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.

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.

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.  

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

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.