5 Noteworthy Communities Features in the Salesforce.com Winter ’15 Release

1. Customize Your Community with Community Designer (Beta)

Salesforce’s Take: Community Designer lets you create, brand, and publish a custom community site that looks great on any mobile device! Choose from four templates to quickly start your site, and then easily style the pages to match your company’s branding.

My Take: A very smart on move on Salesforce.com’s behalf. Instead of throwing Site.com at you and wishing you luck in building your Community, Salesforce.com has provided a easy-to-use designer to get you started. Anyone who has set up a Community using the branding configuration elements will testify that the standard branding options are extremely limited, so a feature that balances a potentially low development time investment with a meaningful look and feel is more than welcome.

I am a huge fan of Salesforce Communities. The potential that Salesforce has provided by combining Chatter with a means to interact with customers, employees, and/or partners is absolutely huge. For the past few months, I’ve been working on a truly cutting edge project that brings together eCommerce with some of the best and brightest Chatter and Community features and it is very exciting. We’ve been in lockstep with Salesforce, discovering that our own ideas for future Chatter/Community ideas were already in progress within the collective brain trust in San Francisco. However, it would be naive to say that there are not opportunities for improvement. Being on the cutting edge also means that I’ve run into some of these areas for improvement, as well. Understandably, Communities will take time to mature. The Community Designer is a major step in the right direction.


With the Community Designer, you can style a specific page by navigating to it via links and menu items. Branding is now incorporated into the site, so you no longer need to go and forth between the branding elements and navigating to the Community to see your changes. Additionally, Salesforce now provides a mechanism to view your site on different devices; pages will all be responsive!


 2. Create Self-Service Communities with Templates

Salesforce’s Take: The Community Designer provides three templates that you can use to create self-service communities out of the box.

My Take: These templates will undoubtedly help you to more quickly build a professional, branded Community that supports Case Management within Salesforce that doesn’t have the — should I say it? — “Salesforce” look and feel. The common platform look and feel has become established, which is not a bad thing. However, it rarely elicits a “wow” from users any more. The Community designer helps you to differentiate from that traditional look and infuse some personality into your Community with ease, while incorporating key Customer Support features, such as Knowledge and Case Management. I would not be surprised if these three templates are just the start; it would be great to see even more templates available in the future.

Salesforce is providing three different templates:

  • A visually rich, self-service template that presents users with Knowledge articles that are organized by data categories
  • A text-based, self-service template that’s optimized for mobile devices. It lets users search for and view articles by text categories
  • A powerful template for support communities that lets users post questions to the community and search for and view articles

In all three templates, customers can create Cases.


 3. Organize Community Content with Topics

Salesforce’s Take: Topics help you structure a community to quickly guide members to the information that matters most.

My Take: Currently, Salesforce Topics are fairly interesting, providing a way for users to tag and filter posts within the Community to find what they want. However, the administrative side of the equation has been lacking. There really hasn’t been an effective means to manage topics proactively.

The administrative shortcoming with Topics ends in the Winter ’15 release. Salesforce has thought through this issue and provided a way to proactively direct users through certain types of organizational-driven topics. Specifically, “navigational topics” and “featured topics” are introduced. Navigational topics are higher-level topics that can be used to direct users through your site in a sensible way. Featured topics could be lower-level items, but are highlighted on your site.


Users can still create member-driven topics, as they do today.


 4. Display Member Nicknames Instead of Full Names

Salesforce’s Take: Enabling nickname display in your community allows more privacy and protects member identities. This is especially helpful in a public community where unregistered visitors can access member profiles.

My Take: This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but it is a big deal to Communities, in general. I’ve experienced the pain as a result of this specific feature’s absence. I believe this is a good example of the progression from an internal-centered view to the new Communities-centered view of Chatter. When Chatter was first introduced, it was only for employees. In that scenario, organizations would not want to provide the option for an individual to hide his or her real name. Why would they? You communicate with your fellow employees transparently and for a good reason.

The same mindset doesn’t apply to a Community. While you may assume that a voluntary registration implies that a user is comfortable with being seen by users, it definitely does not always mean that. Sometimes, people want to check out the site, or even participate, while staying anonymous. This feature will allow users to use the site while keeping their identity masked from the rest of the Community.

5. Custom Level Icons for Reputation Levels

Salesforce’s Take: Personalize reputation levels to meet your company’s needs. Community managers can now upload custom images to represent reputation levels. Click the default image and browse to an image of your choice to associate it with the reputation level.

My Take: This is a fun way to provide some additional styling in your Community. Reputation icons are a fun way to recognize your users and being able to customize those icons helps to brand your organization even more. Furthermore, the out-of-the-box icons are nothing to write home about…

Here’s a look at some a mini lookup showing a custom Reputation icon that my organization is using for a client Community:


Here’s a look at a custom Reputation icon on the Community profile page:


Read the full release notes here. Enjoy!