Yammer: Social is Open for Business


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This week Yammer, recently purchased by Microsoft for $1.2B, announced the “Enterprise Graph” at its customer conference in San Francisco. Essentially this is a platform intended to socialize business apps with features like feeds, profiles, following and likes. The enterprise social networking (ESN) provider also announced “pages” as a kind of profile page for business objects, and an App Directory of Yammer-approved third-party programs.

This continues the impressive growth of Yammer functionality, from a simple “Twitter for the enterprise” just 4 years ago, to a leading full-featured ESN. Forrester ranked Yammer a leader in its Activity Streams Wave of Q2, 2012, along with Salesforce.com (Chatter) and Tibco (tibbr). All contending for an integrated “collaborative layer” that enterprises will need to avoid a hodgepodge of internal social networks.

Synergy with Microsoft?

Of course the question everyone was asking was: “How will the Microsoft acquisition impact Yammer?” In the short term, it appears to be business as usual for Yammer. Chief Product Officer James Patterson said they intend to keep building out the functionality with a nimble development approach, emphasizing “discovery” applications in the coming months.

One quick win was the addition of language translate function Yammer got from the Microsoft labs, which will enable users to easily translate posts to their native language. But the real action will be integrating Yammer into Microsoft Office, Dynamics (CRM/ERP), Skype and SharePoint — which will take quite some time to figure out and implement.

Speaking of SharePoint, the Yammer acquisition speaks volumes about (the lack of) Microsoft’s confidence in attacking the enterprise “social” opportunity. Three years ago SharePoint 2010 introduced some social features, but didn’t impress the market. After three years of additional development, SharePoint 2013 may still be behind.

I will be interested to see how Yammer helps Microsoft, and vice versa. Patterson says they could certainly leverage Microsoft resources on the infrastructure side of things (e.g. Azure). But development? Not so much.

Yammer development is lean and fast, and keeps a sharp eye on engagement metrics to make sure features are not overwhelming users. For example, Patterson told me an initial version of their “inbox” function was reworked when engagement metrics dropped. This keeps developers focused on adding functionality that doesn’t compromise usage, something I wish Microsoft and other traditional software vendors did instead of layering on features to impress IT buyers.

Anyway, only time will tell whether Microsoft resources are leveraged wisely. Or if they will stifle the speed and creativity of the Yammerati. Microsoft has 40K reps, says CEO David Sacks, so theoretically they should help Yammer accelerate market penetration and battle Salesforce.com. However, thus far I haven’t been impressed with Microsoft’s ability to compete with Salesforce.com in the CRM space, despite offering a cheaper solution.

Engagement = ROI

Some Yammer users are bound to be a bit nervous about the Microsoft deal. I spoke with Yammer customer Lawrence DeVoe, the Chief Technology Catalyst at Initiative, an agency that’s part of Mediabrands. He admitted to some “trepidation” when the acquisition was announced, but now seems happy that Yammer will remain somewhat independent from the mother ship.

DeVoe selected Yammer 2 years ago to help their far flung workforce feel like they all belonged to the same team. He ditched a previous SharePoint-based intranet solution that wasn’t being used, and also cost $100K/year just to maintain. Users liked Yammer, so it won out over Jive, Newsgator and SocialText. Salesforce.com’s Chatter wasn’t considered due to conflicts with company strategy.

Two years later he says that Yammer has indeed helped bring people together. Employees can more easily discover experts and insights worldwide. As for ROI, DeVoe strongly contends that “trying to measure value by spreadsheet is the wrong direction.”

I largely agree. Using ESNs should be part of company strategy and culture, not an automation initiative justified by cutting down on email. Said another way, productivity benefits are real, but that’s not the reason to deploy ESNs. Without an open/sharing culture, the best technology in the world won’t make people collaborate.

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  1. Personally I think Yammer and SharePoint are a winning combination. However, time will tell if my assessment is accurate.


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