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BIG THINKER
“Suddenly, businesses see communication barriers come down, so they could share best practices.”
David Sacks, CEO of Yammer and a corporate VP in Microsoft’s Office Division
How social media changes the business conversation
Image: Eric Millette
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How social media changes the business conversation

Kenny MacIver – January 2013
Corporate users are highlighting the business value they’re deriving from social tools – and the shortcomings of email, says David Sacks.

The potential of corporate social networking is all too evident at some of the big-name customers of market leader Yammer. The likes of Shell, DHL, Molson Coors, 7-Eleven, Supervalu, Vodacom, LexisNexis, LG Electronics and Pitney Bowes are all keen to talk up the benefits of social media and the breadth of deployments across their workforces of a tool originally thought to be only applicable to knowledge workers.

In particular, Supervalu, the US retailer whose regional supermarket brands Lucky, Shop ’n Save, Albertsons, Hornbacher’s and others are clustered in different regions around the US, has become a poster child for the value created by Yammer. Historically, its store managers in different regions rarely communicated about ongoing issues, even though they experience very similar challenges.

“Suddenly, they saw that barrier come down,” says Sacks, “so they could share best practices or highlight an effective merchandise display or sales approach. If you look at the Supervalu feed today, it’s full of photos of things that are working, as managers use their tablet or smartphone to capture and share images of successful in-store campaigns in a matter of seconds.”

That interchange also gives the company’s leaders unprecedented visibility of what’s happening at thousands of stores, he says.

But the deployment of social networking at Supervalu goes well beyond store managers. In fact, the Yammer service has found its way deep into the rank and file of such companies that Sacks and his team have had to find a way of provisioning employees who don’t even have a company email address.

“We’re bridging the gaps to connect people from across the companies, enabling levels of communication that just weren’t possible before.”

There’s a similar story at US gourmet burger chain Red Robin. With 365 restaurants across 42 states, it has struggled to keep any kind of consistent flow of communications across outlets. “By connecting all their store managers through Yammer, the company has been able to crowdsource ideas very quickly – new product launches, customer feedback, sharing best practices, recipes and timesaving approaches. It has created an indispensable feedback loop,” says Sacks.Email’s nemesis?

As those examples suggest, the kind of companies that see the greatest benefits are typically siloed across geographies, departments or business units. “They use Yammer to bridge those gaps, to connect people from across the company, enabling levels of communication that just weren’t possible before,” says Sacks.

The default rival to such a service is, of course, email. But the critical role of that venerable communications mechanism in business is destined to fade, he says. “Email is great, as long as you know who in the company has the information you need. You’re not going to send an email to ‘All’ saying: ‘Hey, does anyone have the answer to this?’ The beauty of enterprise social networking is that you can simply post a message in an open environment and people can jump in and answer your question or direct you to the person who can.”

Email will get displaced rather than replaced, he says. And that process is already well under way. “Companies actively using Yammer report email reductions of as much as one third. It’s about communicating more efficiently,” he adds.
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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