80% of Enterprise Social Networking System Users are Mostly just Looking…is this a problem?

80% Observer HeaderWe have been comparing organisations using Yammer over the past 6 months. Of the 15 organisations we have compared to date, on average 80% of actual users (not just lurkers) are active on the system less than once every 2 weeks. We kindly classify them as “Observers” . On first blush a typical response is “that’s terrible”. Other more optimistic ones suggest if we measured the lurkers as well, then perhaps it wouldn’t look so bad. But whatever the number, what is a good number? And interestingly enough, some suggest this is what we should expect. Isn’t that what the 90/9/1 rule would predict? Overwhelmingly though, we see community management and the executive want the number to be better; but how much better? 30% engaged and active? 40%?, 60%?, 100%?

Of course the answer is, as always; “it depends”. Some organisations that have many field staff, like retail banks, supermarkets, mining and resources, transport and logistics might argue that these front line staff would not have the time in their day to access the Internet. Therefore having the Yammer system limited to management and functional specialist staff may be understandable, but mobile technology is now changing this situation dramatically. We have observed many ‘front-line’ staff interacting with their colleagues using their mobile devices and apps like WhatsApp or Facebook. Another perspective, which speaks to the 90/9/1 rule, are organisations designing their Yammer installations to be expert driven learning systems, where a selected few (1%) act as the experts who are largely responsible for answering the questions from the 9% who ask, leaving the vast 90% lurkers to benefit from ‘observing’; though we really don’t know, as all lurker measuring systems are questionable. Just because I scrolled over or clicked on some content, doesn’t mean I learnt something. To me this is a ‘safe’ option. Online forums have proved their value long before ‘social’ became fashionable, especially in highly technical areas. But should we be satisfied with a last century online forum, with the addition of some ‘social’ buttons, as our modern enterprise social networking platform?

At the other end of the spectrum are those that are feasting on the Social Business good oil. For these organisations it is not enough to simply dress up the age-old forum as a social networking system. These organisations acknowledge that all non-automated business processes are inherently social. We provided some illustrations of how even 21st century entry-level staff can no longer work alone. If indeed you believe this proposition and that your Yammer platform should support this, then accepting an 80% observer rate is like accepting that 80% of your staff only have to work once every couple of weeks.

Why Yammer? What about the other channels of Email, Chat, Skype etc.. Of course these are all popular collaboration channels. In fact Microsoft, with their acquisition of Volometrics, now have Organalytics which can expose insightful collaboration patterns in email and chat conversations. We believe it’s not an “either-or” situation, but staff need to be on both. Our research on collaboration channels identified that channels like email, chat and voice are substantially restricted to team level communication. Whereas Yammer was the only channel that connected across the enterprise. We see an enterprise ‘fusion’ of channels is optimal, more so than trying to identify particular tools by tasks.

So how do we bridge the huge gap of 80% observers, to everybody onboard and actively collaborating on the platform on a daily basis? Sounds a huge challenge based on where we are today. And it can’t be done through incremental thinking. It does require a whole change in mindset. Here are my recommendations on a mindset that could convert the 80% observers to 100% actively engaged workers:

  1. Do not accept that your ESN is simply a Q&A forum where a selected few ‘experts’ do all the work. Start to think about forming groups for each team and/or all non-automated business process teams. In this way every area of the business should be represented by at least one group. Logically these teams would exist as a layer independent of traditional enterprise level groups, that continue to draw their individual members from teams. Teams
  2. Provide analytics that help everybody and not just the management. Think about making available personal analytics aimed at helping all staff members develop their own personal improvement programs and perhaps share them with other staff; not unlike a personal fitbit for network collaboration. We have written about how analytics can help you “Work Out Loud”. Provide Team level analytics, so that teams can compare and contrast their performances with other peer teams.
  3. Make the assumption that everyone in your organisation is motivated to learn and improve themselves and independently contribute to the organisation without the need for continual management oversight. In fact, along with a belief in your organisations mission, this is precisely what Daniel Pink identified as what 3 motivations drive today’s workforce. Yammer will become the ‘go to’ place for both getting your work done, while improving your own capabilities.
  4. Currently most organisations have installed a few community managers to support the Yammer implementation. They are usually supported by group leader volunteers, who may become Yammer champions. This will not be enough to bridge the gap. We need to transform all your line managers into ‘community managers’. This is where the hierarchy meets the network; as preached by Organisational change guru John Kotter in his award winning book XRL8. We need to force this intersection by making the teams identified in the formal hierarchy, groups in the network; with their leaders acting as key inter-team communication brokers and Team ‘Catalysts’.

Now I hear you saying, well that’s all well and good, but can you show us an organisation that is already doing this? The answer is: not in the organisations for the size included in our benchmark (more than 1,000 staff), but more regularly we see this in smaller more agile organisations. So the essence of the challenge for the larger enterprises is to facilitate agile teams onto the Yammer platform for their day-to-day work. It’s harder to be an “observer” in a team, so the more work teams that move onto Yammer, the more engaged your workforce will be overall.



SWOOP Analytics helps organisations drive enterprise wide collaboration and stronger adoption of enterprise social networking platforms, through its unique relationship centred analytics. We value the democratisation of analytics, meaning there is value delivered to all staff. We currently draw our insights from Yammer, but soon also, Salesforce Chatter. Contact us for a free trial and benchmarking report at: www.swoopanalytics.com

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