As more businesses think of new and innovative ways to continue to capture data to understand and analyze the who’s and what’s of those interacting with their products and services, the concept of a community is increasingly becoming more important to have users engage and collaborate while having their needs addressed in a very personalized way.
Historically, concepts such as a company website and employee/partner portals provided a way for customers, employees and partners to view or reference a company’s products, services and offerings to allow some form of self-service, and to ultimately, reduce the costs of customer service reps sitting by a phone fielding calls or emails. The challenge companies were faced with in this old paradigm, was determining how users are interfacing with these self-service tools and then how to provide a better user experience while capturing better and more relevant data internally to make future decisions.
Within Phil Weinmeister’s Practical Guide to Salesforce Communities, he describes how Salesforce Communities can be utilized as a platform and a digital hub by better connecting people and enabling business processes to drive bottom line results while gaining better insight to a user’s interactions, experiences and current or future needs. Furthermore, Phil also explains why traditional websites and portals are missing the mark and how Salesforce Communities are now considered enterprise ready, specifically with the Salesforce Lightning framework technology and how Salesforce Communities are gaining high popularity. For example, in 2018, there are 18K active Salesforce Communities (7K of those built on Lightning) and 225M potential Salesforce Community users as essentially every Salesforce user could also become a Community user.
In exploring Phil’s book, I find he covers everything from A to Z in this guide, and he has the credentials to back him, specifically being the 1st Salesforce Community MVP and working directly with the Salesforce Community internal product engineering team to discuss his implementations, what his customers are looking for in new releases, and ultimately how to make the product better. As Phil provides details on everything Community related, there were a few key concepts that I found the most useful which is in no means comprehensive and I advise a reader to go through the guide in detail for a better understanding of all things associated to a Salesforce Community.
Planning for Success: before Phil jumps right into showing his audience how to do any type of configuration work around Communities, he explains the importance of planning, with the key takeaway being the vision led approach versus features and capabilities. Specifically determining the “why’s and the what’s” to engage and empower customers, to enable partners and to equip employees, before addressing the “how’s” regarding fields, objects, profiles and the processes of creating records.
Another key aspect of this planning exercise that Phil points out is the importance of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) to help drive Salesforce Community success. Good examples of quantifiable KPI’s that Phil mentions include: Member Registrations, Logins, Page Views, Record/Data Creation.
Licenses: I found that the Salesforce Community license model can get a little confusing, as it’s not a one size fits all set up and if an Admin does not know how licenses can be best utilized, the cost can grow exponentially. In the licenses chapter, in an easy to follow model, Phil breaks down the different types of licenses, the capabilities of each type and the most cost-effective way to use licenses based on the audience member’s intent in what they’re looking to achieve, how often they will be logging into the system and the companies plan (reference the vision concept in the above Planning for Success).
Community Templates: the templates that Salesforce offers out of the box helps provide organizations with the core functionality and features to support their basic requirements to get them started with Communities, while allowing companies to gain efficiency in utilizing best practices and lower cost of ownership on the base product. After providing this overview, Phil then drills down into how Communities can be expanded upon to create custom functionality using areas such as: Lightning Bolts, Salesforce Lightning Design System (SLDS) for building Lightning components, Flow, Process Builder, etc. Phil also stresses the importance of how Lightning capabilities have really improved on what Communities has to offer compared to the traditional Visualforce and Tabs architecture.
Phil then drills down in providing a step by step visual approach, asking logical questions to the reader to help refine their Community functionality, along with explaining real world examples of how to utilize and organize Community Builder and Lightning Pages/Components.
Community Management: typically, any chapter in a technology book that discusses user management, administration and set-up can be dull, but Phil keeps it interesting as some of the features offered within Salesforce Communities are worth utilizing. Many readers are familiar with this functionality being put in action with the Salesforce User Group Communities. These include the ability to flag inappropriate content, upvoting and downvoting Q&A dialogue among the community users, gamification by utilizing reputation levels using a point system and lastly suggesting relevant content based on a post of how many other people are discussing the same or related topics. Lastly, a new feature that was recently released was the ability to suggest an application based on a specific chatter post, one example Phil provided was suggesting a Trailhead module when a user asked about a specific functional area of Salesforce that they did not understand.
Additionally, Phil also explains functional areas that are currently utilized in other Salesforce clouds (Service, Sales, etc.) as well as some that are specific to Community cloud. These areas include: access management such as sharing and visibility of a record, field or object; user authentication; community membership; sharing sets and sharing groups. He also highlights, provides examples and comparisons of process automation which include Workflows (e.g. to send welcome emails to newly registered community members), Flow (e.g. allowing a user to determine their warranty status of a product), Process Builder (e.g. posting an update to a chatter feed when a new community member joins).
From a personalization point of view for Community management and as companies continue to try to learn how to customize their user’s experience without the need for heavy programmatic solutions, Salesforce Communities is allowing for a more personalized way by using declarative features without the need for heavy Apex or Visualforce. This would allow user A to have a completely different layout and experience than User B. Phil provides notable examples and diagrams to help a Community Administrator configure this, by using branding components within the header, footer, navigation, chatter feds, etc. which can then be based on the user’s location, domain, user or record type. With utilizing these capabilities, Community User 1 based out of New York with Record A, Record Type 1 can have a vastly different layout and experience than Community User 2 based out of Tokyo, with Record B, Record Type 2.
Lightning Bolts: as Phil points out, Lightning Bolts terminology may have gotten construed over time, so he dedicated a complete chapter on what these are since they are one of the most noteworthy features to come out of Community Cloud. He describes Lightning Bolts as the ability to deliver a packaged community solution which includes the companies complete picture of how they are addressing their business challenge. Within this context, a Lightning Bolt includes: Themes (for the overall look and feel), Layouts (Page-specific UI), Pages (Component Containers), and the Components themselves (Standard and Custom). Phil steps through building these from the ground up as well as how to deploy them.
Other areas: The last area of the book highlights additional Community topics that would be at least another 200 pages if Phil went into significant detail on, but he does discuss at a higher level around Community capabilities that tie into Analytics, Moderations, Deployment, Salesforce App (aka Salesforce Mobile), Search, Messages, Notifications, Chatter, Marketing Cloud, Einstein, CMS Connect, as he did not want to lose context of the importance of these areas that help enhance the Community capabilities.
In conclusion, Phil wraps up the book around the significance of continuous learning and brings to his audience many great references such as relevant Trailhead modules, his personal blog (The WeinBlog), the importance of the Salesforce seasonal release notes and lastly the known players in the Community industry and their associated Twitter accounts.
Whether you’re looking to step into Communities for the 1st time, or you’re looking for ways to further enhance what your Communities are capable of doing, I highly recommend this book to be in your collection. Phil’s book can be found on Amazon at: