Return On Investment Of Yammer For Government Enterprise: Examples From Microsoft’s Yams

Mike Strand (Redmond, WA) –

Since my last post “Micro-Leadership Through Enterprise Microblogging: A Modern View On Managing Bureaucracy”, much has happened in the world of social for the enterprise. Namely, my own company, Microsoft, recently completed acquisition of Yammer. As I am a strong advocate for the power of microblogging in the modern enterprise, including for customers in the public sector, I’m excited about immediate and long term impacts of such an important investment. I figured this recent milestone was good cause for an update on my journey embracing and heralding enterprise microblogging.

When discussing enterprise microblogging with the uninitiated, the conversation usually begins with a discussion of basic how-to’s, features, and usage scenarios. This goes along well enough until rest assured someone inevitably asks, “what’s the ROI on this?” — and that’s where the fun begins. With this easy-to-ask, hard-to-answer question, people are seeking quantifiable evidence of a positive cost-benefit relationship of social media in the enterprise.

In the case of companies using social platforms to connect with external customers there’s a growing library of quantifiable business results. However, in the case of within-enterprise use of social tools like microblogs, the quantifiable evidence is not as easily tied to incremental revenue (or reduced costs). Instead, common metrics cited are more indirect to the bottom line – and center around employee satisfaction and increased collaboration. For many the lack of a black-and-white direct linkage to increased hard dollar value is a limiter in adoption or investment. At this point, I like to engage my audience in a discussion of the following ideas.

What’s the ROI on your office’s weekly staff meeting?

Take for example the ubiquitous one hour weekly staff meeting. Assuming 2,000 work hours a year, 10 participating employees earning an average of $75,000 a year, the annual “cost” of that weekly staff meeting is almost $19,000. But that’s just one team’s staff meeting. Span that across an organization of say 10,000 and conservatively assuming everyone attends only one staff meeting, the company-wide cost is almost $19 million per year! Could you show me a quantified ROI on staff meetings in a 10,000-person enterprise? Yet, managers around the globe routinely schedule weekly staff meetings. Why? Because driving cross-team and cross-organization alignment is a top priority for all managers and leaders – and staff meetings are viewed as such an effective method of driving alignment that no formal ROI analysis is necessary.

Through this lens, we see daily choices across the modern enterprise with high monetary costs and no accompanying ROI. Think about the resources consumed for a 2 hour “All Hands” meeting with 300 participants. Similarly it’s not uncommon for a large organization to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on internal conferences. And while in the case of the GSA, this was a bit of a public scandal – in corporate America it happens quite often. Finally, if you work in government or a large enterprise I suspect you’ve been required to take a mandatory training in the last year. I’m highly confident that almost all these allocations of resources are done without a formal ROI.

At this point, let me explain that I’m not a ROI-basher. For the record, I have spent much of my career doing quantitative analysis and have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in finance. My wife will tell you I spend way too much time looking at our family finances spreadsheet. (No kidding, I can predict my daily bank balance with 5% accuracy over 3 months out). I love numbers; I love Excel. What I dislike, however, is people selectively requiring hard ROI evidence. I believe that anyone who earnestly adopts intra-enterprise microblogging for three weeks will no longer ask the ROI question.

Social media is not “additive” work — it displaces less efficient task-completing mechanisms

The idea that social media is not necessarily “additive” is an incredibly important concept, and its why an earnest three week adoption period is so important – particularly for curmudgeons who say, “I don’t have time to do social networking at work.” Such people are often blinded by non-work-related “noise” in the social community that exists even behind firewalls.

While I personally would argue that posts about Taco Tuesdays in the cafeteria actually serve an important purpose (to be saved for a later blog post), it can take time for a skeptic to see the traditional work also getting done in the ecosystem. But once visible, they’ll see it’s the same work that was getting done before Enterprise 2.0, just now being done in a more efficient manner. Conversations that used to take place in e-mail or staff meetings that only benefited a limited audience are now reaching everyone that might benefit. Due to the open, searchable nature of microblogging, employees are unlocking intellectual property otherwise stuck in human or digital “dead ends.”

A sometimes shocking, revelatory idea I like to pose to new microbloggers is the following: Before you send your next email, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What is the potential harm if I send microblog this message instead of email? (If none, proceed to question two).
  2. What is the potential opportunity value if I microblog this message instead of email? (If greater than none, proceed to microblogging immediately!)

Still not convinced about microblogging? Try following the #FTW hashtag

One of my favorite enterprise microblogging hashtags to follow is #FTW. In internet-speak, FTW stands for “For the Win” — code for something great happening. Quora kindly offers more context on FTW and it’s quite an interesting read. As on the broader internet, intra-company microblogs discussing positive outcomes are often given the hashtag #FTW. Here’s a small, slightly-edited and anonymized selection of actual #FTW posts from Microsoft:

  • Original Post: How soon until IT turns on [feature X] for [service Y]?
  • Response: We’ll be working on that soon.
  • FTW Response: The fact that I was able to see a response by someone like @ Engineer is exactly why I love Yammer. #Transparency #FTW!”

The above discussion is a textbook example of individuals without a prior existing relationship or even knowledge of each other connecting across the enterprise via the microblogging platform. Additionally, based on timestamps the above conversation occurred over a period of about 12 hours. Not a bad resolution time in a company with over 80,000 employees.

  • Original Post: Hi could I get a long term trial to demo [Product X] alongside with [Product Y]?
  • Response: [Product X] demo accounts are here [link] and [Product Y] is here [link].
  • FTW Response: Thanks Yammer! I’ll put this use! #FTW

The above conversation started with a sales professional looking for resources to assist with a customer demonstration. While the original poster got the information requested in a mere 27 minutes, the FTW-respondent was not the original requester. Given the transparency and ease of finding relevant information in across the microblog universe, additional employees benefited from the post 7 days later.

These are just two examples of #FTW’s happening every day on Microsoft’s internal microblog.

Albert Einstein is to have said, “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.” In my opinion, there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that Albert Einstein knew what he was talking about – and that enterprise microblogging is worth the investment.

Mike Strand is a Business Relationship Manager for Microsoft IT based in Bellevue, WA.

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