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No signs that Microsoft is killing Yammer October 30, 2012

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Yesterday, Yammer did its first big customer event since being acquired by Microsoft. It pitched the concept of an “enterprise graph,” showed a lot of integration features for third-party software, and even made some room for Microsoft. GigaOM Pro analyst Stowe Boyd isn’t the only observer who likened some of Yammer’s work media API angles to those of Facebook, though Stowe thinks the approach is more like Socialcast’s.

Yammer aims to distribute its functions outside its “site.” I’d hate to call it a Google+ style strategy for social tech APIs, but while Facebook aims to extend its reach, it still soaks up huge amounts of (consumer) user time on its own properties. I don’t think Microsoft would be nearly as happy if Yammer technology shows up next to Salesforce.com apps at the expense of its own Dynamics CRM or SharePoint.

Meanwhile, Yammer is embracing beefed-up security and identity management standards, including various flavors of single sign-on.  All good. Integration is a key differentiator for enterprise collaboration. So even if Microsoft has to grit its teeth a little at the thought of competitors to its own services, it’s still doing the right things with Yammer. It’s not killing freemium pricing, and it might even be learning a little about cloud development.

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Potential Microsoft-Yammer impact June 25, 2012

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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There’s still no official declaration by Microsoft – or Yammer – that it would acquire the social work media company for over $1 billion. While some observers labeled the social enterprise acquisition frenzy “lunacy,” others called this potential match-up the “smartest deal of the year.” As with all acquisitions and mergers, it’s all in the details of execution, but this potential combination makes a lot of sense.

What it means

Microsoft’s own SharePoint enterprise collaboration platform is notoriously difficult to deploy. Yammer is just the opposite. And Yammer, like several other freemium, cloud-based collaboration tools, has built integration hooks into its activity stream to pull from and feed back into Microsoft applications, as well as those of Salesforce.com, SAP and other enterprise software offerings. Yammer offers social network-like work media functions including user profiles, project and user “following,” a feed-based user interface, and basic content and file sharing. Yammer, having raised $142 million, claims to have 5 million users at over 200,000 companies, although likely 20 percent or fewer are paid seats.

If the deal goes through, there will be lots of talk of integration. But this is one case where a “bolted on” solution might pay off better for Microsoft than slowing down Yammer’s so-far successful strategy of plugging in to multiple other applications and platforms, including Microsoft’s. And when Microsoft talks integration, it doesn’t necessarily move swiftly. Microsoft spoke warmly about opportunities to connect its Lync unified communications scheme with Skype, with little to show for it so far. A longer-term integration differentiator could lie in searching and connecting the new data silos being created by the proliferation of work media applications.

And which Microsoft product set would benefit most from Yammer integration? SharePoint is the most logical starting point, but Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM suite beckons as does Office and its cloud-based Office 365 variant. Microsoft has been most successful when it builds out horizontal platforms like Windows, Office and SQL Server that third-party developers can leverage for functional (CRM, accounting, HR, manufacturing, etc.) or industry-specific applications. By that reasoning, Yammer fits SharePoint better than Dynamics.

A horizontal approach would keep the door wide open for developers, systems integrators and distributors to take the Yammer/Microsoft combination far and wide. Though some observers think Microsoft will kill Yammer’s freemium business model, it would be wiser to maintain a free entrée point. Microsoft needs to figure out how to exploit this model; freemium is here to stay.

Whom it affects

There is a wide variety – not to say confusing proliferation – of social enterprise players in the market. They tend to fall into types:

Enterprise social networks. Yammer sees companies like Jive Software and Telligent as its main competitors. Those two are ahead of Yammer in adding features and applications to customized their offerings for community marketing, internal and external collaboration and some of those business functions mentioned above. Another player, Atlassian has focused smartly as a platform for software developer collaboration. While Microsoft would add resources to Yammer, those companies are better positioned to compete than is NewsGator, whose current business model depends on adding services to SharePoint.

File-sharing content management and collaboration. Companies like Alfresco and Box have built out far more content management features compared with Dropbox and others that have yet to move far beyond file-sharing. Still, simple collaboration tools have managed to gain ground with line-of-business managers that can’t wait for IT support. If Microsoft doesn’t wreck Yammer, it may be able to wall off enterprise incursions by these companies, and relegate them to small-business and midmarket buyers.

Socialized ERP. Salesforce.com’s Chatter looks a lot like Yammer, and Salesforce can position itself as a credible cloud solution compared with Microsoft. Microsoft must keep Yammer as a horizontal platform play, and resist too much of its own – rather than third-party – application integration. Ironically, Microsoft could play the “open systems” ecosystem card against Salesforce and Oracle’s Webcenter. Oracle pitches Webcenter across all its software, but it’s really its applications-focused cloud computing tactic versus Salesforce.

Socialized enterprise software infrastructure. IBM Connections add social integration to its infrastructure and communications software, much as Tibco employs tibbr. They’re “bolting on” social media to their own offerings, where VMWare is trying to build out a platform with Socialcast. Socialcast, as the more general-purpose offering, is more vulnerable to the Microsoft/Yammer potential.

Key takeaway

Microsoft should focus on keeping Yammer a horizontal platform and learn how to adapt to freemium pricing rather than obsess over deeply integrating Yammer across its product lines. If it does, this could be a powerful combination in work media.

Question of the week

Who’s most at risk from a Microsoft/Yammer combination?

Focusing social platforms for community marketing August 29, 2011

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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One of the things social media marketing will need if it’s going to live up to its aggressive $5 billion spending forecast is more differentiation between marketing and collaboration platforms. Companies like Jive Software, which filed for its IPO last week; Lithium, which just hired a new CEO; Mzinga; and Telligent offer social network platforms aimed at both employees and customers. But one-size-fits-all social networking platforms may not be around for much longer, because to succeed, vendors will need to start offering tools and services concentrated specifically on community marketing, distinct from enterprise collaboration or social networks.

Vendors making tools for the space broadly defined as social CRM have arrived from various origins: buzz monitoring, fan site creation, customer service and support, and enterprise social networking. Core social networking technologies and techniques (e.g., social graph relationships and information, friend and group following, real-time information feeds) are common across those. But platforms aimed at marketing to communities will need specialization. Let’s take a look at how a new startup, Napkin Labs, is attempting to differentiate the community-marketing platform that it just took out of beta.

Napkin Labs offers a low-cost web service that companies like beta partners Intuit and Sony can use as an online focus group. The founders of Napkin Labs have brand advertising agency backgrounds, and it shows — occasionally to a fault. For example, they expose perhaps a little too much agency-insider terminology to consumers who, unless they’re avid Mad Men watchers, aren’t going to know or care what a “creative brief” is. CEO Riley Gibson is correct that encouraging and rewarding customer engagement is subtly different than doing the same for employees. So Napkin Labs uses gaming mechanics like challenges and points to encourage participation and rate user influence. Its focus on applications to test product features, advertising and packaging looks smart.

But translating the art of focus group analysis into software and social networking features will be challenging. Understanding how to use feedback from rabid fans versus mainstream customers, muting the impact of blowhard commentators and applying focus group insights to mass-market ad campaigns are more consulting services than products. Napkin Labs is attempting to educate less-savvy customers with templates and blog advice rather than hiring consultants.

But there are a host of other community-marketing features besides focus group analysis that vendors will increasingly use, such as:

  • Consumer network integration. Community-marketing platforms should enable and encourage community members to spread the message beyond the community. So any gaming or rewards systems must extend into other social media, like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Member acquisition. If you’re in the fan page business — or are using social marketing tools for customer acquisition — you need to “fish where the fish are.” Most of the fish today are on Facebook. Napkin Labs has an idea that its offerings might work better as Facebook apps than as a part of a destination site; it’s probably right.
  • Community panels. Some community-marketing platform companies like House Party and CrowdTap bring along their own communities, much like traditional market research panels. There are tradeoffs to this approach — some clients want to control audience and data ownership — but those platforms enable data analysis across different customer and product types. That can lead to valuable marketing insights that might otherwise stay hidden from those clients.

Ultimately, a key role for community marketing platforms will be supporting so-called integrated marketing campaigns — that is, big, cross-media (TV, online, print) initiatives that involve things like product placement, brand sponsorships and physical-world presence. House Party and CrowdTap offer services to manage campaign logistics. That may be more like agency work and consulting than building a software platform with seductive margins and a scalable business model, but that’s what it’s going to take.

Question of the week

How else can collaboration platforms differentiate themselves from social marketing tools?