Salesforce, a pioneer in delivering business software over the Internet, is turning to social business and collaboration services to expand into new markets and keep its revenue engine running. So it’s no surprise that the company’s Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco this week is a love fest for social networking for business. But behind all the hoopla is a dark side that businesses should pay close attention to.

Salesforce's New Social Tools

Salesforce unveiled a long list of products Wednesday and highlighted big-name customers like General Electric and Virgin Airlines. The new services are built on top of Salesforce’s core software for managing customer relations and for helping sales and marketing teams be more effective.

Over the coming months, Salesforce customers will have the option of using Chatterbox for managing and sharing files with partners and customers. Chatterbox places Salesforce in competition with Dropbox, Microsoft’s SharePoint and Box, in which Salesforce is an investor.

Other services that will be available in the near future include being able to hold conversations with customers via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and to create and manage marketing campaigns on the sites. Salesforce will also release tools for gathering intelligence on sales leads from Twitter, blogs and YouTube videos.

Market Pressures

Salesforce is hoping all its new products will keep it ahead of larger rivals Oracle, SAP and Microsoft. With such heavyweights in its rearview mirror, Salesforce can’t afford to standstill. It needs to enter new markets in order to continue driving double-digit revenue growth.

The brass ring for all players delivering business software over the Internet is a $49 billion market that grew by 25% over last year, according to Forrester Research. Spending on social business software will grow from $800 million in 2011 to as much as $5 billion in 2016, according to IDC.

Companies Fear Public Social Networks

With so much at stake, Salesforce is pushing hard into the new social business frontier. But what the marketing hype doesn’t highlight is the risks that need to be addressed before customers rev up the vendor’s new services.

The danger of having employees say the wrong thing on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn is real. Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline learned the hard way when it paid $3 billion last year to settle U.S. government allegations that sales reps sold the company’s drugs based on claims not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Avoiding A Calamity

To avoid such catastrophes, analysts recommend a thorough training program for every employee that will be conducting company business on a public social network. “Implementing them (social business tools) isn’t that difficult,” IDC analyst Michael Fauscette, said. “The problem is the tools need to change your business processes and your company culture.”

Employees need to be prepared to do business under the company’s brand in an open environment. Policies have to be clearly stated on what information can and cannot be shared with customers or partners. Workers also need to be taught how to speak on social networks. They need to be aware that communications go far beyond the walls of the corporate office where they are sitting in front of a computer.

While email can also be used to mistakenly release intellectual property or private communications with customers and partners, information posted on a social network travels faster and wider. “You’re no longer shouting it out in the cafeteria, you’re shouting it out at the local mall where anybody can hear,” Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz said.

Nothing Is Simple

There is no simple way to introduce new policies and procedures for handling social business and collaboration tools. Changing a company’s culture to be sensitive to the greater exposure will also be difficult. So make sure you are ready before you turn on Salesforce’s new products.