The 10:30 am slot on day two of SharePoint Conference 2014: Many conference goers were already bleary eyed from a combination of “networking” and jetlag but the packed room held an air of anticipation. I find the customer sessions at Microsoft SharePoint conferences are often amongst the best and for this session I hoped to hear something with a little more depth than the now tedious “Go Yammer” marketing cheerleading. I wasn't disappointed.



Melanie Hohertz, the online communications lead at Cargill, presented the session. Cargill employs 142,000 people in 67 countries and aims to be the global leader in nourishing people. Hohertz described the organization as global and massive and said that the organization's mission was to feed the world in a responsible way.

She explained that she had 19 years of experience in change management and told us that she had a perpetually excited personality. “I don’t know everything,” she announced,  “…But that doesn't stop me having an opinion on it.” The crowd warmed to her immediately.

She set the scene by telling us that she monitors multiple social platforms at Cargill including Salesforce, that her team of nine wasn’t as sexy as the team at Nationwide (another Microsoft Social case study), but that they got the job done. The crowd gasped when Hohertz revealed that the Cargill SharePoint environment was running SharePoint 2007 and the Yammer network wasn't integrated. She explained that the Yammer network was young at just 20 months old and that 18,000 or 13 percent of the 142,000 employees were members. Although membership is concentrated in North America the network covers 64 countries.

The aim of the network is to use what Cargill knows. She described the network as an example of knowledge at scale and gave an example of an occasion when a post on the network which was just one sentence long and had a single file attached drew responses from 13 people in 7 countries. This, we were told, was the power of social collaboration. Most importantly however Hohertz emphasized that there had been zero cat videos posted on the network. We were shown a tongue in cheek poster advertising that fact which is used at Cargill to help position the network as a business tool. A very nice technique I thought.

Lessons Learned

Hohertz explained how the Cargill Yammer network had gone from start to value. First, it’s important to start strong. She told us there’s no value in just flicking the social media switch -- the magic collaboration fairies wouldn’t appear, which appeared to disappoint some in the audience. Instead Hohertz advised us to begin with a business case, to seed groups and to target business leaders and events.

The key to the business case in Hohertz's view was to begin with the existing truths. At Cargill there were many SharePoint sites, over 307,000 emails per day and employees using public platforms for business use. Initial investigations also found significant costs to the business from starting projects and then stopping them again because it became apparent that there were other similar projects running. Understanding the current situation helped Cargill develop a vision and a business case for one platform that glued together the disparate parts. The business case for bringing in Yammer was based on making money and saving money by sharing and leveraging knowledge, increasing cross selling, discovering expertise and existing resources.

Hohertz recommended starting with a soft pre-launch using seed groups. The Cargill team identified groups who had expressed an interest in social collaboration and those who didn’t, and interviewed them. She gave the example of a global group of SAP experts. Even with a clear value proposition and executive support only one in four of the seed groups were successful. This shows, Hohertz told us, that adoption is hard and takes time and effort.

The third tip for starting strong was to target leaders and events. Her experience in change programs showed that as a rule of thumb, 30 percent of change relies on seeing the desired change or behavior modeled. Cargill have used YamJams -- one our conversations -- as a mechanism for engaging the support and participation of leaders. Hohertz advised to keep these events simple, in manageable time chunks and not over thought. At the root, she explained, they are just conversations.

Hohertz shared the example of using a YamJam to extend the Cargill leaders forum. This bi-annual, in-person event brings together the top 250 leaders in the organization for a closed door session. Using the Yammer network Hohertz's team added a further 219 global leaders to the event producing 1300 posts in just three days. In a post event survey 97 percent of the participants said they valued the experience.

Network Survival Kit

Hohertz described the three parts of her network survival kit to help on board and support new network members. First she recommended creating and managing two key Yammer groups: a new users group and a help and support group. Second, she described two Notes to create and maintain in the network: a "Start-here” note which lists training resources and a “Yay -- I am in Yammer, what now?” note. Third she suggest two files, an etiquette guide and a cheat-sheet on profile changes. It’s important to get people to add a photograph to their profiles because people will be more likely to engage with you, she revealed. To the delight of the audience she offered to share her versions of these, and other resources by posting them on the conference Yammer network.

It Doesn’t Take a Village, It Takes a Universe

Finally Hohertz advised that launching and managing a Yammer network doesn’t just take a village of people to help, it takes a whole universe. She listed the different groups that she recommends should be involved in a Yammer network launch.

The first group is the communications team. Yammer extends the value of the work that communicators already do but they may not realize it. Hohertz advised educating, supporting and helping them recognize that a Yammer network is an opportunity for them, not a threat. She gave the example of moving a company newsletter into a Yammer news group.

The next group to bring into the fold according to Hohertz is the gate keepers, or the Admin Assistants that work with and block access to the leaders and executives whose support is vital.  Hohertz noted this group is a community of interest.

There were gasps from the audience when Hohertz revealed that she had launched the Yammer network without first enlisting the help of the IT support team. We were advised not to repeat that mistake. IT are also needed to help with issues such as single sign on, deactivating user accounts and integration with other systems and platforms.

Risk managers, or the people who say “No” were the next group identified by Hohertz. She advised that they should be befriended long before the network activation and that network managers could look forward to many cozy nights discussing issues such as e-discovery, confidential information and the persistence of messages.

Hohertz spent some time discussing policy and advised a light touch approach and stressed that policy does not mean control. You manage, you educate, but you don’t control she explained. She gave poignant examples of how significant events in the organization had been handled and discussed on the network such as the untimely and unexpected death of a young leader and how the hashtag #inmemoriam had enabled people around the world to share memories and stories about the individual.

The two final groups were the 80 power users and the team of community managers that help Hohertz run the network. These were volunteers who get little reward but give their time and energy because of their passion for the network.

Summing Up

As a consultant that’s attended many SharePoint conferences and presented many times myself I am a harsh critic but I thought this was a top notch session. Hohertz has a fantastic presentation style, full of energy and enthusiasm, her delivery was flawless, and most importantly she told a great story and the session was packed with practical guidance and tips. For future events I’d like to see Microsoft have a greater emphasis on customer and analyst sessions and much less of the corporate messaging that we hear from the product managers and evangelists. Great job Hohertz. Thank you.