Social Networking Comes (at Last) to the Workplace – Wall Street Journal
After a slow start, corporate social media may be coming into its own.
Two years ago, Randy Bragdon’s real-estate brokerage tried out Yammer, the corporate social-networking software Microsoft
purchased in 2012 for $1.2 billion. On Yammer, co-workers can collaborate on projects, message one another and “like” videos, all out of the public eye. But among Mr. Bragdon’s colleagues, it never caught on. People never seemed to get the hang of the way it worked, says Mr. Bragdon, the regional marketing director with a group of Coldwell Banker real-estate franchises in the Southwest owned by NRT LLC.
So far, the results are promising. About 2,500 employees, about half of those who have been offered accounts, are actively using the service, which combines the look and feel of Facebook.com with new corporate controls to help managers get their fingers on the pulse of intra-company conversations. Views of educational videos at NRT are up 400%, due in large part to Facebook’s simple and familiar user interface, Mr. Bragdon believes. And, most important, the service feels and operates like a vibrant and useful networking tool. “Now you’re getting answers from multiple people in a matter of minutes,” he says.
Real-estate companies may be ideal candidates for a corporate social network: Real-estate agents tend to work independently, often in far-flung offices, but their job is a social one, where information sharing can help close deals.
Meanwhile, others are changing their opinion about corporate social networks, too. Duncan Stewart, director of research for technology, media and telecommunications with Deloitte Canada in Toronto, has made a study of corporate social networks. He says that in some ways, successful ones resemble Twitter
more than Facebook. They revolve around a devoted core of “hyperusers”—perhaps 20% of a company’s employees—while 30% will pop in occasionally, he says. In his experience, the other 50% simply don’t use the software.
These hyperusers are the key to keeping other workers engaged and can make or break a network, says Lawrence DeVoe, founder and chief executive of DeVoe Consulting LLC, in New York. He helped run a Yammer social network at IPG Mediabrands, an international ad agency. The network helped workers—especially those who weren’t in executive management—stay in touch with one another and collaborate across country lines, but it took some work.
“One of the things we saw was that in order for that kind of social network to work in an organization, it really needs active community management,” he says.
Corporate social-networking software is now offered by most of the big software vendors. Yammer is part of Microsoft’s SharePoint product; VMware
sells Socialcast. Salesforce.com
includes a product called Chatter with its customer-relationship-management service; and International Business Machines
have products as well.
NRT is one of 450 companies that are beta-testing Facebook at Work. More than 60,000 companies have asked to try it out when it becomes more widely available later this year.
Even before Facebook at Work, Facebook was having an effect on corporations. Before Mr. Bragdon’s company began its test, for example, it had already set up several group pages for the company’s regional offices and for the teams that marketed its high-end luxury properties.
Facebook already is familiar to most workers. So Facebook’s entry into this market is likely to shake things up, says Carrie Basham Young, principal with Talk Social To Me LLC, a corporate social-networking consultancy based in Mill Valley, Calif.
“It’s really, really easy to use,” she says. By contrast, she says, “When you roll out Yammer or Socialcast at work, there’s training involved.”
Facebook at Work users must create new accounts that are separate from their personal Facebook accounts and are controlled by the company they work for. Executives like Mr. Bragdon get better data on how the network is being used than they would with Facebook Groups.
Mr. McMillan is a Wall Street Journal reporter in San Francisco. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write to Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com