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Salesforce Offers LinkedIn-Like Service for Businesses Inc., the largest maker of customer-management software, is introducing a service for companies to build online networks that let them link to third parties like suppliers and consumers.

The Salesforce1 Community Cloud enables users to build public websites and applications supported by Salesforce’s servers that have the look and feel of an online community like LinkedIn Corp.’s network, Salesforce said in a statement today.

“You need to be social to be able to interact with your customers,” Nasi Jazayeri, executive vice president of the service, said in an interview. “It’s really important for you to be connected and for you to have control.”

Salesforce is expanding into a segment, coined the enterprise social network market, that had sales of $1.24 billion last year and is projected to grow to $3.5 billion by 2018, according to researcher IDC. The technology is based on Salesforce’s Chatter application introduced in 2010, enabling companies to build social networks for their employees, which has seen rival services emerge from Yammer, Jive Software Inc. and Netsuite Inc.

Companies that use the Community Cloud technology can plug it into other Salesforce applications such as billing and recruiting services, the company said. The starting price of the product is $500 per month.

While Salesforce has been selling the technology to existing customers since June of last year, from today it will be available for purchase on the company’s website. About 2,000 social networks are now supported by technology, according to Lisa Hammitt, vice president for business operations of Salesforce1 Community Cloud.

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Customers include Cornell University, GE Capital, Honeywell International Inc., Tata Group and the state of Colorado, Salesforce said. Philadelphia has used the technology to create a social network where its citizens can exchange information on crime in their areas.

Salesforce, led by Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff and based in San Francisco, has built its business around cloud computing, where programs are accessed online instead of on site, outmaneuvering rivals like Oracle Corp. and SAP SE, which have been slow to embrace the market.

Benioff’s company has acquired businesses including data management startup RelateIQ Inc. in July and e-mail marketing provider ExactTarget last year, and has struck partnerships including an agreement with Microsoft in May to make their business-software products work better together.

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