SharePoint 2013 + Yammer Flashback: Why need a Social Strategy?

“Social is catching on fast with enterprises” –  has been the proverbial  phrase for the last couple of years. However, it was Yammer’s acquisition by Microsoft for a whopping $1.2Billion way back on 2012 that gave enterprise social  a new angle and much was written off about Yammer and its integration with on-premise SharePoint and office 365 to date. Jared Saptaro mentioned in his post “I want a tool that will allow me to start a conversation in a news-feed, ping one of the participants on IM, escalate to voice and video, follow-up over email, and circle back to the original conversation with an update”.
That was the vision with Yammer, but did it deliver on its promise or not is yet to be seen. However, Yammer made some considerable headway with registered user base reaching up to 8million; Paid networks reaching more than 200% and yes, there is a dedicated team sitting in Redmond.

Let us scroll down the memory lane for a while and analyze important milestone achieved by Yammer and the impact of social strategies in transforming workplace experience.

Yammer – A Social Serendipity!

What started as an internal productivity tool to enable a startup team ( of merely 30 people stay connected, spun out and outsmarted the start-up itself by raising $142 Million against a mere $16.7million by in funding. As Yammer evolved, its integration with BOX ( a cloud storage service provider) were gaining grounds. Yammer was climbing up the popularity ladder and incessantly building on its expertise, which propelled Microsoft to acquire it for a whopping $1.2 billion to leverage Yammer’s freemium model, tap into the existing user base and probably to curb the growing competition from BOX. End users, evangelists and consultants were quick to notice Yammer’s overlapping social features with SharePoint 2013 like newsfeeds, likes and share etc. After a year and a half, has the Yammer and SharePoint story ended or is it the beginning of the new marriage with office 365? How would social impact collaboration platforms? What are the competitive forces that would drive platform providers to offer advanced social experience? To answer these, let us have a quick recap on both Yammer and SharePoint’s social features and see how social strategies will decide the fate of social collaboration.

SharePoint and Yammer’s Social Features Comparison

Both SharePoint 2013 and Yammer have different approaches to social about end user usage. However, there are overlapping features like newsfeeds that still confuses end users accustomed to SharePoint newsfeeds. The social features of SharePoint 2013 revolve much around the processoriented, context-based collaboration, where governance and compliance are well taken care of. The Yammer model is more of an asynchronous, activity streams that allow flexible collaboration with certain dark spots in the cloud environment.

SharePoint 2013 social features like News-feed, Following, MyStuff, Sharing, tagging, Conversation etc. allow better document management, search and file sharing capabilities. on the other hand, Yammer’s similar social features allow threaded group conversation that can be leveraged for better knowledge management and instant collaboration like scheduling an adhoc meetings, quick reviews etc. For instance, if you need some information from a subject matter expert, you can post it on a group and have experts answer them in a threaded conversation. You can also glean diverse perspective from experts within your organization. In case a high-priority task pops up, one can easily assign a task to the concerned person and notify them via feeds or email alerts depending upon where the person is.  Yammer gives you a similar experience of Facebook and lets you voice your opinion across organization, and to an extent facilitates real-time collaboration. Yammer freemium model exposes governance and security threats related to intellectual property of a company. All you need is to sign up with your company account and join your company network. For a stricter governance control, one might have to choose a paid model that provides a secure environment to curb governance issues.

In a nutshell, collaboration in SharePoint 2013 is part of long-term and broader goals of businesses while Yammer can be leveraged at a tactical level to meet real time needs. However, Microsoft is constantly coming out with series of updates to bring Yammer and SharePoint via Office 365. Some noteworthy updates were message translation in a threaded conversation that would allow people from different geography to participate in a conversation using their native language. Similarly, a Yammer app enables users to embed Yammer feeds into on premise SharePoint Server 2013 sites, providing a more social and engaging platform. Other updates included improvements to the Inbox and cross-platform mobile development on Windows, iOS and Android. Which brings us to the question, how many inboxes do we need? Where do end users spend most of their time? Probably, that is the place where social collaboration starts.

While a comprehensive use case analysis of SharePoint 2013 and Yammer’s socialfeatures would be a separate topic altogether, it is important to understand social collaboration at a workplace. After all that is where the fate of “social” hangs. In addition, it is the strategies and end user approval and not the platforms or tools, that will decide the fate of enterprise social collaboration. Therefore, it is important to understand workplace experience, stakeholders and why social strategies are needed for the success of enterprise social tools.

Defining Workplace Experience and understanding stakeholders

Workplace experience (WX), call it WX, that is where collaboration strategies evolve and all trending tools reach a tipping point. Workplace experience is the key component of collaboration, which is largely influenced by people, process and culture. Even the finest collaboration platform or tools will fail if it does not align people, process and culture to meet desired business objectives. Understanding the key stakeholders and their involvement, engagement and platform usage patterns help in exploring adoption and building collaboration strategies. Understanding how tools would fit into the process to optimize operation help in providing a seamless collaboration. Understanding workplace demography and behavioral patterns help in defining collaboration strategies. Thus, a clear understanding of stakeholders helps create a defining workplace experience.

An organization’s culture largely affects social networking. The pervasive fear of bringing in an entirely new culture that could disrupt the established order constantly looms. One common concern that incurs conflict of interest between HR department,and other cross-functional departments are an instance of inappropriate content being posted in a public forum.  They fear that such instances can disrupt the workplace dynamics as the grapevine spreads like a wildfire.  Other assumptions revolve around security, regulatory and compliance, company’s internal brand positioning and most importantly social networking is a productivity killer. While these assumptions stem from valid concerns, it is too early to decide whether the social tools are a complete failure or works as a passive enabler in leveraging knowledge workers in organization. At the least, it needs a push by formulating social strategies and then exploring appropriate choices available.

Why Social Strategy?

The competition keeps organizations on their toes and propels them to try out all trending options before them. Similarly, implementing tools to meet strategic goals require investment that expects ROI over a period. However, when it is time to measure the success (aka ROI) yet another version pops up, and enterprises run around hunting for partners for upgrade services- meaning incremental investments.  Then we have an endless keynote sessions, events and seminars to justify these investments. We have seen these trends over the past few years and CIOs, tech-pundits, consultants and evangelists have racked up their brains to quantify “productivity Gains” with collaboration suites like SharePoint, Office 365. However, the bright spot is SharePoint remains a preferred choice forenterprises’ collaboration when it comes to document/record management, file sharing, search, workflow intranet portal and so on and so forth. What made this collaboration landscape more interesting was the advent or integration of “Social” that opened the floodgates of opportunities demanding a shift from a multi-pronged Intranet model to a more vivid, interoperable, responsive, interactive, engaging and intuitive- “The Social model”.

For social model to succeed, it is imperative to have a social strategy at place. Unless there is a perceived benefit for stakeholders, there is no point of embracing social tools.  Organizations which have succeeded in social adoption as part of their collaboration ballgame, are the ones who have invested time and effort building a strategy on the contrary, to the ones who are still stuck in justifying their moves.