Radian6 helps chart Salesforce.com’s social course

David Alston is listening, and he can hear you talking on the Web’s social networks.

The chief marketing officer at Radian6, the Fredericton, N.B.-based social media monitoring firm purchased in March by Salesforce.com for $326 million, says that before a company must know what conversation is taking place before it can plan a strategic social media campaign. Speaking at the San Francisco-based Dreamforce conference last week, Alston discussed life after acquisition.

“The place to start is with listening, and within that is analytics,” he says. “The ability to quantify what’s being said, how it’s being said, and what’s derived from that.”

David Alston gives his ‘escalator pitch.’

His words echo those of Salesforce.com executives at the conference who are working hard to drill home one message with attendees: the software as a service offering has grown well beyond its traditional customer relationship management (CRM) role and into a platform that could power the social enterprise. Integrating information from popular social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn into its CRM is just part of that plan, as is the expansion of Chatter, the social network Salesforce built for businesses.

Despite all that social integration, Salesforce.com hasn’t absorbed Radian6, but instead continues to let it operate independently.

“Before the acquisition we had a race car that was just flying along,” Alston says. “Now we have a race car powered by rocket fuel.”

Still sold as a separate package, Radian6 has been able to access the large Salesforce.com customer base, he says. “Salesforce recognized the value of leaving the brand to independently grow and at the same time leveraging everything that Salesforce.com can offer.”

Since joining the large corporation helmed by CEO Marc Benioff last March, Radian6 has contributed to Salesforce’s strategy to place a strong emphasis on social features. While the company hasn’t changed the way its product is sold to customers, and remains independent, Salesforce.com executives talk about how the ability to listen to the social media conversation is the first step in putting to use the other social tools in its Web-based suite.

While Radian6 kept on its 300 employees and key leaders, Salesforce.com did name its executive vice-president for CRM, Alex Dayon to head up the division.

“Analytics is the first point every company should have,” he said during a Q&A session at Dreamforce. “How can you run your business without knowing what people are saying about your products?”

In its raft of social feature announcements during the conference is Chatter Connect, an application programming interface that allows Chatter to be integrated into any custom or third-party application an enterprise might use. That allows companies to determine how they’ll use social features and when it makes sense for their in-house processes.

Social customer profiles allows Salesforce users to track customers across social networks, giving insights into what they “Like” on Facebook and what they are talking about on Twitter.

“The social profile is core to what we’re doing,” Dayon says. “It’s a very important part of our DNA. Everything taps into the same version of the customer profile on Salesforce.”

How Salesforce’s new focus of helping businesses understand the impact of social networking interactions will affect Radian6 isn’t clear yet, Alston says. The merged companies share a common vision and Radian6 is collecting feedback from current and prospective customers. But it is expanding its own sales team, and pursuing SMB clients for the first time.

“We’re focusing on different markets we’ve not looked at before,” he says. “Each one of those verticals that we’re looking at has a specific use or ROI approach.”

Radian6 will also be evaluating what new social networks to scour in returning social media analytics for its customers. For example, dumping deserted social networks like MySpace or considering the adoption of new user bases like Google+.

One thing’s for sure, Alston will be listening.

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