Yesterday was the first anniversary of Microsoft’s acquisition of the love-it-or-hate-it business social network vendor Yammer, which it bought for a cool $1.2 billion last summer. Reaction to the acquisition at the time was mixed, with some seeing it as a validation of the enterprise social collaboration market, and others seeing it as a desperate attempt by Microsoft to join the cool gang. So was it a good decision? To be honest, in my view, it’s still unclear.
If we look at it from Yammer’s perspective, it’s been a good year. Being part of the Microsoft family has helped it grow its total user base by 60% in the last 12 months to almost 8 million users, and its number of paid networks has grown by 200%. Plus, Yammer’s 2012 full year sales almost tripled year over year, helped by a stellar Q4 performance.
And, after a slow start, we are now finally starting to see how Yammer will fit in the context of Microsoft’s Office 365 vision, with announcements (here and here) of plans to replace the SharePoint newsfeed with Yammer in O365 and SharePoint Online, as well as the ability to create Yammer groups within SharePoint sites using the Yammer app. This is all a great start, and—I hope—will ultimately help Microsoft improve the usability and flexibility of SharePoint from a social collaboration perspective, as the Yammer social features become increasingly embedded in the platform.
What I don’t see at the moment, though, is acknowledgement that many organisations still need the administrative controls and flexibility to be able to manage their social environment. Yammer’s success has all come from its support for viral adoption—allowing individual business users to create a network and start using it with their colleagues, without having to go through IT. And this has been astonishingly successful in some ways, to the point where many organisations panic when they realise how much business collaboration is taking place on a non-authorised Yammer network in their name. The result is—generally—that they either pay to take control of the network (which is of course Yammer’s preferred result) or look for an alternative to replace it with.
But, the problem with bottom-up adoption is that you often end up with a proliferation of groups which are often unused or duplicates, to the point where the user can’t find what they need in the noise, or the knowledge-sharing value is lost through people creating different groups when they should just use one. As much as it’s nice to think that it will all work out in the end (this is Yammer’s view point), in practice you end up with a big mess; hmm, sounds like SharePoint sites proliferation, doesn’t it? Yes, Microsoft has been here before, so it really should try to avoid the same mistake twice. You need to provide governance controls and support for lifecycle management of social platforms—not everyone will use it, of course, but in a large organisation it’s vital.
In theory, this is simply a capability that could be added to Yammer, but my point is that, at the moment, Microsoft still seems to be caught up in the glamour of social, and is failing to recognise that there is more to it than just viral adoption.
So I am yet to be convinced that Microsoft really understands the big picture here, and if it doesn’t, it risks losing the opportunity to gain an early advantage—and it still is very early days for the enterprise social collaboration market. It’s got the technology, but when it comes to social collaboration, that’s the easy part. You need to understand the big picture to make it work.
See Lexis Nexis’ Yammer success story here.
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