Plenty of companies have early success with Yammer. And then it stalls. Or they hit growing pains and the early enthusiasm wanes.
This scenario can happen to any enterprise social network (ESN), but it seems most pronounced in Yammer, partly because Yammer has such a large market share, but also because its freemium model means that the usual business-case test criteria (and the useful thinking that goes with it) can get bypassed.
Why Does it Stall?
One reason Yammer stalls is that the early adopters are often the same people who have experimented with external social networks and found value in them. At some point most companies need to intervene to push adoption beyond the threshold of organic growth. Websites like Twitter are seen as enormously successful, but only 10 percent of the user base is on there (270 million out of 2.8 billion). Few companies would be satisfied with 10 percent uptake of their ESN.
Yammer also experiences growing pains when companies realize that it's become a significant channel without a clear plan in place for where it sits alongside other channels. People then start to ask "What’s' the role of the intranet now?" or "What goes on SharePoint?"
Even worse, early adopters experiment in a small group, where everyone is on the same learning curve. Late adopters then have to walk into the party in full swing with less chance to practice their moves away from crowd scrutiny.
Should Yammer Replace Your Internal News Channel?
It’s tempting to start pushing out corporate news via Yammer to boost its relevance. If you've decided that Yammer has become a primary channel, and let employees know this, then it's fine. But most companies treat Yammer content as "nice to know," not "must read," so this would be a significant shift.
Don't make Yammer yet another place to get the same information available elsewhere. This confuses the question of “what is Yammer for?” Embrace the spirit of ESNs: let the important communications bubble up to the consciousness of the network by the level of sharing (think internal re-tweeting) going on, rather than letting corporate comms rig the democratic process. I’ve yet to see a company be this bold.
Where Does Yammer Fit?
To overcome the road bumps, educate people about where Yammer fits. I like Riemer & Richter’s S.O.C.I.A.L model, which sees ESN’s role as:
- Socializing -- praise, informal chat
- Organizing -- work co-ordination
- Crowd sourcing -- ideas and solutions
- Information sharing -- inputs and documents
- Awareness creation -- status updates
- Learning -- discussion and opinion
However, this works best when companies identify the most prominent needs within a community, and show how Yammer can help, rather than trying to promote all of these aspects at one time.
Is Something Wrong With Yammer?
None of this means Yammer is a bad tool, far from it. Yammer can bring enormous benefits to unstructured communication and collaboration and is far better suited to this than email. But at some point it needs to work alongside the more structured content -- and that can take considerable planning. Microsoft is working on technical integration with SharePoint, but companies still need to work out what Yammer means to them and put appropriate governance in place to support it across their channels and collaboration approaches.
Stalled adoption doesn’t mean the freemium model is wrong either. It allows companies to experiment with an approach that might be new to them and establish if there is value for them. The trick is to know when to take that reading for “is this something we want to scale up?” and then switch to a more strategic approach. Leave it too late and the confusion will multiply.
How Can We Broaden Adoption?
When I speak to employees who haven't tried an ESN, they argue that email and face to face meets their needs. We might characterize them as the late majority, who need to be convinced of practical benefits before they’ll adopt.
On the face of it, email does have many of the benefits claimed for an ESN. It is:
- shares knowledge
- breaks down silos
To convince the late majority, we have to persuade them that Yammer or other ESNs are better than email.
What Makes Yammer Better Than Email?
Seven ways Yammer bests email:
- Low time tax. Yammer reduces the overhead of message management. Every email comes with a cognitive load, to file, delete, reply, whereas ESN posts don't need this processing, so they are easier to consume.
- They skip the pleasantries. Given this first point, short messages are more appropriate. Compare this to the paraphernalia of a dozen emails just to agree a meeting date.
- Low-key feedback. Yammer has "likes," which offer a less demanding way of interacting but still add value. Emails that just say "I agree" would be so tedious that people don’t bother, so their position remains ambiguous.
- Open audience. Emails have a "to" and cc field loaded with implications. ESNs just post to an audience, so people can participate without an explicit thought process about who to include.
- Ambient awareness. There's less expectation on any individual to participate, and no accumulating inbox, so it's OK to miss some posts.
- Social profiles. People data is usually richer than the "from" field in email, so you have a stronger sense of contributor context.
- Persistence. It's much easier to go back to an old thread and resume the conversation than it is to pull out an old email. The linearity of the single mail inbox acts as a bottleneck
This isn’t to say Yammer is without its downsides. ESNs are easier to ignore, so getting participation can be harder and they're less directed, so you get diffusion of responsibility to help people too. But if you understand these trade-offs, your ESN can have a healthy future.