Lessons from the Field: Answers to Yammer Customers About How to Effectively Use Enterprise Social Media in the Serendipity Economy

Lessons from the Field: Answers to Yammer Customers About How to Effectively Use Enterprise Social Media in the Serendipity Economy

Social Media in the Serendipity Economy. The following questions were asked during the Yammer Finding Value in Serendipity Webinar held, February 28, 2012 [No longer available. Yammer is now part of Microsoft.] The Storify tweet trail was mined for this report [Storify has ceased operations]. Yammer posted a blog about the paper and the webinar but it has been retired by Microsoft.


The webinar questions have been edited for clarity and grammar.

1. Measurements… Consumer Products…. Is it valid to track products from idea to product execution?

Enterprise social networking tools are not intended to be innovation or ideation tools, however, the ubiquity and cross-organizational nature of the tools allows them to play an important role in ideation. As was mentioned in the webinar, use a hashtag (#) to create metadata that can flow with the idea. For ideas, it is better to create a tag for the idea rather than a generic one that captures ideas or social networking value (or use more than one hashtag). At some point, enterprise social networking tools may become more integrated with other tools, but for now, in the ideation to execution cycle, they are better complements than the core for such activities.

2. How did you track and identify best practices?

Dan: I am personally not a “best” practice fan (see 5 Reasons Best Practices Suck from Fast Company). Good, practice, however, is something that can be easily shared among enterprise social network members. Two options. One is to focus on metadata, like hashtags, and create a common taxonomy of tags that represent common practice categories (like merchandising, customer service, cleanliness, etc.), and the other, is to create communities of practice (CoP), which would be subgroups of specialists who focus on a particular topic area. The CoP would be responsible for acting as the practice steward. Both work. Both are dependent on organizational culture. Using hashtags is more emergent, and the CoP approach, more deliberate and designed.


Intrigued by social media in the serendipity economy? Read our foundational report on the Serendipity Economy here.


3. My company has just 15 members, working in one room. Can we increase our performance with yammer?

Your company already has the kind of intimacy that tools like Yammer are trying to create for large, distributed firms. I would suggest your enjoy your start-up phase and concentrate on other software for now that helps you manage your core business.

4. How exactly did you break down the barriers that held people back from sharing their thoughts on Yammer?

I won’t speak to the 7-11 specific experience, but this is really the heart of the social media and Serendipity Economy idea: Patience on one hand, and openness and permission on the other. Someone will be first. Natural leaders will emerge. 7-11’s birthday triggered a sharing event, that hasn’t stopped. You don’t need an event, but you will find some trigger that gets things started. All organizations have leaders. Ask an executive to drop a provocative question. People will answer it. Once the ice is broken, you don’t know where you will go, but you will know the journey has started.

5. Is it typical for management or HR to monitor Yammer communications?

I would say that it isn’t typical, because monitoring social networking is time-consuming, even if automation is used, and automation is usually used to manage risk, theft, and fraud rather than innovation and process improvements. Strong organizations, however, do engage in innovation through collaboration, but my experience has been it is not HR or general management, but rather functional line areas that create initiatives or set norms for the use of tools like Yammer to add value in areas where they perceive opportunities for improvement.

6. Didn’t employee recognition and related productivity come from industrial age studies?

Certainly from studies conducted during the industrial age, but there has always been a tension between productivity and people. My view is that in areas where automation isn’t possible, then you want to understand people so that you can get them to do as much work as they can—to be as engaged as possible. If you look at the history of work, you find that as something can be automated, it usually is, eliminating the need for any recognition, not to mention employees.

7. How do you determine “what a meaningful conversation” is?

That’s up to the readers. And in a fully deployed system, everyone is a reader. Part of the serendipity is discovering what other people think is important.

8. How do you keep yammer participants focused on the business and not use this communications tool for personal and social purposes?

Dan: Yammer is typically deployed internally. It is for employees or partners only, not consumers, not friends, not relatives. Serendipity comes not from an over-emphasis on business, but on a more casual approach that allows people to build relationships. In the purely physical, face-to-face world, most meetings don’t start with the agenda, they start with stories about families and weekends. You should expect the enterprise social networking tool relationships to be built in some different, or unnatural way. As people get to know each other, they will get to work, and then the value will emerge. Give it time.

9. How specifically does Yammer bring attention to ideas and solid communication that email does not?

Personal privacy is the biggest problem with e-mail. With e-mail, people choose who they communicate with, and those people choose, again, who they respond to if they respond. And with BBC, e-mail creates hidden backdoor communication that is often political and always counterproductive to transparency and openness. Yammer is primarily designed as an open communications platform that allows people across an organization to engage in dialog, regardless of their organizational affiliation or level in the organization. E-mail requires that you know who you want to talk with, and yes, if you have a directory, you can cut through the layers and send a personal message to the president of the company.

However, in an e-mail environment, the president of the company isn’t just going to browse the dialog, as he or she could with Yammer, and choose to drop into conversations. Yammer creates a more natural form of communication, whereas e-mail is more like the old Intercompany mail envelops, and for the most part, both need to be retired except for the most personal of issues, or when transmitting proprietary or confidential material.

10. You talked a lot about success’s and how to approach enterprise social media, but have you also experienced areas that didn’t work (well)? Have there been disappointments?

The failures I’ve seen are more about message confusion than technology. I harp on the idea of permission because in open, sharing, experimental, cultures, technology takes off. You have to understand yourself before you can introduce something that matches your organization’s profile. Organizations with trust issues, punishment cultures, and other dysfunctions won’t be able to use enterprise social media very effectively (perhaps in pockets that have a more nurturing culture but not universally). You have to remember that open technology will not solve the problems of a closed, distrustful culture. Your money is better spent confronting your organizational issues than playing with technology.

You also have to think about why you are putting the tool in place. If you are putting in place to generate serendipitous effects, then what I just described in the paragraph above is fundamental—with one caveat. Those organizations that aren’t as open may well be hyper-efficient, focused on process rather than discovery. Enterprise social media may still work, but you have to set the expectation that you are placing it into an industrial age setting, not a Serendipity Economy setting. That means you can look for practice sharing, quality control reporting, and other linear, process-oriented outcomes. Those aren’t wrong, they just serve a different purpose. So understanding your expectations and intent going in is crucial.

11. With so many people communicating, collaborating and posting how do you weed through all the posts and find the items that are of real value without spending too much time?

Hashtags can help focus, as well as particular people you want to read. Most businesses aren’t like Facebook. You don’t have to worry about thousands of people posting every move they make to the system. That said, learning has to be an enterprise priority and given more than lip service. If you are asked to interact and learn but never given time or permission, you get a clearer message from the priorities than from the rhetoric. Organizations need to deliver consistent messages, and those messages need to be meaningful to the business and the individual.

12. Can you provide more specifics around how you suggest using the hashtags to “track results”?

Hashtags are an alternative form of metadata. Just as you think about your MP3 collection being divided into Country, Rock and Roll, and R&B, think about the conversations getting metadata through a hashtag. You can think of a hashtag as a category. To track results, you can assign a particular hashtag to an idea (such as #processsave1) and then see how the discussion around that item evolves. It depends on the people participating in the conversation to purposefully use a hashtag or topic to tag the conversation consistently. Over time, analytics will likely emerge that understand the flow of that conversation, and hopefully, its resolution and implementation, even if those take place in other systems.

13. Beyond yammer, what examples of “other value” would you point to regarding “look beyond productivity and efficiency”?

Innovation is a good example. If you are focused on getting things done faster and cheaper, you may not be focused on emerging value, new materials, new science, etc. Sometimes, things like customer relationship conversations, are best considered with deliberation rather than expediency. Enterprise social networks are ideal for longer, more contemplative conversations. Other examples include strategy, competitive analysis, and areas where time is not, and should not, be the primary driver. When you create these kinds of conversations (vs. those focused on resolving an immediate problem) you tend to find more serendipity at the concept level. For problem-solving, you may find serendipity in who answers the call to action, or some subtle nuance in approach, but when you talk about something like strategy, the serendipity comes from people’s experience across the organizations, sometimes even their lack of experience with the topic, which sheds new light on an area where “practitioners” make too many assumptions about who knows what and how valuable that knowledge is.

14. What is the best way to segment employees on Yammer so that they can find each other…groups?

I’m an emergent guy. Most organizations over segment even their functions, creating silos and management confusion. I believe that enterprise social media is a great way to see what natural groups exist and let those inform your organization. Think about it as a learning experience. It’s always fascinating to see people who the organization chart doesn’t connect, connecting, and creating value. Therein lies the serendipity.

15. Do you have more specific examples for how to  integrate social profiles with performance?

This refers to the “Tens” at the end of the paper: “Enterprise Social Networking: Finding Value in the Serendipity Economy.”

This is pretty simple. As people fill out required paperwork for starting a job, include creating their profile as a task. As you evaluate performance through the formal system, make looking at people’s profile part of that review. If you are testing for competencies, ensure the profile reflects confirmed competencies. Take the mentoring competency, for instance. Does the person not only include mentoring in the profile but do they demonstrate social interactions involving mentoring. Enterprise social networking systems are great places to turn abstract competencies into a meaningful and tangible dialog.

16. Facebook, LinkedIn, Yammer are pretty simple tools when you compare the ways people interact in real life, outside of social networks. Will we see technology enhancements that lead to new ways to interact? (Second Life, 3D environments)

Probably. We have seen a wide range of tools used in the past, and many compete or cooperate today. We aren’t at the end of the evolution cycle, so we will see both new approaches and new ways to integrate them. The key to any near-term choice is making sure your technology vendor is actively engaged in the industry and that the system has a track record of adapting to new models. As they say in finance, past performance isn’t an indicator of future performance—good management in the past; however, is a pretty good indicator of a good foundation. In other words, good companies like to stay good companies–but that isn’t always the case. Stop paying attention, slip up on practice, and even once-great companies can fall off their pedestals.

17. We had a lot of “lurkers” early in our adoption – most were older users…. how do we get everyone involved in a better way?

Lurkers are natural. There are lurkers in classrooms and lurkers in communities. People learn and engage in different ways at different times. If you are looking for proactive employees, you have to hire for that, you can’t expect a social networking system to bring that out of people for whom that isn’t a natural way to act. That said, most people have something they are very passionate about. Lurkers may just be looking for that area of passion to emerge before they leap in. In the serendipity economy, we can’t forecast when they will jump in, but we know that eventually, they might, and then we’ll also be surprised by the value of that interaction.

18. Have you seen a “tipping point” from communication via email to communication via Yammer?

Most organizations haven’t yet figured out how to eliminate e-mail, and as I said above, they probably shouldn’t completely eliminate it when it comes to privacy and confidential information. That said, smaller, younger firms are choosing alternatives to e-mail as their primary approach. For older firms, however, legacy use of technology like e-mail is almost impossible to eradicate. Once it’s in, it will stay in until it becomes too expensive or its last user leaves the company.

19. How do you deal with people who say they don’t have the time? How do you get them to see it as a tool with value?

Time isn’t about the tool; it’s about the job. If you don’t set performance expectations that sharing what you learn, asking good questions, or engaging in strategic dialog is part of the job, people aren’t making up an excuse; they legitimately don’t have time. You haven’t permitted them to engage—they already have a full plate. So as I said during the webinar, you need to start with permission, not incentives. Incentives don’t work for people already overloaded. What works with overloaded workers is expectation setting and priorities. If they know something is important, and it is an authentic and meaningful component of their performance review, then they will participate. People are good at determining what is really important through many signals, both loud and subtle. If you are serious about enterprise social networking, then set expectations and behave consistently within those expectations.


Did you enjoy exploring Social Media in the Serendipity Economy? For more serious insights on collaboration click here.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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