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Why Yammer’s acquisition by Microsoft will accelerate B2B social media

For successful technologies, there are moments in time when they can be said to have ‘arrived’; in other words, they have reached a tipping point when they are no longer regarded as a niche or emerging technology, but one which is destined to go mainstream.

The purchase of Yammer by Microsoft for $1.2 billion can be seen as just that moment for enterprise social media (ESM), which until now had sometimes been dismissed as the poor relation to its sexy dynamic consumer-focused cousin.

For the uninitiated, enterprise social media is an internal platform that instead of allowing individuals to manage their social lives as Facebook does (through pictures, pokes and parties, etc.) or their careers as LinkedIn does (through CVs, recommendations and contacts etc.) it enables companies and employees to manage their workloads and tasks (through project groups, timelines and messages etc.).

It works in a very similar way to Facebook, with a very friendly user-interface allowing users and project managers quick and easy access to the information that they need, when they need it. The intention is to allow employees to replace the multiple information sources that they may currently use to conduct their work with a single interface, integrating key functionality such as email and Twitter. In short, it’s the only screen that you need.

That’s the theory: the reality is that adoption has been fairly slow, but that’s not unreasonable for a type of technology which requires a subtle but profound change in processes, and for one that’s based on a technology which many senior business decision makers regard with cynicism (ie. Social media).

However, that’s not stopped momentum building for this category, and given the gradual and inexorable socialisation of work, it is arguable that it was inevitable that ESM’s time would eventually come. Given Microsoft’s deep pockets, and its centrality to the working environment through its Office product suite and their massive installed base, which provides the perfect platform to bring Yammer to the business masses, that time appears to be now.

The acquisition of Yammer has been cited by some commentators as the latest step in Microsoft’s battle with Google. That may be true, but arguably it is more relevant in terms of its rivalry with Salesforce, which launched its Chatter ESM solution in 2011. Although this was, and continues to be, largely marketed at salespeople and improving sales team performance (whilst Yammer is positioned more generally) Microsoft’s ownership of the Dynamix CRM platform makes this acquisition a clear competitive move.

Greater awareness of ESM as a category – which Yammer’s integration into Office will inevitably drive – will also inevitably be of benefit to other solutions in this space, such as middleware vendor Tibco, which launched its Tibbr solution in the same year as Chatter. All vendors stand to benefit.

Strictly speaking, ESM is not a B2B marketing solution, but the escalation of its evolution and adoption is closely linked to the continuing socialisation of business, and therefore business-to-business. As Yammer is established alongside Word, Excel and Powerpoint as primary business applications by Microsoft customers, and employees come to regard using it in the workplace as second nature, this will ultimately only serve to fuel the escalation of social media as an outward-facing communications mechanism (as well as inward-facing). In other words, it’s just one more reason why social media is here to stay.