I've been thinking about the effectiveness of new social enterprise applications, one of the hottest categories of applications this year -- Yammer, Tibbr, Rypple, Chatter, Jive, etc. These large, enterprise-focused applications are designed to help organizations become more socially linked internally. They're sort of like Facebooks for your own company. They enable social interaction within the privacy of your company, where teams and groups can have their own communication settings.
As I sat down to write this blog, I began to see tweets that Microsoft would buy Yammer. Sure enough, on Friday, Microsoft announced a $1.2 billion deal for Yammer. How timely this discussion is. This deal is pretty cool if you are the founder of Yammer, and it provides continued market validation of the space. Microsoft certainly needs all the help it can get to turn its longstanding, well-embedded products like SharePoint into more social applications.
But then I go back to my question: Are these social applications making the enterprise more productive, or is there another reason for them, such as social damage control? If members of Team X are required to use Yammer to communicate with one another at work, at least they will not be as tempted to share stories (and possibly the company's intellectual property) through Facebook or other public platforms. In addition, internal adoption is fairly easy, since these applications all have a Facebook-like interface.
I have yet to see any studies showing the effectiveness of social enterprise applications. My sense is that enterprise adoption of these applications was rooted in the new "way things are done," rather than data on improved organizational efficiency. Since most of us are accustomed to Facebook, it is not a big leap to get used to applications like Yammer, Tibbr, Rypple, Chatter, and Jive in our work lives. In many ways, study or no study, it is easy to see the efficiencies. If easier communication improves my relationship with Ted in the UK office, who is on my team, my project will go more smoothly. Similarly, if we have easier and more frequent communication touch points between meetings, then it is less likely for incorrect assumptions to prevail, and deliverables will be completed properly more often. Isn't that the biggest issue in the workplace -- insufficient communication leading to inaccurate assumptions and improper work?
The other side of the argument about whether social enterprise applications are effective is summed up nicely by a user review on Comparz, the cloud software review site that I founded and head:
[Yammer] has gradually turned into a place for company time wasters to treat as their own personal Facebook fiefdom and avoid doing real work.
Email volumes (except Yammer notification spam) has not decreased and I doubt that we will be paying for the website in year's time.
This is clearly the voice of one dissenter in a sea of positive comments. It will be interesting to see who is right.