Remember when Yammer had its $1.4 million engagement party, celebrating its upcoming billion-dollar acquisition nuptials with that sexy silver fox Microsoft?

Sorry, enterprise social evangelists. The party is over. 

Divorce is on the horizon, as evidenced by reports on Twitter and in the Yammer IT Pro Network that the Yammer Customer Success team just got kicked out of the house. Yes, you read that correctly. 

Microsoft bought the community-building product Yammer for a billion dollars in 2012, and less than four years later, it has laid off about 40 remaining community-building Customer Success Managers (CSM). 

These are the people whose blood, sweat and tears helped companies like yours turn collaboration into a success at your company. 

If the reports are true (which I believe they are, even though it hasn’t been officially confirmed by Microsoft), this layoff represents a tremendous shift away from viewing Yammer as an integral part of the Microsoft solution.

A Timeline of Demise

Remember the 2013 SharePoint conference (before many of the original Yammer CSMs disappeared and before the founding team left to build Responsive Org and on-demand-marijuana-delivery services)? 

The big question was about the future of Yammer versus SharePoint, and Microsoft’s answer was “Go Yammer! 

Microsoft Office Division Senior Director Jared Spataro enthusiastically blogged, “Yammer is our big bet for enterprise social, and we’re committed to making it the underlying social layer for all of our products. It will power the social experiences in SharePoint, Office 365, Dynamics and more. Yammer’s unique adoption model appeals directly to end users and makes it easy to start enjoying the benefits of social immediately.”

We believed the hype at the time, watching Yammer enjoy rapid viral growth that was fueled by the best practices and guidance of their Customer Success team. As companies found edge cases, bugs, had challenges and created better solutions for real enterprise use, the Yammer Customer Success Managers served as the crucial conduit between Microsoft Product, Engineering and the passionate yet vocal customer base. 

It was a tough job, but Microsoft invested in the Yammer product as well as the team that built key relationships with its best customers. The CSMs were the glue that held newly forged relationships together. Without them, the product would never have evolved into what it is today.

But if we look back, there are crucial points in time where Microsoft started to chip away at the intimate customer/CSM relationship. Only now does the pattern make sense.

  • July 2014: Yammer Founder David Sacks leaves Yammer. “Thank you to my current and former YamFamily for 6 great years and to Microsoft for the last two,” he said on Twitter. Note from an English Major: it was no accident that he didn’t include a happy adjective for his two year tenure at Microsoft.
  • July 2014: Yammer is included in Office 365 SKUs. TechCrunch writer Alex Wilhelm asks the question, “How healthy is Yammer? When’s the last time Microsoft talked about Yammer by itself and not in the context of other products?”
  • Fall 2014: The Yammer Developer Network is shut down, and the Realtime API is no longer documented due to “low usage.”
  • February 2015: The standalone Yammer Customer Network (YCN) is shut down in favor of an Office 365-focused community. Yammer practitioners force the migration of some content into the O365 Community, but find themselves wading through O365 messages as Microsoft begins to further blend its collaborative products.
  • January 2016: Yammer CSMs report that about 40 Customer Success Managers are laid off. Customers across the globe are not happy.

The writing was on the wall up to two years ago, but I don’t think that the dismissal of the Yammer Customer Success team was planned that far in advance. 

Learning Opportunities

Instead, it appears as though Microsoft’s dreams for Yammer have not come to fruition because giving away community-building technology and investing in experts to aid in end-user adoption has not been a sustainable business model. 

Microsoft doesn’t make its money on selling Community. It makes its money on selling expensive licenses for historically mission-critical productivity applications. Microsoft gave Yammer the old college try, and likely learned a lot about agile development in the process. 

But in the end, the finances just didn’t work out. I believe that Microsoft could no longer justify spending a few million dollars a year on 40 product experts consulting on a non-revenue-generating product.

It’s a sad reality, as I see it. The value of community-building is clear, yet intangible, but the Street doesn’t care about that. 

And so, we take two steps back. Some of the best practitioners in the realm of Enterprise Social Technology are being marginalized because their employer can’t figure out how to attach value to a product.

Support the CSMs

The messages of support on the O365 Network for the Customer Success team have been incredible in the past 24 hours. Customers are shocked but incredibly supportive of their trusted advisors who will be unemployed within hours. Here are a few ways that you can lend support to the devoted evangelists that have helped your business thrive on Yammer:

  • Help them find jobs in community management. They’ll probably have three to four months of salary coming their way, but they’ll want jobs quickly. Whether it’s with a vendor or as a customer deploying social software, these folks will add tremendous value. To Yammer/Microsoft employees: Don’t let non-compete agreements scare you. Consult with an attorney to see what your options are based on your state of residence and employment agreement. I have a page on my website that aggregates all of the Yammer CSM LinkedIn, Twitter and other professional profiles. Check back often to look for great talent (and Yammer team, please email me with details and I’ll post and share accordingly).
  • Customers should remember that there’s probably a non-disparagement clause (and maybe an NDA) in these folks’ exit deals. The Yammer CSMs are going to speak positively about everything now because they’re good people and smart business-folks. But please, don’t ask them for gory details. Their severance package likely depends on it.
  • Don’t give up on community. Microsoft is just one player in the market. If you believe in the power of community, don’t let this business move discourage you. There are many other vendors, including Facebook at Work, that have the ability to enable strong communities in our workplace.

Now What?

With Yammer CSMs no longer in the mix, it’s clear that companies need to reconsider what social technology means to Microsoft and the industry as a whole. 

The next few weeks will be crucial to understand Microsoft’s plan. At the same time, we should look to other vendors to understand their offerings and plans. 

There is no single answer at this time that will fill the void created by the dissolution of the Yammer CSM team. But now that we can see the writing on the wall, it would behoove us to prepare for scenarios that may fundamentally change the community management industry.

Title image "Memory Lane" (CC BY 2.0) by  physiognomist