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Private social networks playing Facebook role in more workplaces

Carolyn Duffy Marsan | Oct. 21, 2011
From retail chains to electric utilities to manufacturers, a growing number of U.S. corporations are harnessing the power of social networks to modernize how their employees communicate with each other, business partners and customers -- making these firms more nimble in the marketplace and leaving their less Facebook-savvy rivals trailing.

"The reason why this is happening right now is particularly because of the economic downturn," Pisoni says. "Companies are realizing they need to do more to stay competitive. They need to leverage the knowledge of their employees better...They need to leverage new technology better."

Yammer has raised $57 million in venture financing, including $17 million in September from a fund led by a former Facebook executive.

"This year has been a really, really big year for enterprise social networking," Pisoni says. "We're spending less time trying to convince companies of the value of social; they're coming to us knowing the value of social now and how it...improves the transparency within their organizations....The big change is the increased hunger companies have to solve the problems that we help solve."

Preferred way

At Red Robin, Yammer is replacing SharePoint portals, e-mail and instant messaging as the favored way for regional directors to communicate with each other and with staff in the home office. Begun as a pilot project 10 months ago, the Red Robin Yammer Network has nearly 300 users and is growing virally.

"People have a hunger to communicate more and more with one another," says Laping, who was the seventh Yammer user at his company. "For people to be satisfied at work, they need to feel connected: connected to one another, connected to the best practices in the organization, connected to the way others are working, and connected to the current state of affairs in the company."

Laping says social networking tools like Yammer do a better job at many-to-many communications than e-mail, which is hierarchical, not immediate enough and not truly searchable. Instead of e-mail, Red Robin employees use Yammer to give feedback on corporate initiatives, share operational improvements, and discuss issues that are impacting the business - all in real time.

"You get better adoption on initiatives and greater return on strategy when people feel involved and bought in," Laping said. "You can have great ideas and the promise of returns, but what gets between them is this nasty feature called behavior change. If you can't drive or enable behavior change, you don't see the return. That's where Yammer helps us tangibly."

Companies that fail to adopt social networks internally are losing out on the opportunity to build a more engaged workforce, Laping warns.

"Companies are missing a great collaboration opportunity, a great feedback opportunity, a great pulse check," he says. "Social networking ups the ante in terms of getting work done. It improves how employees connect with the work they are doing and how incredibly impactful that work can be."

Dramatic uptake of Chatter

Similarly, is seeing dramatic uptake of Chatter, which became available as a separate application 10 months ago in addition to being integrated with Salesforce. Among the 100,000 companies that use Chatter are Kelly Services, Burberry, Saatchi & Saatchi and Dell; these companies have created 200,000 custom Chatter applications.


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