YamJam 2012 Is Yammer's Coming-Out Party as a Microsoft Unit

At its first user conference since being acquired by Microsoft in June, enterprise social networking vendor Yammer shows how it integrates with Microsoft applications.

SAN FRANCISCO — Yammer hosted its first-ever user conference here to highlight improved integration with Microsoft enterprise software applications in the wake of Yammer's $1.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft, announced in June.

At YamJam 2012, held Oct. 29 and 30 at the Westin St. Francis Hotel here, Yammer announced deeper integration with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, to provide the social networking support for Microsoft's customer relationship management platform. Yammer also discussed how it will integrate its social networking features with various elements of the Office productivity software suite.

Yammer also introduced the Enterprise Graph, a common set of development tools that provides a standard set of "social components" to add enterprise social functionality to more business applications. The graph feature is designed to control "social network sprawl" in enterprises in which multiple social networks proliferate within an enterprise, often without a common design.

Social network sprawl was driven by the quick adoption of social media in enterprises, said David Sacks, Yammer founder and now a corporate vice president in the Microsoft Office division, which Yammer is now part of. Enterprise social media moved beyond the days when corporate executives suspected that social networking would be a time-waster to the view that it can be an important business communication tool, said Sacks, in an interview.

"Just because your teenage daughter likes to talk on the phone doesn't mean that the phone isn't a business tool," he said.

Yammer has been embraced at the law firm Baker Hostetler, which is based in Cleveland and has a total of 11 offices in the U.S. and 830 lawyers. Yammer was used by the firm initially only for external marketing but is now used for case management and other types of collaboration, said Bob Craig, CIO of Baker Hostetler.

"With Yammer, we are able to pull all sorts of content types into more of a discussion to get richer context," said Craig, adding that the firm creates separate Yammer pages for a particular case or other projects on which associates can share documents, other research and comment on posts in order to share information. At Baker Hostetler, Yammer is integrated with Microsoft SharePoint, the document-sharing and editing tool.

Some young associates have been reluctant to identify themselves when contributing to Yammer discussions, because they're afraid that a dumb mistake will limit their career advancement, Craig said. But there's a flip side to that. A Microsoft partner exhibiting at YamJam is Kudos, a third-party application that allows participants to show their appreciation for a co-worker's contributions.

"When a [law firm] partner sees an entry and they 'like' it, young lawyers feel something. It has a meaningful effect on how they view themselves. It's a great way to acknowledge contributions," he said.

While endorsing Yammer, Craig is also concerned about how it may change now that it's part of Microsoft, with which he has done business for 25 years. On the first day of the conference, he tweeted "There's a cult-like buzz here. It's really cool. I hope Microsoft doesn't kill the buzz."

While Microsoft is clearly a global leader in enterprise software, Craig has had increasing difficulty dealing with the company, whose products have become more expensive over time. He's concerned that Yammer will lose its startup culture as part of Microsoft.

"Buying their products has gotten a lot more complicated. Dealing with Microsoft is not easy," he said. "Boy, they have to stop with the notion of 'We have to rule the world.'"

Microsoft's Sacks, however, said that the company is very interested in continuing Yammer's "momentum and velocity" and that Microsoft values Yammer's innovation and its engineering culture and wants to preserve those qualities.

"There is a flip side to this," Sacks continued. "[Customers] may like the fact that we are a startup, but there's a whole wider world of enterprises who want some assurance that we're going to be around in 10 years and so being part of Microsoft actually [helps]. We're now backed by a very trusted brand."