Guest post by Ashley Furness of Software Advice
When Microsoft announced plans to buy enterprise social network Yammer recently I was a little stunned. The reported $1.2-billion acquisition price tag seemed like a lot for simply replicating social networking functions in the business environment. Would companies really achieve ROI? Or would it be more of a "distraction," as one user told me?
Still, Chatter Product Marketing Director Dave King told me in a recent conversation that "social is more than a trend, it is a revolution that is changing the way we work and collaborate." So this month I set out on a mission to find out whether socialized business value goes beyond the current buzz. I talked to users and asked, "What real real value can businesses derive from these enterprise social networks?" As it turns out, they've uncovered all sorts of efficiencies unique to these platforms. Here's a snapshot of what they told me.
Boost Employee Recognition and Engagement
Altimeter Group founder Charlene Li made a presentation recently (Discussed here "Enterprise Social Networking is More Than Facebook Behind a Firewall") that highlights how enterprise social platforms engage employees. This was definitely a reoccurring theme with users I spoke to, and a primary difference between past socialized business concepts.
For example, in the four years since Deloitte AU implemented Yammer, the turnover rate for active users has fallen to two percent annually-about 10 times less than for employees who don't use it. Leadership attribute the change to employees feeling more engaged and recognized for their work. Deloitte leadership uses Yammer to pull reports that identify employees with high engagement and positive feedback. The more a user interacts with groups, downloads articles and responds to queries with the same keywords, the more they are distinguished as thought leaders on a subject.
"In a company with 180,000 people, most employees rarely interact with leadership," says Frank Farrall, national leader for Deloitte Australia's Online Consulting Practice. "Yammer breaks down those barriers."
Find Experts Faster
Another commonly mentioned advantage to products such as Yammer, Chatter and Jive is the ability to quickly find internal experts. In fact, Jive Software surveys show sales win rates increasing an average of 23 percent, and time to find experts falls 34 percent.
Centerstance Inc. Managing Partner Greg Lueck says Chatter helps sales staff answer deal-specific questions in the sales moment. He recalled one situation where a partner needed someone certified in Cast Iron software integration who spoke Mandarin. The resource manager working with the partner posted the query in Centerstance's news feed.
"They had an answer within 30 seconds... in Mandarin," Lueck remembers. In this and similar scenarios, the employee would have otherwise "relied on a central repository of all company's experience that is located in one person's head, or nowhere at all."
Augment Transparency, Accountability and Communications Efficiency
Users also touted the unparalleled level of transparency. Since PerkStreet hosts all conversations on Yammer rather than trapped in someone's inbox, management has continuous insight into the team's progress.This also prevents work duplication and redundancies because everyone is literally on the same page.
"If you look at someone's scrum over time, you can see whether they actually accomplished what they said they were going to," PerkStreet COO Jason Henrichs notes.
FlexJobs founder and CEO Sara Sutton Fell said Yammer drastically cut down on her need to email, call or schedule a meeting to check in.
In addition, users can respond as it fits in their workflow. "Instead of emails that feel like you have to respond immediately, putting it on Yammer ensures that only [staff] who have the time to check out the job will do so," she says.
Li reiterated this point in her own report. Among the 185 end users and 81 decision makers surveyed, there was a strong belief that enterprise social networks increase collaboration and the flow of information through the business.
Streamline Project Management
Social enterprise networks utilize all kinds of shortcuts to streamline workflow. Software developers at PerkStreet Financial use Yammer shortcuts to facilitate scrum meetings, a key component of the agile software development methodology. Rather than hold their daily morning standup meetings in person, each member of the 37-person team posts "what I did yesterday," "what I will do today" and "barriers to moving forward" using the hashtag #scrum.
The tag allows users to quickly see what everyone is working on and chime in when appropriate. The poster can also delegate tasks to others with the "@" symbol. With Jive, users can also employ shortcuts such as an "!" to pull information into the thread from CRM and other enterprise systems.
Better Leverage Information and Insights
Social enterprise vendors have invested heavily in social and adaptive intelligence. These sophisticated algorithms suggest articles, files and experts based on the user's position, connections, group memberships and resources they've previously accessed.
"Chatter knows what you care about based on your activities, making its value immeasurable," King says of Chatter, the salesforce.com social layer. As a result, employees are better informed and can answer questions before they even know they have them.
"Imagine you have 10,000 people in an enterprise. Sales materials, RFPs are constantly flowing through system... Jive makes the most of this information by channeling it to the right people," according to Jive Product
Marketing Director Tim Zonca.
Generate More, Better Ideas
Yammer provides several means for employees to contribute ideas-from responding to queries and surveys, to posting ideas in a group discussion threads. Users receive gratification when co-workers and leadership "like" their contribution. Then, they are continually rewarded as they watch project teams bring the idea to fruition.
With one advertising campaign, for example, Deloitte CEO Peter Williams asked employees for their ideas for a tagline. More than 38 groups formed that submitted 1,184 original concepts.
These apps aren't perfect-as I mentioned several companies responded to this story saying the platform was more "of a distraction" than a value driver. They cited issues with file sharing, inefficient search, lack of customization, and bugs with mobile functionality. Even so, interest continues to grow as technology improves. For other business use cases, check out Li's Slideshare presentation here.
Ashley Furness has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy.
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