Social Enterprise

How Yammer is killing enterprise social networking

By looking at the reasons behind enterprise social networking adoption in large corporations we can begin to understand why social business tools are not living up to their hype or potential.

There’s no shortage of articles explaining why companies are abandoning enterprise social networking. Since Microsoft's purchase of Yammer last year, it’s becoming the brand that represents the entire industry. Therefore, a close look at Yammer's approach may reveal why enterprise social networking is not delivering the genuine value large companies are seeking to make it worthwhile.

Finding someone who has tried Yammer is easy enough. Yet most conversations reveal its lack of usefulness or traction.  Being a business communications tool, the market is beginning to expect measurable results in a similar fashion to when email was introduced into business communication. Executives are now looking to move past the almost “intangible” objectives that Yammer has historically been designed to address such as knowledge sharing and skills identification.

By looking at the reasons behind enterprise social networking adoption in large corporations we can begin to understand why social business tools are not living up to their hype or potential.

Primal, Visionary and Operational objectives

Historically, and as a general rule of thumb, large enterprise companies have failed at effectively communicating internally across their organisations. The dissemination of valuable information can sometimes take weeks to cascade down if it arrives at all. Therefore, one of the key benefits derived from social business software is the rapid ability to target and/or transfer valuable information amongst specific employee groups or individuals.

When considering outcomes, companies are seeking to solve Primal, Visionary and Operational Objectives. A Primal Objective could be the replacement of a current intranet and a Visionary Objective is a reduction in employee turn-over by improving employer of choice branding.

Primal Objectives solve visceral business requirements and can be valued in today's dollars whereas Visionary Objectives are aspirations that the company hopes to achieve at some uncertain point in the future.

Operational Objectives however, represent the tasks that employees and management are facing on a day-to-day basis. Operational Objectives are directly linked to productivity and accountability and are the easiest objectives to translate into ongoing ROI. Operational Objectives are therefore where the true value of enterprise social networking is derived.  

For example, a large retail franchise may use enterprise social networking during a weekend promotion to receive live feedback from franchisee managers on the shop floor. Usually Head Office would receive feedback after the promotion via phone or email. By this late stage the opportunity to optimize the promotion has been forfeited and documentation becomes unreliable. Without direct and timely feedback retail franchise companies will continue to base their promotions on limited anecdotal opinions and historic sales data. In this scenario, enterprise social networking solves the Operational Objective for improving effectiveness of weekend sales campaigns.

The lowest common denominator

When approaching this retail franchise scenario from a technology implementation standpoint, the enterprise social networking tools may need to be modified or customized to ensure managers use the systems effectively. In concept, all social business software applications are similar enough. However, the lack of capability to respond to Operational Objectives is where Yammer (and similar off-the-shelf products) fails to address the requirements in large organizations. Matching a social networking tool to an Operational Objective and ensuring it becomes useful and 'sticky' often requires ongoing configuration and customization throughout the adoption process.

Interestingly, most vendors operating within the cloud software industry would consider the words 'customization' and 'cloud applications' to be contradictory. Reason being is that customization implies an inability to scale and/or manage thousands of simultaneous customers (i.e. customized systems are difficult to upgrade and maintain because they are inconsistent). Exceptions aside, Cloud applications by design are off-the-shelf and are therefore intended for the lowest common denominator, or highest amount of mass appeal.

The question then begs; within the enterprise market, would a CIO deploy an off-the-shelf product to solve Operational Objectives across their entire organization? Could off-the-shelf enterprise social networking address objectives throughout various subsidiaries operating in complex business verticals? Would Yammer be sufficient to achieve the ongoing Operational Objectives of office, non-office, mobile, contractor, franchise, and casual employees dispersed throughout geographic regions?

CIO's understand this concept and it's an important reasons why there has been a reluctance to deploy cloud based systems in the enterprise market in general. This same reason may also be why Salesforce has been so successful in penetrating the enterprise market. Salesforce is one of the only cloud based CRM platforms that is highly configurable and allows organizations to deeply customize their implementations.  

The false start

Microsoft is approaching the social business market by simply bundling Yammer into its enterprise agreements. While strategically sound for Microsoft, the net result is that their clients are being blind-sided by assuming they've entered the enterprise social networking revolution. After 12 to 24 months of ineffective attempts to drive productivity and unlock value, enterprise social networking is being shunned as an ineffective passing fad.

Similar to email, business social networking is a paradigm shift with respect to internal communications and will take time to emerge and stabilize as an industry.  Therefore, the enterprise sector of the market is best served by software vendors capable of supporting complex requirements. Organizations seeking to unlock operational value should be considering vendors that can support ongoing and diverse requirements with agile and continuous improvement.

Although Yammer may be leading the industry into a false start, those companies working with effective enterprise software vendors will play a pivotal role in directing the market back into the 'temporarily delayed' social business revolution.

Anthony Zets is a specialist in enterprise social networking technology and strategy, and is the CEO of Mumba Cloud, an enterprise social network for companies with large, non-office based employees including franchise, contractor and part-time workforces.



12 comments
jinen1
jinen1

The fundamental problem with any ESN is it isnt built for teams. The way the network is designed, it kicks in self censorship & that leads to contribution problem. the tool that we are building (www.teamgum.com) is essentially meant to work in teams rather than at enterprise level. Besides, with its user friendly UI/UX, it focusses a lot on usage & hence the engagement. 

WUHall53
WUHall53

It seems to me looking at your retail example that the issue is cultural and working practice, not technology. My experience of retailers is that with exception of Christmas and a few other days, there aren't usually people with seniority and authority to make these decisions available around the clock. So who is going to be at Head office at 3pm on a Saturday to get all this real time input? During a branch roll-out I was involved in, we had a problem with a store that was nothing to do with our project and it took us 4 hours to find anyone with power to fix it for 4 hours on a Sunday!

juliengs
juliengs

I've tried to deploy Yammer in small to medium size teams and I failed. I've also seen many other people fail at their attempts to deploy this one or similar networks. Problem with enterprise social network tools is that they tend to be too "social" and people use them like they would use facebook, and then you end up with an enterprise network where relevant information is hard to find and too much happy hour noise. The only time I heard people saying that their succesfully deployed a tool like this, it was purely based on retention of users, but actually content on the network was not relevant. Overall, not much employee engagement or additional productivity.

At my current company (http://www.crowdbase.com) we're taking a different approach. A scalable model for content sharing that can easily suit pretty much any need, stunning UI/UX that users love, features that promote relevant information important knowledge sharing, powerfull search that makes you more productive, and much more. In general, I think that tools that focus on findind content that actually help you during your workday, and then building the network around that, has more chances to provide results for individuals and the company.

pydel
pydel

I am fascinated to see so much frustration from ESN pros (editors, experts, influencers...) regarding the ESN failures. It seems they are all right and companies are all wrong even the ones they assited...

I do believe ESN can be a success if the enterprise is able to change the way it works at every level of execution and management.

I don't think there is one way to succeed, it is mostly a matter of company profile and ability to rethink how it works.

I believe Yammer is a fantastic solution mostly because it has a great UI and experience and a fast adoption curve.

I don't believe you should design ESN features to your special environment because you would never get what you want when you want it. 

Yammer allows to go fast, but you definitely need to know where you are going. I think that Yammer and Microsoft have the weakness to believe it will change the world of work fast, forgetting it is not just a matter of solution but mostly a matter of goals.

It is true that employees are so overflooded with information that they don't believe upfront that deploying an new information chanel will help them.

To me ESN achieve great success when there is a combination of management commitment to use ESN to transform the way people work and communicate (transparency, engagement, reward, justice, knowledge sharing incentive, execs contribution...) and good guidance and excitement on how to use it (business cases, reduction of time to take good decisions, publicity and story telling about reallife advantages...).

In short ESN usually works when you believe in it and when you commit to it, it is not just a new tool or a new chanel. 

brad
brad

Social business platform are indeed not working. I've spoken personally to dozens of companies that rolled Yammer out with enthusiasm, only to find out it does not work. But not for the reasons you cite Anthony.

The problem is a bit of a 'catch 22'. For Yammer to be able to enable communications and discover hidden expertise there needs to be mass participation across the organization. But that requires a huge change in behaviour for everyone involved, and a substantial culture shift for the entire company. Not easy.

Get through that and the noise sets in. All sorts of people posting about all sorts of things that are not what you want to know right now. People are heads down busy at work. They don't want to be conversing about everything going on.

Full disclosure -- I'm the CEO and co-founder of Jostle, a different approach to connecting and enabling employees in the workplace that is much more workplace relevant. Interestingly, Jostle is achieving very high rates of user engagement, but is entirely turnkey, which sort of challenges the thesis of this article.

Hubertus H.
Hubertus H.

The case presented is strong: Simply adopting the FaceBook/Yammer model will disappoint and does not mean a company will reap benefits of Enterprise Social Networking. The rest of the piece seeks the solution through more technology: Yes, "Customisation" or "Integration" (@AlexManchester) may help for Operational Objectives. But I believe that there is more potential in adapting the paradigm: ESN can bring most business value to the Enterprise (@Walter Adamson), when used to further the achievement of its big Strategic Objectives. The real task at hand for this purpose is "Agenda setting" for self-guided business units and employees and that the paradigm of the chosen social networking tool supports the CEO in this critical task.

Walter Adamson
Walter Adamson

I agree with the whole thrust of this article. The time always comes when organic adoption reaches a point which requires non-organic resources e.g. money and capabilities, and then the question is asked "what business value are we getting from this?" This is Yammer's achilles heel in my opinion. This is where the enthusiasm collapses and the old gears of the CFO and ROI crush the inherent aspiration. Let's face it, Yammer was being used because it met some kind of need right? 

So how to understand and fulfil that need - I think Anthony is exactly on the ball.

I also like the comments and particularly @AlexManchester

It's great to see this all raised and being discussed. It's a bit of the Emperor has no clothes and noone willing to say what they really think about Yammer. After all it has been an outstanding success by many metrics, and it is not Yammer's fault that the approach is not being systematically developed. And it has provided a fantastic discussion point as almost all execs have at least heard of Yammer.

Onward !

@Walter Adamson@adamson @kinshipd

markolsen
markolsen

Hi Anthony - To me, the key argument is that  "...the lack of capability to respond to Operational Objectives is where Yammer (and similar off-the-shelf products) fails to address the requirements in large organizations". 

I'm sorry, I don't get it. Yammer is great for firing off immediate operational related comms, ideas,  questions, and getting answers or discussion. We can segment into teams or groups to reduce noise. How then is it failing?

kaur
kaur

Sounds like a software solution in search of a problem.

AndyJankowski
AndyJankowski

Hi Anthony, I like your focus on operations. I too think this is area is where ESNs provide the most tangible value. I would add that in order to derive this value, you actually have to change the way people approach and complete their work. This is a tough sell for most. I see the process of implementing a successful ESN as 1 part technology and 9 parts change management and business process transformation. Do you agree? I welcome others' thoughts as well. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. 


CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"... a lot of organisations do internal comms extremely well and have done for some time, but certainly tools like ESNs can enable a fresher dynamic to that discipline."

For those organizations that don't already do it at least passably, I suspect social media tools won't result in much improvement.

AlexManchester
AlexManchester

Some great points here Andy, the 'Primal-Visionary-Operational' model especially.

I think you may be tarnishing all with the same brush when it comes to communications - a lot of organisations do internal comms extremely well and have done for some time, but certainly tools like ESNs can enable a fresher dynamic to that discipline.

The point about configurable/customisable applications in the cloud is also useful. Microsoft has a huge advantage with Yammer over other vendors because of the SharePoint connection. I see Yammer as being semi capable. Moreso than something like OOTB SharePoint, less so than a deeper offering such Newsgator or something else (there are hundreds of apps now in this marketplace as you no doubt appreciate).

Together with capability of the tools, and the model you've outlined above, there's also a question of where the organisation is in terms of - for want of a better word - 'belief' around social benefits. If there's some scepticism, then really very basic tools can progress thinking. If it's 'toes in the water' time, Yammer or something else more off the shelf. If it's time to fully invest, then something more configurable. 

Going further and slightly off track, these initial assessments are useful, but then there's questions of 'how do we progress' if things get going, that's where I think some thinking/better integration/APIs and standards are needed to make this less about the tools, and more about the underlying capability in a business.