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“There is a huge pent-up demand to be able to communicate in this more open, efficient way.”
David Sacks, CEO of Yammer and corporate VP for Microsoft Office
Avoiding the danger of ‘social sprawl’
Image: Eric Millette
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Avoiding the danger of ‘social sprawl’

Kenny MacIver – January 2013
As senior management come to appreciate the need to add a social layer to many business applications, they have to guard against a proliferation of conflicting social environments, says Yammer’s David Sacks.

Many senior executives are still blind to the benefits that social media can bring to their organization. As a result, says Yammer CEO David Sacks, IT and senior managers are rarely the champions of corporate social media. But that’s all about to change, he predicts.

“The pressure for social tools was initially coming from the bottom up,” says Sacks. “It was really employees who brought enterprise social networking to most of our customers. They just pumped up demand [for employees and partners] to be able to communicate in this way.” And the fact that mainstream social media has become part of many of their lives was certainly a factor in exerting pressure for similar functionality in the corporate environment.

 “There is clearly a gap between the way people communicate in their personal lives and the way they do so at work,” says Sacks. “Thanks to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, they’re able to communicate more efficiently and have started to wonder why they can’t communicate this way at work.”

“The pendulum has swung and most enterprises realize that business software is going to be social.”

And this is highly limiting, he says. “The main way of disseminating information in the workplace is still governed by the org chart, where you have to go to your manager to get the information you need, or be on the official email lists for the relevant team. So I think there is a huge pent-up demand to be able to communicate in this more open, efficient way.”

There is also an increased expectation in the wider workforce to have access to such tools. “It’s reached the point where job candidates are asking questions about the types of tools you will provide and if one is an internal social network,” claims Sacks. “It’s them trying to gauge how progressive the company is.

“So it started as this very grass-roots, bottom-up initiative, but I think it’s now become a top-down priority for companies to embrace tools like this.” That is a far cry from Yammer’s early days when industry watchers were skeptical that social networking could be a viable business tool. What Yammer delivered was “a communications revolution within the enterprise,” says Sacks. “It’s simply the most efficient way to enable many-to-many communication, with lots of people all talking at once. Before, there was no way to really do that. The pendulum has swung and most enterprises realize that business software is going to be social.”Social silos

But the prospect of adding social as an integral part of all applications creates a challenge: how does that layer reach across all applications and not just foster discrete conversations within the HR function, sales and so on.

That’s where Yammer wants to play an even wider role. “Four years ago we tried to convince people that social had a place in the enterprise. Now people are complaining that they have too many social solutions or they’ve got social happening in too many applications and they’re not tied together,” says Sacks. Yammer’s proposed solution is its Enterprise Graph, announced in late 2012, which aims to create “a universal conversation layer.”

He continues: “People don’t want social silos. They don’t want these conversations to be fragmented. The whole point of social is to bring the whole company together. It stands 
to reason that no single business application is going to be able to create the linkage between all these different apps, but that is really what we’re trying to do with our platform. It’s a way of connecting all of your people and your business data and applications.”

“All business applications will become social. The question is how that happens.”

The aim is to do away with what he calls “social sprawl.” People think they should be able to share information easily while working within applications, he says, but they don’t want that to be a separate step. Sacks argues that organizations need an industry player who stands back from the interests of the applications market. “If every application builds its own social network, you’ll end up with social network sprawl, where conversations are fragmented in a bunch of different places.

“If your CRM app has its own social network, you’re only talking to other people who are using CRM in sales and maybe customer service,” he says. “But if you have a question for the parts department, you’re stymied. It’s better for customers if they have one social layer, one conversation layer across the enterprise.”

There’s an inevitability to what he thinks will happen next. “All business applications will become social. The question is how that happens. I’m sure that large ERP vendors will seek to bake in social features for their applications and that’s all well and good. But that doesn’t replace the need for a company-wide tool, irrespective of what applications are being used.

That potential for adding a social layer to all kinds of business applications was certainly a key factor in Microsoft’s decision to purchase Yammer last year. Aside from the opportunity to use its vast distribution network to accelerate sales of Yammer [Sacks says the company will continue to be run separately], the plan is to integrate the social tool with some of the most widely used products in enterprise IT today — namely, Office, SharePoint, Dynamics and Skype.

“Our goal with this platform is to standardize social — to give employees a uniform social experience.”
First published
January 2013
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About: David Sacks
As the COO who took PayPal to IPO and sold it to eBay, David Sacks may now be hailed as a pioneer of corporate social networking, but to cinema fans he’s simply the guy who produced the cult movie ‘Thank You For Smoking.’

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