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.