Winter 18 starts rolling out next weekend and we’ve already covered all of the Sales Cloud and Service Cloud features. This is a huge release in general – the Winter 18 release notes are a massive 575+ pages of new features – but in particular this is a big one for Communities. The last few releases have all been jammed with new Community features, so it’s pretty amazing to see how far Communities have come in just a year. One quick thing to mention as part of the Community updates below. Most Lightning Community customers are on the Napili / Customer Service template and as part of Winter 18 there is a new version for this template that you need to upgrade to. It is not automatic. If you’re a Napili / Customer Service template customer or you’ve already jumped onto the Partner Central template from Summer 17, you’re going to want to review the Update Your Community help and then update yourself. If you don’t update to the new version, you’re not getting any of the Winter 18 features or beyond.
Let’s get right to the features. In no particular order except what I find interesting:
Dynamic Branding – Let’s just start right off with a great feature – Dynamic Branding. Salesforce has been building up to this by starting with dynamic pages that are driven by criteria-based audiences. This has steadily gotten stronger over the last few releases, and now, instead of just changing a page based on the audience of your user you can change the entire branding of the Community. Previously, if you really wanted a different look and feel for different audiences you either had to build multiple Communities or you did something custom. With this, now you can have one Community with multiple brands. This is not only powerful from a Marketing stand-point but way easier to manage for your administrator. The way this works is you create an Audience and then you can map a brand to that Audience. Let’s talk about the great new expansion to Audiences as well that really makes this a one-two punch.
Audience Updates – Coupled with the super cool Dynamic Branding are some updates to make the Audience creation even more powerful. Now, just like you’d create filters for a list view, you can create Audiences based off of data from their User record. This is a huge expansion of the Audiences which before was based on more fixed data like their User Profile or Location. Now, you have ultimate flexibility in creating your audiences. If it’s a Partner Community that you want to co-brand based on the Partners Account, create an Audience and Brand for each Partner and boom, out of the box co-branding. Type of user? Give Technical Users a different look and feel than Sales users just by capturing that data somewhere on their User record. Alright, now that Salesforce made it so easy to create these Audiences, your next issue is going to be what happens if a User is in multiple Audiences? What would they see? Fear not – Salesforce has that figured out too with the ability to prioritize what Audience ranks above others. Endless possibilities here and all out of the box. Keep in mind, this works for pages as well as the overall branding so you can get as granular as you need (please do single components next!). One thing to keep in mind are Public Communities. This new Audience targeting is based on the User record so they’d need to be logged in. For Public Communities you’re still going to need to keep it to more location based off of the User’s IP Address since we don’t know who they are. Once they login though, you can unleash all of this.
Community 360 – This is one I’m super excited about. We mentioned it briefly when it came out in Pilot in Summer 17, but Community 360 is now GA. Community 360 allows agents to see what your Community users did in the Community right from the Service Console. So, now, if a community users logs a Case, your agent can see that they looked at three different Knowledge Articles prior to submitting that Case. That’s huge information as it’ll prevent your agent from re-sending the same Article to that user and frustrating them more – or if one of those three Articles is actually the right one, acknowledging that there may be another issue at play as the Article should have solved their issue and get some details on what went wrong. Agents are able to see back a whopping 15 months of activity. For now, the activity tracked are Article and Case views. Would love to see this get extended to all Community content at some point, but this is still a great start. With the Case views being tracked, this could also be a good clue to show a user logging multiple Cases and tipping your agent off that two people might be working the same issue. Finally. if your user belongs to multiple Communities, they are all tracked buy your agent can filter out the activity by Community.A few questions and assumptions here that are tough to tell from the release notes and the pre-release instance. First, I’m assuming the 15 months of activity goes back from the release and doesn’t start the day Winter 18 is released. I’m guessing we get immediate value there versus needing this to build up over time. Second, from the licenses this supports, it looks like it works on Visualforce AND Lightning Communities. We’ll need to confirm that, but that is great if it’s the case. Next, it’s unclear if this works with public communities. For sure, the user needs to login at some point for this to work. If this is entirely public it clearly can’t know who the user is. The question is, if the user looked at public articles prior to logging in, will those public pages appear in the activity. I hope so. One last note – this is one of those rare new features that will work in Classic as well as Lightning. All Service Clouds that have a Community should be adding this to their consoles. This is a terrific feature and can make an immediate impact on your customer satisfaction scores.
Add JSON Content to a Community Page – Now you can add JSON components to a Community. What is JSON you ask? Well, from a non-technical explanation, it’s an alternative to XML that is very commonly used for content like blogging or article publishing. WordPress and Drupal use it heavily. For Communities, this component is a great way to pull in content from outside sources – like your own website – and display them in the Community. The most common use case we are asked for is a blog. If your company has a some great blogs and content being written on the website – why wouldn’t you want to expose that within the Community? Now with a JSON Component, you can show your blog content within the Community without having to rebuild it. Keep in mind though, anything within the component is merely presented in the Community, it still won’t appear in search results or reports for your Users.
Partner Central Updates – The new Partner Central template that was launched in Summer 17 gets some updates with Winter 18.
Resources Pages – Typically Customer Community users get their content from Knowledge / FAQs while Partners are usually looking for specific pieces of collateral which is where Libraries come into play. Libraries have never been the easiest feature to show off nicely in Communities, and that’s now solved with the new Resources page. For Partner Communities you can add a slick looking Resource page that centralizes the Libraries and also gives you a Popular Now component to show off hot content. Much easier for Partners to find what they need and something that I’m sure will continue to be expanded in future releases.
Partner Programs & Levels – This and the Market Development Funds (MDF) feature below are interesting in that they aren’t really Community features, but they allow you to manage your Partners that are accessing Partner Central more effectively. These are more Partner Administration features. The Channel Program and Level feature will allow your manage Partner membership in different programs and levels. So, if you have Bronze, Gold and Platinum levels for your Partner program you can now create channel groups for these and put your Partners in them. Previously you had to do this with different profiles or attributes on the Account record. In addition, this format allows you to have Partners in multiple programs (like a Gold Implementation Partner that is also an ISV Partner). It looks like these channel groups can be used to set sharing rules, public groups, list views and folder security as well. This really streamlines how you can present content and data to your Partners and simplifies the management. If you’ve been managing your Partner tiers manually previously, this is definitely worth looking at to replace it.
Market Development Funds – Like Partner Programs & Levels, this isn’t a true Community feature, but it will be a big part of why your Partners partner with you. This new feature will allow you to track and manage market development funds (MDFs) that you make available to your Partners. Partner Managers can create an MDF for a time-period (like, granting $10k for FY2017) to a specific Partner. From there the Partners can request additional funds or submit claims against the allocation using the Community. These claims leverage approvals in the background for easy approval or rejection. All of this is fully reportable and visible for the Partners within Partner Central.
Chatter Out of Office – Love it! You can already set your out of office for email, but what if someone is @mentioning you in Chatter? Huge pain in the neck when that goes unanswered for a week while you’re out. Now users can set an out of office in their Chatter too. They set the data range and a brief message of what they’re doing, and when it’ll appear in their user profile and anytime someone @mentions them. It automatically turns off on the end date.
Pinned Posts for Chatter – Pretty cool new feature here. Now in your Chatter Groups or Topic Feeds you can pin critical posts to the top of those feeds. Only authorized users can pin the post, and it’ll stay there until it’s unpinned. This is a great way to make sure critical announcements aren’t lost in the feed. This works in both Lightning Chatter and Lightning Communities.
Emojis in Chatter – Maybe due to the incredible success of the Emoji movie (which really makes me question our youth) we now have Emojis in Chatter posts. Yay? This works in both Communities and Lightning Chatter. The available emojis pull from your OS’s default emojis, so yes, you’ll be able to add the pile of poo to your Chatter posts.
Chatter Encryption – Chatter can now be encrypted across your instance. Feed posts, Feed Comments, Feed Questions & Answers, Polls, and even Link Labels and URLs can all be encrypted when you activate this. To turn this on you do need to contact support, but the nice thing is this works in Lightning Experience, Classic, Communities and Salesforce1. This is a must have for a lot of corporations out there that have stricter privacy policies or regulations they need to comply with.
Chatter Streams for Community Users – Chatter Streams were one of my favorite new features in Spring 17 and then they got even more powerful in Summer 17. Now they are available to Community users. Community users can create their own Streams so they have consolidated feeds of the content they want to follow. Each Community User can create up to 100 streams. To make this available, you just need to add the Stream List page into your Community.
Chatter Questions Rankings – A couple of additions to how answers can be ranked with Chatter Questions. First, you now have the ability to turn on upvoting / downvoting for answers of Chatter Questions. Anyone in the Community can vote – unlike the Best Answer option where only the person who asked the question is allowed to select. The voting also does not impact a user’s leaderboard score. The Select as Best is still there and remains the same, but we now have another option called Company Verified. I really like this. Now, you as the Community owner can also flag what you consider the best answer. So, if someone posts as question, and it gets 6 answers, the person who posted can flag what they feel is the best, but now members with certain permissions or moderators can flag what they feel is the best with Company Verified. Ideally, the Best Answer is something you agree with and your members can see that this answer has been verified by you as well. Great features.
External Files in the Community – Connecting outside file sources through Files Connect is a terrific feature. Within Chatter or Search you can see files from outside sources like SharePoint, Quip, Google Drive, etc. This was previously only available internally or within Visualforce Communities. With Winter 18, this is now available for Lightning Communities as well.
Improved File Uploads for Communities – There is now a standard File Upload component that can be added to your Lightning Components or Pages. It supports dragging and dropping files as well as the ability to upload more than one file. It has a progress indicator for your Community users while their files are uploading as well. Very nice.
Private Files on Records – A nice update for Files on records. Previously all Files on a record were visible to anyone who could see the record. Now, you can give each File different security. Keep it completely private for yourself, or make it private and add specific users or groups to see it. Only the File Owner and administrators can adjust the security.
Community Branding Updates – Two quick updates to your ability to brand your Communities. First, you can now easily add Custom Fonts that aren’t pre-packaged with the Community. Now, it’s as easy as modifying the CSS if you want to bring in a Custom Font. Second you can now fine-tune the Navigation Text and Background colors right from the branding menu. Just more tweaks you can do to get your Community just like you want it.
Community Browser Caching – If your community is loaded with components you might be experiencing slower page loads then you’d like. You now have the ability to enable browser caching for your Community to help speed up the page loads. This is an admin setting within the Community Builder. By the way, the Community Page Optimizer we talked about as a Pilot in Summer 17 is now GA. You can now run some terrific reports to see how your Community and specific pages are performing. Worth running before you start activating features like Browser Caching.
Flow in Communities – Now Flow can be embedded into a Lightning Component and added to the Community. By leveraging these components, it now acts like any other Lightning Component and can be branded to match the rest of your Community. Branding Flow has always been a bit of a pain-point, so this is great to see now out of the box.
Topics with Hashtags in Communities – I love my Topics. Now it’s even easier to add Topics from Communities by hashtagging the term instead of having to add it manually. #awesome.
Community Favorites – Not a feature of Winter 18, but we are close to rolling out our latest app – Fave&Follow. With Fave&Follow, you can make your Community stickier by allowing your users to add Favorites for any Community content and even by subscribing to receive notifications when an Article is updated. This is a common request that we get during our Community implementations and while Lightning Experience has this, Communities do not. The concept is pretty simple – you can now add a Favorites icon to your Community that your users can click to create Favorites. Any page within the Community can be added as a Favorite. Your users can click on the icon to get a list of their Favorites (just like your browser functions) and quickly navigate to their top content. They can also manage, sort and search their Favorites. Finally, specific to Knowledge Articles, if they Favorite an Article they have the option to also Follow that Article. When that Article is updated to a new version and email will be sent to all of your users that follow it. Great way to keep your users up to date on all changes. This is a simple way to make your Community stickier and help your users find the content they want. From an Administrator stand-point, all of these Favorites are stored in standard Salesforce objects, so it’s all reportable. We include a standard dashboard to allow you to track which content is being Favorited and Followed the most. You can use this as another key KPI to add to your analytics that your content effectiveness. Finally, just like any Lightning component, Fave&Follow can be branded to match your Community’s look and feel. Our v1 of Fave&Follow is for Lightning Communities only, but right behind this we’ll have a version for Visualforce Communities. Please contact us if you’re interested.
Wow. That is a monster of a release. There’s a bunch of other features that I just couldn’t fit in, so for Community and Chatter users there is a ton here in Winter 18. Awesome to see. Now, get these into your Communities once Winter 18 is live! Alright, our 4th and final write-up will be on Field Service Lightning. Be sure to check that out too.
Harry is the CEO and founder of GearsCRM, with more than 18 years of experience working with the Salesforce platform. Outside of Gears, Harry enjoys debating Star Wars and Marvel with his son and sharing music and videos with his daughter. He is an avid racquetball player, bleeds Dodger blue, cries Jets green and always tries to find spare time to read a good fiction novel.