Q&A with Salesforce’s Clara Shih, Author of “The Facebook Era”

In late 2007, we spoke with Clara Shih, then product line director for AppExchange at Salesforce, about Faceforce (now called Faceconnector), a SalesForce application that allows users to augment their traditional CRM data with information from Facebook which was created by Shih and Facebook counterpart Todd Perry in their spare time.

Since then, Clara has taken on responsibilities for social networking alliances and product strategy at Salesforce. This week, she is announcing the launch of her new book, The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences, and Sell More Stuff.

We recently spoke with Clara about The Facebook Era, her vision for social networking in the enterprise, and how her experiences at Salesforce informed the book.

IF: Clara, why did you decide to write The Facebook Era?

CS: I wrote the book ultimately because I felt like it had to be written. When I developed Faceforce with Todd, it was just an experiment at the time. We developed it for a couple of reasons. One, when I was in a small restaurant in Hong Kong in May 2007, two men started talking about Facebook in Cantonese. I realized then that it wasn’t about technology, it was about the fundamental sociocultural shift taking place, and the changes in the kinds and quantities of relationships we’re able to have. Two, I started thinking about Facebook as my personal CRM system. Now, 175 million people have a database of contacts on Facebook. That’s a really efficient system – now, you have a pool of people to draw on in both your personal and professional life.  We heard all the stories of people who used Faceforce for sales and marketing and we realized we are on the cusp of something really big. We’re transitioning away from an anonymous web and into a world where identity matters.

How has your experience at Salesforce informed the book?

Faceforce would never have been developed if I wasn’t working at Salesforce. Living and breathing enterprise changed the way I thought about web applications, and basically brought workplace applications into my consciousness. At the first f8 developer conference when “poke” applications were launching, I kept asking – where are the business applications? Increasingly, many of us feel the lines blurring between our personal and professional lives. Understanding what the value of a CRM system has made me want to bring that same value to Facebook.  The future is changing because of this social layer.

Who did you write The Facebook Era for?

The Facebook Era is written for marketers, salespeople, and executives who understand that social technologies like Facebook and Twitter are important but don’t know exactly what it means for them or the steps they need to take to be a part of these communities.  The first part paints the vision of social and explores how social networking and online identity change  the kinds of interactions we can have with people online, putting it into the contexts of other major revolutions like the internet and PCs. The second part focuses on what the social graph means for marketing, sales, and recruiting. The third part goes into detail on how you set up your community. My goal for the book is to have people think differently about social media and social networking and how it affects relationships between vendor and customer.

What did you find most surprising when you were putting the book together?

What surprised me the most during this process was just how little people know about Facebook and Twitter and these other social networking services. This is true even for people who use them in their personal lives.  There seems to be a lack of awareness around some of the more sophisticated functionality like privacy controls or hyper-targeting ads, so that if I’m a marketer selling golf clubs I can create a very specific ad campaign for men from 40-55 who have “golf” listed as an interest in their profile.

What is your most important tip for people thinking about these questions?

For individuals, I would trust the importance of thinking carefully about whom you friend on Facebook and how you organize and tier those relationships. Specifically, what information you share with whom. Going forward, that’s going to be an important asset for each of us to manage – our personal brand.

For people purely in the business context acting on behalf of their brand, I would challenge them to start thinking differently about their customers and what audience segments they’re able to reach, because by using hypertargeting tools on Facebook and MySpace they can really tailor messages to tiny microsegments and test new segments that previously were too expensive to test.

Thanks Clara. Any final thoughts?

I don’t think people understand the magnitude of the change thus far.  When gopher or the web first came out, it was hard to fathom what it would mean for our lives, and now we’re at that point with the social web. We’re just embarking on the second phase of the web – the world wide web of people – and who knows how it will change the world.