Salesforce Communities: Quick Setup and First Impressions

With the Summer ’13 release Salesforce has introduced communities along with a few other cool features. I wanted to explore these a bit more, this post covers the quick setup procedure and some first impressions on how communities work. Communities are all about making business processes social – they let both internal and external users interact in a secure way around your business. They are replacing the current customer portal (for new organizations this is the only game in town), though you are still allowed to keep using the customer portal if you have it. The layout can be customized, supporting both Visualforce and Site.com extensions. The communities reach beyond the customer portal with the social integration, and the ease of deployment is awesome. I took the time to poke around and create my own “blogging” community in a development org for testing. Here is the full walk-through for the setup.

First, as an administrator I have to enable communities for the organization. Just like chatter, and some other features, once enabled it cannot be disabled for the org. This is all done under the setup menu.

Enable Communities

Once I’ve enabled communities I can specify a URL as the main domain for all of my communities (each will have it’s own sub-name under the primary). I can’t change this once I’ve set it, so I need to choose wisely if this is going into a production organization.

Community URL

Once I’m enabled and my URL is set I’m ready to create my first community!

Success!

Defining the community is very simple. Salesforce did a great job with ease of deployment, I can be up and running in a matter of minutes with a basic configuration and customize from there. The declarative interface for deploying a new community is highly intuitive. Once you have defined your new community, the community setting dialog launches. This is where you can configure user access, tab availability, branding, email settings, and the login page.

A New Community

Community Settings

For a quick setup I went straight through the different settings nodes specifying a few values. User access is granted based on the profiles as well as permission sets, and the organization wide sharing rules and role hierarchy still apply for sharing access. Once thing I did notice on the branding is that your image has to have been previously uploaded into Salesforce content, you cannot select a new file directly off your computer to upload (however, for the login page you can). The branding page lets you make basic color changes with predefined color schemes along with the ability to change any individual element. Once you start customizing the customer portal you will probably move pretty far from the defaults, but as a quick “up and running” configuration it was a very nice option to have. As expected, emails will use your email templates and one specifically for communities is predefined.

All together it took me about five minutes to click through all the basic settings. Once I completed the setup I was redirected to the preview of my community. The preview is available to system administrators, once the community is ready for prime-time I can publish it to allow other user access. Granting access is also simple; I can allow self-registration for community access and also have single-sign-on, as well as facebook-sign-on, integration options. Since my community only allows the tabs I’ve defined it is very similar to a focused external-facing app. Communities are available for Salesforce Touch, but it is not as full featured compared to computer browser access. All of my communities appear in the community bar at the top of my browser window, so I can quickly jump in and out of the community views. I think this is my favorite feature; it makes the integration much more accessible and I could see being a community contributor quite easily with this setup. This would be especially useful if I was organizing a big event – the community could be all of my attendees, as well as any presenters, to maximize the pre and post event dialog.

Active Community

Quick Navigation

Integrated with the new Summer ’13 chatter-topics and chatter-publisher options communities bring a whole new level of flexibility to external access, customer and vendor engagement, as well as mobile deployment. I think communities are a fantastic addition to the Salesforce platform and am really looking forward to seeing their usage in more deployments.

For more information about Salesforce Communities or other Salesforce administration or development topics please contact us.