It's getting hot in the enterprise social network space PHOTO: chuttersnap

When Microsoft rolled out Office 365 Groups in 2015, it once again thrust the future of Yammer into the spotlight. 

The enterprise social network (ESN) industry at large closely watched the move as other providers, including Jive and Beezy, continued to enhance their platforms. 

Many of these questions were answered in September with Microsoft's announcement of a tight integration between the two, giving all Yammer groups access to Office 365 Groups.   

The Yammer announcement came shortly before the launch of Workplace by Facebook, the social networking giant's foray into the ESN business space. Facebook reasoned, "if people freely collaborate on the social platform, why wouldn’t they use it for work?"  

If only encouraging workplace collaboration was so simple. 

Things Are Getting Interesting in the ESN World

All of the activity hints at some interesting days ahead for enterprise collaboration.

Many organizations, that may have once questioned the need for ESNs, acknowledge the integral role they play in encouraging employees to share knowledge, provide constructive input into challenges, as well as care for, and enhance, an organization's reputation. 

Clients keep asking me to compare Yammer to Workplace. And while that answer is more than can be tackled in this article, we can read into these inquiries a signal: that Facebook’s strong social collaboration brand is causing companies that are tired of hefty training bills and underutilized collaboration platforms to look for alternatives.  

Microsoft has spotted this trend. And it appears that with the Office Groups announcements, it is acknowledging the fact that Yammer — though a solid product — hasn’t quite lived up to the promise that inspired the acquisition. 

Microsoft seems to be betting heavily on Office Groups as its social enterprise platform of the future. 

Should We Say Goodbye to Yammer? 

Not yet. I predict in five years' time (if that long), we will see Yammer's principles of collaboration and thinking moved across to Groups and then it will be retired.

The move makes sense. Employees spend 80 percent of their day working in Outlook.  

Office Groups offers a tight integration with Outlook, allowing employees to interact with their groups from within Outlook, going so far as to provide a messaging interface which is akin to sending an email in "reply all" style. 

The days of adding on yet another standalone application just to update colleagues on “hatches, matches and dispatches” are over, and Microsoft appears to know that. 

Do Businesses Really Need a 'Company' Social Network?

We're in the middle of the big data revolution. People are finding it harder and harder to gain insights via regular channels. 

The issue of information overload is even more prevalent than when ESNs were first introduced. 

ESNs help disseminate critical organizational information — company announcements, tips about a particular product, an update on a client project or preference of a particular individual’s engagement method (in sales) — and gives them the attention they deserve, increasing internal collaboration and productivity as a result.  

ESNs allow employees to share this as well as non-essential information. The networks therefore provide a double benefit: employees feel as though they have a platform to express themselves socially, but also receive help with regard to company-related challenges.  

All of this adds to employee engagement and improves customer experience. 

What Comes Next? 

According to Gartner, Microsoft leads the ESN race with IBM, Jive and Salesforce close on its heels.  

When the dust settles following the launch of Workplace by Facebook and the confusion around Office Groups, we will see what new innovations and heights of productivity ESNs will inspire. At the end of the day, the increasing competition and the higher stakes will result in one thing: a benefit for employee collaboration.