the band that played for the Global Gala (Black Crows) went to my High School! Though it was a fun evening, I could count the number of people dancing on one hand…

I’ve still got a bunch of followup and processing of notes to do, so this is my first step at sharing what I saw, learned, and took away from the event.

New features:

It got kinda hard to tell the difference between what’s new-and-there-now and what’s new-and-coming-soon, but there was some cool stuff exposed at the conference. I was particularly excited to see that a new salesforce UI will be unveiled (in the future) and that social media is now more integrated natively. Here’s some more highlights:

  • Outlook integration: the Outlook integration finally got rewritten completely for salesforce. It’s a whole new world with this one. Currently it’s in beta, and you have to request to access it, but looks like leaps-and-bounds improvements (actually built on some of how the Google Apps integration works, so if you’re using Google instead, you’ve already got most of this). Something I would like to see for Google Apps is the “add to salesforce” button for emails that are in your inbox. Watch session video.
  • Content will be Free! One great announcement at the conference is that the Content product will be free! This looks like an amazing tool with pretty slick interface, and now it will be accessible to all! ETA still to be determined. Check out Content demo here.
  • Social Media Integation: There’s a great advance with integrating Twitter and Facebook with salesforce. In particular, the Facebook “Answers” app can be added to Company pages on Facebook and it ties right into the service/support activities in salesforce. The question and answer that happens with your community in Facebook can be incorporated into the salesforce knowledge base also (and then presented in other contexts!). Twitter messages can also be used to create cases in Salesforce (like @ask_dell), and you can reply from within salesforce! The Twitter app will be default in salesforce in near future, and can now be added for free. Another Twitter integration allows you to track conversations about your Accounts right on the account page!
  • Scheduling: Cloud Scheduler is a new tool coming soon. It’s basically the “evite for business meetings”. Ever had problems scheduling meetings, especially with multiple people? This looks awesome!
  • Drag and Drop Reports and Analytics: Customize reports with drag and drop! This will be a major improvement to usability of these vital features.

Nonprofit:

Now with over 7,000 nonprofits having received donated licenses to use salesforce.com, nonprofits are a serious part of the salesforce community! Over 800 attended Dreamforce and there was an entire track for Nonprofits. Many of the sessions emphasized how “do-able” salesforce is for nonprofits, even without tech skills or big budgets. So not as much wiz-bang, but some genuine stories of how salesforce is being used.

The Salesforce.com Foundation was also front and center during the keynotes (check out their much-improved, new website!). The company’s 1/1/1 model has led to:

  • 165,000 hours donated
  • 7,300 organizations getting donated licenses
  • $18 million in grants being awarded.

Some of the content highlights from the nonprofit sessions include:

  • Donor and Member Management 2.0: A “down to earth” session with a small nonprofit (3 people) up to a larger group. Also includes anouncement of a new, free app for taking donations on your website (with Amazon payments) and mapping them into your salesforce instance (as account, contact, and opportunity), called eGiving. Watch video here.
  • Nonprofit Starter Pack: Steve walks you through how to get the most out of the starter pack the foundation produces for nonprofits. Watch video here.

Goodies

There are now 1,000+ apps available to extend salesforce! There is a lot of good stuff out there, but it can be hard to find with all that stuff…here are a few apps and things to check out to enhance your salesforce experience.

  • There’s an app for that! A session oriented at sales folks, but generally applicable for anyone. Many of apps featured are free. Also serves as a nice intro to AppExchange. Watch session here.

More to come…but that’s all for now!

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twitterIf you’ve involved in marketing for a small business or nonprofit, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the buzz around Twitter. Tech savvy social networking aficionados sing endless praises about the microblogging site, and cite case study after case study about how Twitter is changing the way businesses communicate with potential clients. Meanwhile, sceptics shrug and dismiss Twitter as a passing fad, or as the black hole of productivity — a thinly veiled time waster that has usurped the water cooler as the epicenter for mindless chitchat.

The truth, however, is that both can be true. Twitter can be a valuable marketing tool, but only if those using it (a) understand how the system works and (b) know how to manage their time. Small business and nonprofits must understand that tweeting is not a random process. It’s a calculated, strategic communications effort that involves meticulously tracking conversation threads and responding to posters when appropriate. The first step to using Twitter successfully is knowing how to find the conversations that are useful to you and then participating in those conversations.

In other words, it’s all about the hashtag.

What’s a Hashtag?

Hashtags (#) differentiate Twitter from other social networking sites. They are a simple way to catalog and connect tweets about specific topics. Perhaps most importantly, however, they help filter out unrelated tweets that might randomly contain a misleading keyword or two. Hashtags are inserted into the tweet itself, usually before or after the main message. A hashtag is a single word or phrase preceded by the pound sign (#).

It looks like this: #mozservice09.

Picture 11

Recent posts with #mozservice09

This hashtag was created by Mozilla and used by the company and their partners to catalog tweets about their 2009 community service week.

Users can search for hashtags on Twitter and catalogue tweets based on particular hashtags.

You can use multiple hashtags for a single tweet. For instance, Mozilla Service Week is about helping nonprofits who need technology assistance. So it makes since to categorize a tweet about that event under both Mozilla Service Week (#mozservice09) and nonprofit technology (#nptech). Now, that single tweet appears in multiple conversation threads, and is viewed by more people as they track and participates in the conversations that interest them.

How Can Small Businesses Use Hashtags?

There are two main ways you can use hashtags.

1. Track existing hashtags, then respond to relevant tweets.

One of the main obstacles with Twitter is that many new users find it difficult to locate hashtags relevant to them. Trending sites track the most popular hashtags, but most small businesses and nonprofits don’t care about what someone was wearing on Larry King or which b-list celebrity was arrested last night.  You’re looking for the hashtags used in your niche, not necessarily the ones that are uber-popular.

Picture 10

Twitterfall

We’ve found the best way to identify relevant hashtags is to start following people or companies in your industry and make a list of hashtags they use to categorize their tweets. After you find a hashtag that’s relevant to you, start tracking it with a third party site like Twitterfall. This site has a wide range of functionality, including:

  • easy-to-use interface
  • tracking of multiple hashtags simultaneously
  • color coding of tweets by hashtag for easy identification
  • Twitter login options so you can tweet within the application

Another similar site is Monitter.

When you experiment with either of these sites, you’ll find it’s easy to see what people are talking about and to respond to relevant tweets. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll start to see how Twitter connects you to conversations you wouldn’t be having outside the microblogging site — and allows you to network quickly and efficiently.

2. Create your own hashtag, then tweet with it

Once you’ve used Twitter for a while, the time will come when you’ll want to begin a conversation thread that doesn’t exist yet. This means creating a brand new hashtag, and using it in your tweets.

Say you’re heavily involved in NTEN’s upcoming 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. Right now it’s fall of 2009, so there’s not a lot of conversation on the subject. This is the perfect opportunity for you to start a conversation thread by creating a hashtag (like #nten10, for example).

However, before you create a new hashtag, make sure that another hashtag for the same conversation thread has not already been created. In the example above, it’s possible that someone has already created a hashtag such as #nten2010 or #ntenten. Paying attention to already created tags helps avoid duplicate conversations and makes it easier to track what’s being said about topics of interest.

hashtags.org

hashtags.org

There are a few ways you can search for these already existing hashtags. You can look on a site like hashtags.org, which is basically the wikipedia of hashtags. The problem with this site, however, is that users have to add entries themselves, so hashtags for more obscure topics are often missing. We’ve found the best way to find out whether a hashtag exists is to use advanced Twitter search or simply pay attention to your Twitter stream.

Does anyone else have suggestions about how to locate hashtags?

Final Words

If you’re interested in using Twitter as a marketing tool, start playing with hashtags — and let us know what you find.

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apIn our workshops and trainings, we stress that social media is best viewed as a conversation — an honest, friendly, transparent exchange between you and your target. We stress that, unlike traditional marketing, social media must not be controlled (it simply can’t). It must be reacted to.

The Associated Press proved this point the hard way last week. According to a Mashable article, the AP created a strict social media policy that prohibits employees from revealing their opinions about religion, politics, or other “contentious issues” on their personal social media accounts. The policy also suggests that employees remove postings from friends that “violate AP standards,” without defining what those standards are and how they relate to social media.

Why the AP imposed these guidelines is obvious: the higher-ups fear the mix of personal and professional content in social media could compromise the organization’s journalistic objectivity. But what happens when a news organization limits free speech by attempting to control what its employees say? Doesn’t that compromise just as much, if not more?

Already, the AP is feeling backlash from its employees. It’ll be interesting to follow how the AP adjusts its policy, and if this conflict affects how people (especially bloggers) view the AP in the months to come.

For more information, read Mashable’s article on 10 must-haves for social media policies.

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In a recent article, Mashable reviewed and compared 19 popular Twitter desktop applications. The reviews are informative, but mainly focus on how these applications can benefit individuals who tweet, not businesses. Does this mean that the Twitter apps best suited for individual users are the ones best suited for businesses or organizations? Not necessarily. If your business uses Twitter, here are five business-geared apps that will make your social media life a lot easier:

(more…)

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DC Central Kitchen gleans high quality, unsellable food from organic farms and hires the “unemployable” to turn the produce, chicken, beef, and eggs into gourmet frozen dinners, meals for the hungry, and lunch cart fodder for busy executives.  Every 12 weeks another class of chronically unemployed adults graduates their job training program and moves into the work force.  DC Central Kitchen is doing what most people consider charity work, but their social enterprises pay for 80% of the program’s cost and they are on-track to be completely self sustaining in 2 years. Now that’s entrepreneurship!

The 10th Annual Social Enterprise Alliance Summit held in New Orleans last week brought many inspiring entrepreneurs together for an intense exchange and learning environment.  This was my fourth Summit and I keep coming back to this conference to hear the stories and meet the people like Kevin Lynch of Rebuild Resources, who employs ex-addicts to make branded apparel providing job skills, transitional employment, and a recovery community.  Rebuild Resources is also operating at 80% self-sufficiency.

Social enterprises utilize market-based strategies to meet a social mission.  They take a variety of structures from non-profit corporations to the new L3C (low profit limited liability company) now available in some states. What all social enterprises share in common is that they are using earned income strategies to meet social needs.  Some enterprises are launched by existing nonprofits who are seeking to reduce their reliance on grants and donations, while others, like Greystone Bakery were founded to be social enterprises right from the start.  Lest you think this is some new fangled idea, some of our nation’s oldest non-profits, the YMCA and Goodwill, are social enterprises.

Everyone interested in good work that is making a difference should know the incredible stories of social enterprises like these.  Ten years ago, one could have argued that advertising is expensive and good work doesn’t make headlines.  With the rise of social media at the same time non-profits facing a decline in funding alongside an increase in demand for services, I don’t think it can be argued that media is inaccessible or the story isn’t relevant.

The difficulty is that many social enterprises are so focused on doing the work that they do not take time to tell their story, create a solid messaging, and leverage the tools available to market themselves.  Marketing is a core business activity that should not be forgotten by mission driven organizations.

In an effort to help enterprises market themselves on a budget,  ifPeople is offering a Social Media 101 webinar.  This course is part of our monthly trainings aimed at making enterprises more successful on-line. This workshop is a introduction for those just learning about social media tools and seeking to understand how they work. Join us Tuesday April 21st for a 1.5 hour training that begins at 1pm eastern.  Join our newsletter to receive notifications of upcoming trainings.

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In lead up to the NTEN NTC conference, you can help understand the nonprofit sector’s use of social media by taking a survey jointly launched by NTEN, Common Knowledge, and ThePort. The results will be launched at the NTEN NTC conference in late April (in San Francisco).

Click here for the survey.

Going to NTEN NTC? Check out the ifPeople+One/Northwest session on an open engagement platform with open source content management plus salesforce.com for the people/relationship database to cover your communications and operations process needs! Read more about session, April 27 at 1:30pm.

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You can now register online for the upcoming trainings from ifPeople at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits. Those trainings include:

You can get to the registration form from any of those linked pages (click on the “more info” link.


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