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Salesforce moves forward with controversial NFT Cloud pilot

Salesforce integrates with TikTok and adds marketing and e-commerce features to its platform -- including NFT Cloud, which sparked controversy earlier this year.

Salesforce will move forward with NFT Cloud, a new non-fungible token marketplace, despite employee protests earlier this year.

Salesforce NFT Cloud will be a no-code platform that enables users to mint, manage and sell NFTs, said Adam Caplan, senior vice president of emerging technology at Salesforce. NFT Cloud is currently in a closed pilot, and Salesforce plans to make it available in October.

NFTs are controversial for numerous reasons, including security concerns, the unregulated nature of NFTs as financial assets and the toll they take on the environment when they're associated with the Ethereum blockchain, said John Hughes, an NFT technology consultant and CEO of NearMintNFT, a marketplace under development for comic book artists to sell original digital artwork.

All three of those concerns were brought up in a letter of protest signed by 400 Salesforce employees last February when Salesforce first made public its plans for NFT Cloud, Reuters reported. Salesforce did not provide a comment to SearchCustomerExperience on its employees' concerns.

Salesforce NFT Cloud will only support transactions on energy-efficient blockchains, such as proof of stake; it will not support the more energy-intensive proof-of-work blockchains, the company said. That is in keeping with Salesforce's long-established claims to support sustainability. While company spokespeople did not name which blockchains will be supported when the closed pilot ends, they also said that Salesforce does not intend to create its own blockchain.

NFTs come with risks, rewards

The Salesforce NFT employee kerfuffle is a microcosm of what can happen to any company that gets into NFTs, Hughes said. Salesforce users who eventually use NFT Cloud must prepare to answer negative accusations associated with NFTs. They will inevitably come.

"I've heard them all, [but] if you have legitimate responses to calm the fears, people respond," Hughes said. "Every artist I've approached has said the same thing to me: 'Oh, these things are a rip-off, and they're bad for the environment.'"

Once a company proves it's an ethical NFT broker that takes security and sustainability into account -- and makes that a team effort in conjunction with marketing staff -- it's possible to build success with an NFT program, Hughes said. The blockchain platforms Salesforce chooses to integrate with NFT Cloud will be critical in swaying skeptical users, he added. The Solana blockchain, for example, uses about as much energy as two Google searches to mint an NFT.

To use NFTs most effectively, Hughes said, Salesforce users should think of NFTs less as collectibles or art assets, and more like the next generation of loyalty programs for their best customers. Built on the blockchain and supported with smart contracts, NFTs can be altered on the fly to change terms -- and unlock both physical and digital rewards -- as customers engage more with a company. Some clothing companies, including Gap and PacSun, have found marketing success with NFTs that tie digital items with real-world garments.

Companies and individuals who sell NFTs as assets, such as artists, can also use smart contracts to control resale terms, including the original creator's share of future resales -- a common arrangement for NFT ownership.

NFTs will yield more, better-quality data for marketers than loyalty apps, sites and cards, Hughes predicted. Plus, they offer companies an on-ramp into the digital worlds where consumers -- especially younger audiences -- spend increasing amounts of time. NFTs become possessions in the digital world.

"This is real. It sounds like a crazy thing that people want to buy digital art that lives on their phone," Hughes said. "Anyone under 30 lives on their device."

Commerce Cloud updates

News of the upcoming Salesforce NFT Cloud came with several other marketing and e-commerce features in conjunction with Salesforce Connections, a user conference geared toward Salesforce admins and others who manage Salesforce cloud applications at their companies. Salesforce collectively refers to them as "Trailblazers."

In a pilot to begin this month with planned release for September, Commerce Cloud users will be able to sell on TikTok by switching on the site as its own sales channel within Commerce Cloud's social media channels; Salesforce plans to add it to the console alongside other social media apps, such as Snapchat and Instagram. Users will be able to automate catalog product feeds into the TikTok app, as well as measure ad performance and segment audiences for ad retargeting with TikTok Pixel.

"We're making it much easier for merchants to engage in channels on all social channels like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat [and create] relevant offers for their customers through automated feeds and curation," said Scot Gillespie, executive vice president and general manager of Salesforce Commerce Cloud. "Payments, speed and flexibility continue to be critical for our customers."

Salesforce also released Commerce for Customer Service, a set of features that gives agents a customer's order history across channels and enables returns, exchanges, promotions or complete orders from the agent console. It is available now. Commerce Marketplace, which enables Salesforce users to set up their own marketplaces to sell their own items along with other companies' goods, will release in September.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget.

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