Social intranet using Salesforce Communities: lessons learned - Part 2 (Technology)

Social intranet using Salesforce Communities: lessons learned - Part 2 (Technology)


If you are a business/IS manager (CRM Owner, Digital Product Owner, Social/eCommerce Manager...) and interested in implementing a customer/employee/partner/supplier portal or community, please read further. I covered the business aspect (Why?) in my first blog. Now it is time to introduce you to the technical aspects (What?). In Part-3 I will conclude with the delivery - or more precisely the sensitive - “team” and “governance” aspects (How?).



You can use Salesforce Communities confidently for your extended business processes to reach out to your internal/external customers. It is a robust and quickly growing platform that is worth investing in. But be aware of these constraints when you plan your delivery:

  1. User Experience: UX/UI aspects are not as sophisticated as some other web-content-management systems, but evolving rapidly. Salesforce realised that beautiful pixel perfect design can sell to users.
  2. Standard Components: were locked down, with not many parameters to configure. So we developed more than planned earlier. The page templates were flexible, but applying the CSS design was constraint. But there is a good variety of standard components that saved time.
  3. Content is stored in knowledge articles: this was an initial limitation that Salesforce now unblocked with a built in web-content-management-system and connectors to other solutions.
  4. Chatter Discussions: are a tree hierarchy, not in standard Salesforce tables. This made migration and management complex. But chatter is extremely useful to support collaboration.
  5. Platform: exceeded my expectations after working with on-premise SAP infrastructure before. Salesforce could hide all the infrastructure, and we could focus on the users and features. Salesforce has evolved the Communities to a robust Digital Experience Platform.



So we were requested to evaluate and create a global social intranet with 22,000+ users. We implemented it in a 6 months agile delivery and with a small lean team. It was a really challenging project as it had high visibility to C-level executives and high expectations from our Product Owner, the Comms Team and the IS stakeholders.


Future-proof Design

We used the standard Salesforce and Communities functions and content/data types as much as possible. It is best practice to minimise custom fields and code until you can utilise the standard framework. So if 3 times a year, Salesforce upgrades the platform, there is less adjustment needed. Some components changed a lot in later releases. The UI design (CSS of the themes) changed drastically. So we learned later how to adjust them quickly before each upgrade. But the biggest lesson learned was that the User Experience must be first, even on the cost of higher maintenance. Salesforce evolved and started releasing blank and advanced templates. This pretty much solved the issues we had 18 months ago.




Features (1*=poor/5*=excellent score by our experience)

Custom UI and Features we built

  1. Welcome (5*): This component welcomes the users with a personal greeting and enables them  to upload a cover photo on the home page. As on Facebook, users like reminding and identifying themselves with their family, hobby, favourite team.
  2. Custom UI (5*): To enable a beautiful UI design, we needed to overwrite the style sheets. This made support and maintenance harder, but it was worth as it gave a professional look.
  3. Personalisation/targeting (5*): We implemented special fields and logic to target content and functionality to users. We provided personalised items  on the homepage that act like 'hooks' to engage them. This has proven to be the killer application. Know your audience. Serve your audience. Gold.
  4. Mobile app for iOS and Android (3*): A wrapper to display the responsive website after auto-login the user. Extra features to make navigation “fat fingers” friendly. Adoption of the app was lower, which was a surprise to us. Users might not wanted to enrol their devices as the mobile device management took control over the phone or tablet.
  5. Performance Acceleration (4*): Download times from the Japan Salesforce data center were slow. So we implemented a long-term cookie and moved the solution to Australia. This enabled faster login and shorter response times.


Standard Salesforce Community Features

  1. Chatter discussions (3*): This turned out to be very useful and highly used. But users uploaded huge files (20-800MB). This caused migration/maintenance challenges later.
  2. Groups (5*): Including lifecycle management (create, add members, merge, migrate, close) proved to be loved by users. From 25 migrated social groups we quickly went up to 350.
  3. Search (4*): Web-like search in profiles, knowledge articles, groups, discussions. Is not enterprise search to find keywords in every other business app, but good enough for an intranet.
  4. Social profiles (3*): Users feed, groups, followers, followings, files and direct reports. Fairly basic functionality but extremely useful to learn more about someone than a phone number. We didn’t implement the social influence earned by using the community (how many people liked, commented on your posts), because it was a bit sensitive. Some “socially active” people could earn too much influence.
  5. Knowledgeable People (2*): The concept was great that users could endorse others with adding keywords to their profiles and others could vote on them. But after a user added an inappropriate keyword we realised that the reporting and governance of keywords were basic, so we took the component off.


Content Features

  1. News for Me (5*): Segmented, targeted news based on my profile, location, business unit.  
  2. All News (3*): All published news available, you can go back and read everything about your company. Good as a reference, but users might not have time to read old news.
  3. Featured News / Hot Topics (5*): Promotional boxes that can draw the attention of the user to a temporary topic or news item, external or internal link. This became extremely useful in general.  Can also be used in crisis situations when you need to reach 22,000 users in 3 mins.
  4. Quick links (5*): Collection of links to other internal or external web pages, applications, documents, files, forms, profiles, everything. This proved to be extremely useful to save heaps of time to users.
  5. Web pages (3*): Salesforce Communities 18 months ago didn’t have web content management module, so we had to store several web pages as Knowledge Articles. Proper web formatting was not really supported. Now a new module is available, with advanced configuration options.


Platform Features

  1. Languages (5*): Localisation was easy, just needed to enter texts for the enabled languages.
  2. Deployment between environments (3*): We faced challenges in deploying templates and UI changes, plus lightning code changes to the subsequent environments. This improved later.
  3. Design Framework (3*): We didn’t use any of the Salesforce recommendations as our design agency did a much better job giving us the UX/UI designs. But we had to wait for them many times to schedule the work. If you can (after the main UX/UI design is approved) avoid external dependencies. Have an in-house designer/front-end developer as it is a regular activity.
  4. Security (5*): Salesforce has a granular security model. So you don’t need to worry about it. Especially because most probably much bigger companies are on the same cloud with you.
  5. Stability (5*): Salesforce is extremely resilient to overload and misuse to protect all the tenants in the shared cloud environment. Even with large data loads and high number of users, the cloud was available. There is no downtime, only a 5 mins outage when they upgrade the platform. So highly recommend it to IT departments with limited resources.


Integration Features

  1. Automatic Login (3*): Users could single-sign-on using Active Directory, which is comfortable, but slow process. We could improve it a bit, but network latency in remote offices impacted load times.
  2. HR profiles (5*): From HR a middleware integration tool loaded all employees records to Salesforce. The setup of the integration was a complex and time-consuming exercise especially around testing. So if you can, plan double budget for this part.
  3. Network Connectivity (4*): We worked with 4 infrastructure partners to change domain names, firewalls and proxies (all the IT gadgets you don’t want to know about) because they can block ALL users on the cutover weekend if not properly tested. The best idea was to reduce the risk by having a pilot domain first and use it for 6 weeks with a subset of users.
  4. Desktop/mobile devices (2*): Management of these devices has proven to be extremely challenging around Internet Explorer old versions and settings. Multiple times users sporadically reported issues on their PCs, but we couldn’t replicate them on our laptops.



Laszlo Csite is a freelance project/product manager and scrum master, who enjoys working on lean-agile digital projects to deliver "Flow" User eXperiences and Productivity using digital experience platforms.

He does this by helping businesses to identify opportunities, plan and implement Salesforce Communities or other solutions to improve their customer/employee/partner experiences. He has been working on business/IT initiatives as a consultant and manager in the last 20+ years. Laszlo has a good understanding of Web/Mobile, CRM, ERP solutions and how they best integrate with each other.

He can help you find answers and get people to agree on a roadmap and best next steps. Feel free to ask him about lean product management, agile delivery and innovation/information/interaction/integration solutions and their measurement.


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