By Jennifer Burns (@ jlburns)
We’re all familiar with the popular social networks: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn. While each is different, there are similarities between them and we’re even starting to see some of these platforms integrate with one another to create an even more robust experience for their users. But we’re always on the lookout for the next big thing. Could Yammer be that social media platform about to break away from the pack?
In its most simple form, Yammer is basically a cross between Twitter and LinkedIn. Launched in September 2008, it’s a professional networking site for employees within the same company to connect and communicate via micro-blogging (a la Twitter), discussion boards and personal profiles. When a user signs up for Yammer, they are placed into their respective company network. Each company network is private, so a valid company email address is required.
Employees are added to their company network, where they then set up a profile with a picture ID, title, expertise and background information. And for those CIOs and IT executives wary of sharing sensitive information and trade secrets in a SaaS format, they can find more information about Yammer’s security features here.
The goal of Yammer is to allow people within an organization to network, collaborate and discuss ideas in real-time without obstacles such as location, departments or titles getting in the way.
Yammer has the potential to break down hierarchies in a company (which I suppose could also be seen as a con), allowing colleagues who might otherwise never get to connect a chance to share ideas and collaborate on various projects.
Because each company network is limited to users within that organization, it condenses the communication process and ensures all projects and ideas are kept in-house, ideally leading to increased productivity. It also helps cancel out the background chatter and personal conversations you might find in other social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter. You can also form internal groups within an organization’s network – for instance, if there is a particular project you’re working on with a select group, but two of the group members are in London, three are in Boston and seven are in New York, you can form a sub-group to make the communication and collaboration process much easier.
According to the Yammer blog, the site offers an “unlimited amount of internal messaging archived over time, creating a company-wide knowledge base.” Users can reference previous discussions and search via keywords, topics and hashtags, making it easier to find historical content and project iterations. It also helps to bring new employees up to speed on current projects.
For Yammer to truly be effective and worthwhile for an organization there must be a critical mass of employees signed up and actively using the tool. Otherwise, it could become another excuse for employees to procrastinate.
Also, if a significant number of employees are already using Yammer, it often forces IT departments to take action for security reasons. Once a company administrator, like an IT executive, takes control of the network, Yammer then charges $1 per user per month. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for large enterprises, it could mean tens of thousands of dollars a month. Users have also voiced concerns that once “big brother” (i.e., the IT department) gets involved, it may signal more restrictions and changes to users’ experience on Yammer, taking a little of the blush off the rose.
Finally, workers already struggle with cluttered inboxes, long IM lists and a litany of internal communication policies. Some don’t see a need for yet another tool to keep them in constant contact with their colleagues – they want less interaction, not more. And for larger organizations, any employee in its general Yammer company network might be inundated with conversations and streams of information at all times. The sub-groups or teams are a better option to manage this, but it still requires another step in the process.
At first glance, Yammer seems like a good option for those people looking to connect and network with other colleagues online, particularly in larger organizations where satellite offices and departmental segmentation might otherwise prohibit such interaction. It seems to enable the flow of ideas and creative solutions, which could then lead to increased productivity and innovation.
While many workers are already frustrated at the level of connectivity between them and their company and would be hesitant to implement yet another tool to communicate with colleagues, I do believe that Yammer (or some form of the technology) will eventually become commonplace in every organization.
Based on my research, I would give Yammer 3 out of 5 slices.