Yammer on Tour and BOC Conference reviewed

1 March, 2013 - 10:52
The conference season continues and Marc Wright went to Yammer on Tour and Sophia Cheng to BOC's annual conference on Internal communications.

In the biggest event to date dedicated to Social Business Yammer on Tour did not fail to attract a strong crowd of corporate communicators with organisers putting the number of attendees at over 550 at London's Old Billingsgate. 

The big draw was Yammer co-founder and CTO Adam Pisoni who gave the keynote address.  His theme was disruption and he demonstrated that the change we have seen so far in social enterprise is nothing compared to what is coming down the tracks. He argued that in the past we built companies to be stable and consistent in order to be more efficient; making them less adaptable.  That makes them vulnerable to more agile competitors who work out ways to deliver your product to the customer in a way that is more appealling, convenient or just plain cheaper.  He cited Blockbusters who recently went bust when their lunch was eaten by Netflix and LoveFilm. Turn disruption to advantage, argued Pisoni, by releasing the power of social networks to break down silos and encourage business agility.

His presentation could have been selling any and every social media platform out there but then Yammer seem to be grabbing huge marketshare through their Fremium model so I guess he can afford to grow the market for everyone.  Or rather new owners Microsoft can afford to.

But if Pisoni is the evangelist for social business he was quickly followed by some nifty product demonstrations that suggest Microsoft and Yammer have not been sitting on their coders' hands since the $1.2bn acquistion at the end of last year.  We were treated to a very good-looking Yammer interface using the mobile Windows 8 tile format.  And the audience showed keen interest when they saw a PowerPoint presentation being edited collaboratively in Yammer without downloading a file to the desktop.  Admittedly Google+ has been offering this facility for a while now, yet it was somehow more convincing to see it with the familiar Office Suite products rather than a Google doc. 

In the break-out sessions there was not even standing room in the session called Getting Your Whole Organisation Working Social.  Laurie Hibbs, HR Director at LexisNexis started the ball rolling talking about how they developed a Love Freedom approach to information at the legal and tax information service.  Caroline Thorpe of Gatwick Airport described how they use Yammer to reach those hard-to-get-to workers on the runways and hangars.  This new form of peer-to-peer communication is also helping to dispel the old top down BAA culture.  Zoe MacKay, Project Manager at Insead described how they are using Yammer in the academic world to give the business school a real edge in this highly competitive MBA market.

All in all it was a powerful endorsement of the rapid rise of social media inside organisations. And the whole circus moved on to Amsterdam to do it all over again to another packed hall of expectant communicators on Thursday.  This tour has definitely reinforcced Yammer's dominant position in Europe as the Fremium platform of choice for many businesses.

Day two of the inaugural annual internal communications conference hosted by BOC varied from knowledge management to delivering management communication programmes to employee social networks. Case studies from SAP, the FT and Unilever were all featured.

Michael Gelbart, formerly Director of Communications at HP, discussed synchronisation of data and knowledge management. He highlighted the possibilities that social media could bring to what is seemingly such an insurmountable task, his caveat however, "it's not a straight road to heaven". Extracting the wealth of information and knowledge from employees is still difficult; particularly as Generation X enter into retirement – taking their senior knowledge with them. Social media tools and social search have made certain aspects easier but by no means has it solved the problem.

Angela Dunn, Global Communications at SAP, focused on a specific case study, boosting employee engagement after the economic downturn. Since 2008 a variety of initiatives were introduced, focusing on empowering line managers and equipping them with solid communication skills. A novel idea included ‘Coffee corner sessions’, where two line managers, from different sections of the co, would host an informal meeting inviting employees to ask them questions. The idea has proved popular and is still going strong. Their management program is based on three key elements;

1. Content: producing management packs as well as conference call with co-CEOs, once a quarter specifically for management. More than 60% of line managers were dialing in. These calls lasted for one hour, the co-CEOs deliberately only talk for 15 mins allowing line managers the chance to chance to ask questions.

2. Training: historically managers were developers who were promoted because they were good developers, not because they were good with people. The global comms team initiated “Communicate Better” program to up-skill line managers. The program included a variety of issues, identifying what makes their employees tick, learning the art of conversations over and above just telling. Formats varied, from classroom sessions to online webinars and short how-to videos.

3. Consultation: Global Communications wish to be seen as trusted advisors within the business. The team offers training on delivering sensitive messages and this subsequently ensures that communications have seat at the table.

SAP have seen engagement bounce back up since 2010 from 68% to 79%, they are aiming for 81% next year.

Emily Gibbs, Corporate Communications Manager at the Financial Times Group, took the floor. The FT took the bold move in 2011, developing a mobile app of their publication solely on HTML5, a move that took them away from the iTunes store. Their drive to be digital pioneers has been reflected both externally and inside the organization. The FT developed a social intranet, that the staff named NEO and moved away from Lotus Notes to Corporate Google and the suite of tools now available to them.

Although the event was sparsely attended compared to Yammer on Tour delegate feedback was particularly positive. In a space where two-day conferences are slim pickings, the speakers were credited with their knowledge and expertise. The breadth of IC meant not all topics were relevant to everyone in the audience, perhaps an inevitable criticism. Tom Crawford hosted the two-day event that included very interesting panel discussions. Attendees, many from outside the UK, said they enjoyed meeting like-minded peers; building external camaraderie amongst an internal bunch. As BOC’s first attempt into the internal communications event space, their agenda was varied and on the IC pulse.

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