Aussie powerhouses' Yammer confessions

What does a retail giant, an insurance company, a gambling powerhouse, an audit firm and a charity have in common? They're all on Yammer, a private social-networking tool for enterprise that can connect via APIs to company systems.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

What does a retail giant, an insurance company, a gambling powerhouse, an audit firm and a charity have in common? They're all on Yammer, a private social-networking tool for enterprise that can connect via APIs to company systems.

Aristocrat IT strategy manager, Joe Robens, said this week at Yammer on Tour in Sydney that the company's migration to the social-networking tool was "a massive accident".

The conversation in the company had actually been about Facebook and how it was a bit dangerous that all the information shared on it was out in the wild. Someone noticed Yammer as a place you could talk in safety.

Westfield's Yammer experience, on the other hand, was started by Deloitte. Shopping centre management and marketing director, Andy Hedges, was having trouble with his blog, where he felt that the information he wrote about online was like sending it into a black hole. Pete Williams, the CEO of Deloitte Digital, suggested Yammer to him and a year ago, Hedges posted his first blog that was only on Yammer.

Hedges said that if you have 40 shopping centres spread across the nation, people tended to only talk within the shopping centre they worked in.

"That's the bubble that you engage with," he said.

Hedges noticed that Yammer seemed to foster the type of conversations he used to get when he was walking around the shopping centres, where someone might say something they wouldn't do over email.

Deloitte found its Yammer use spiked as it started its green dot branding campaign. Emails were sent and never answered, while wikis were only useful for people who used wikis, according to Simon Townsend, Deloitte Australia's manager for innovation. During the campaign, people started putting their designs for the campaign up on Yammer, which saw many in the company get on board with the service.

AMP's uptake also started with an event — its annual Amplify event, which houses speakers on innovation. In 2009, the decision was made to use the freemium version Yammer in conjunction with the event, and in September of that year there were 935 power users.

In 2011, the business case was made to use the tool as a way to bring AMP and AXA together when they merged. The two companies had different intranets, so communicating in that fashion wasn't going to be possible, according to Annalie Killian, AMP's director of innovation and Social Business. Now there are 4000 of 6000 AMP employees using the service, with the number continuing to rise.

Andy Ridley, Earth Hour executive director and co-founder, wanted a way to communicate with banks and its parent company the World Wildlife Fund. However, Ridley didn't want the 50-year-old culture within the World Wildlife Fund to dictate how this communication worked.

"Because Yammer's so unhierarchical, you can get the best things out of your business," he said.

Using the tool is not without its pitfalls, however.

Aristocrat's Robens related a story where an employee had posted on Yammer about a way he had found to bypass Apple's app store to be able to download a game of Aristocrat's that was illegal in Australia, but was legal where it was being sold.

The company's legal department had been very concerned about the post, but Robens saw it as a positive thing.

"This is a contained environment," he said. "We have the ability to deal with this sort of communication." The company put the message out using the social team that it wasn't appropriate to bypass the app store controls in the way the user had, so not to go out and do it.

Killian said that it was like a public pool. It was a public service, but they still have life guards.

"In the Yammer community, it's very worthwhile investing in a community manager," she said.

Earth Hour had a set of "Vegas rules", said Ridley, who likes to take nasty emails and post them on Yammer and then answer politely, while Hedges said he'd "stole shamelessly from Deloitte" the rule that no one should post anything on Yammer they wouldn't show to their mother, except Hedges thought it should be grandmother.

Return on investment is a difficult issue for Yammer, with none of the companies willing to reveal numbers to prove why other companies should take it up.

"I'm not personally sure it exists," Deloitte's Townsend said, adding that the company no longer measures the number of emails or the number of phone calls that it fields. "This is my measure of ROI," he said, displaying a picture that graphical represents how departments were communicating to each other over Yammer. The departments are in different colours and reside on different segments of the circle.


Deloitte's Yammer ROI
(Credit: Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet Australia)

Townsend also said that the people who were most connected on Yammer were in groups that were producing the most value and there was also a lower turnover among those people.

"I fought tooth and nail to not have an ROI on this," Robens said. "It wasn't a multimillion-dollar global project that needed a steering committee."

Townsend said that about 30 per cent of Yammer use was devoted to water-cooler-type talk, 25 per cent related to discussing client problems, around 15 per cent were information requests, while another 15 per cent had to do with expense queries.

Yammer will be tripling its employee base from eight to 24 staff by November. The company is currently based out of a co-working space in Melbourne and, if Yammer Australia customer service manager Ross Hill has his way, despite pressure from the US, the company will remain there. He feels that the exposure to ideas in such a space was definitely worth it.

Yammer this week announced it was integrating with the AffinityLive CRM and project management cloud platform and Subscribe-HR a provider of HR software as a service.

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