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.