Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Marc Benioff Brings His Social Cloud Message to New York CEO Marc Benioff will be delivering one of his keynote speeches at a company event in New York today. The talk will probably be a variation on the social enterprise talk he’s been giving since late summer, in which he compares the importance of companies embracing social enterprise tools to the effects of the Arab Spring.

Basically, the argument goes like this: Since the protestors in Egypt organized and collaborated via Facebook and Twitter against a government that didn’t understand the tools, companies that don’t embrace social enterprise and collaboration tools like Chatter will wind up like Mubarak — overthrown, or rather defeated by their competitors.

Yes it’s a stretch, but you certainly can’t fault Benioff on the passion and enthusiasm of his delivery. And since it’s a event — Cloudforce New York — there’s no one to yank him off the stage.

There will also be news. Benioff will talk about a new mission for Radian6, the social media monitoring outfit that Salesforce acquired in March for $326 million. Expect to hear him talk about the “social marketing cloud” quite a bit.

What does that mean? Radian6 will be getting some new features around engaging and messaging sales leads and contacts on Facebook and Twitter and Web forums, and so on. It will have some powerful tools for filtering all the junk that people post and look for places where people are expressing clear sentiment or intent to buy, asking for guidance, or maybe looking for a deal.

In an example Salesforce showed me in a demo yesterday, if someone is looking for an online stock broker and asks their Twitter friends for a recommendation or about a specific broker they’re thinking of, that company’s social media team will see the message, classify it as a sales lead, and can reach out with special offers. The same thing goes for customer service messages. When someone is unhappy about something — say, their cable service — those posts can be automatically assigned to the right person for a follow-up, a special offer, or whatever the case may be.

People so often turn to Twitter and Facebook to give feedback or to express outrage about products these days, and companies are still figuring out how to respond and work with those platforms. It’s all about protecting brands.

Benioff’s talk takes place against the backdrop of a lot of uncertainty around Salesforce’s share price, valuation and growth prospects. Salesforce stock has been slapped around a bit following an earnings report that analysts didn’t exactly love, yet you can’t deny its revenue growth rates are impressive: Salesforce is on its way to being a $3 billion company next year.

The problem with Salesforce is how the market should calibrate its valuation. The shares have traded as high as $160 and as low as $109 this year, and closed yesterday at $110.58. Premarket sentiment this morning shows Salesforce stock headed up about 3 percent as of 8:08 am ET. Some people — namely hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson — have argued that Salesforce is fairly valued at about 75 percent lower than where it’s trading now. Expect Benioff’s comments today to give the shares a lift. But given how volatile the shares have been, don’t expect it to last.

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