Yammer And The Freemium Trap

Suppose your organization doesn't want employees using an unsanctioned enterprise social network in the cloud. How do you shut it down?

David F Carr, Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

January 10, 2012

5 Min Read

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Some organizations have an allergic reaction to Yammer, the cloud-based enterprise social network with the freemium business model.

Anyone can sign up for a free Yammer account, with nothing more than a verified email address at a particular domain. Yammer groups all of the free accounts that share an Internet domain into a private social network--a great collaboration option for lots of small businesses and some larger ones. The company behind the domain only has to sign up as a paying customer if it wants to assert administrative control over that collaboration space. That's how it worked when Supervalu adopted Yammer as the grocery chain's enterprise social network. A group of employees started using the tool on an ad hoc basis, the company's CEO found out about it and saw the possibilities, and the unofficial collaboration environment became the official internal social network.

On the other hand, some CIOs and other company leaders see this as a problem. They find out after the fact that employees are collaborating and discussing all sorts of company business on an unsanctioned cloud service. When they learn the only way they can get administrative control over this environment is to sign up for a commercial account, they are pissed.

Suppose I don't want a commercial account, I just want to shut this thing down? Yammer's official response is that I can't do that--as far as they are concerned, these are a bunch of individual accounts that just happen to share a common email domain.

I know this because I discovered that there is a Techweb Yammer group associated with my email address ([email protected]), populated by other employees of the Techweb division of our company who at some point were curious enough to sign up for an account. It looks semi-official, but it's a rogue social network with no official standing. I also used this example as part of my presentation for a BYTE webinar on "The Rise of Social Networks in the Enterprise".

Our parent company UBM has an corporate social network based on Jive, but as far as I can tell has made no particular effort to shut down the Yammer alternative. Nor do they need to. Because all of our employees and all of the most active discussions are on the official collaboration environment, this Yammer instance is a sleepy backwater, mostly forgotten even by the people who do have accounts. Unsanctioned Yammer instances become more of an issue when they have had time to grow and accumulate content--perhaps including content that never should have been shared outside the firewall.

I have heard a few stories along those lines, although, honestly, they're second-hand accounts, and I'd like to get something more on the record. If you've had a painful experience with Yammer, and are willing to talk about it, please let me know. Meanwhile, I'll take it as an article of faith that some organizations would like to have the right to shut down a service that functions as if it were an internal company collaboration space--but, in fact, is not.

To test exactly what the policy is, I used my shiny new Yammer account to send a simple question through Yammer's online customer technical support system: "How can an IT organization that does not want to sign up as a Yammer customer delete a network created by employees without authorization?"

Within 15 minutes, I had my answer, presumably boilerplate from a frequently asked questions list.

Hi David,

Since the content in a free network is owned by the individual users, per our user policy, it is not possible to delete an entire network. However, users can delete their accounts individually by signing into Yammer on the web and completing the following 2 steps:

1) Delete messages: Delete all of their messages one by one by going to More > Delete below each post. 2) Delete their account: Go to "Account > My Settings" and click "Delete Account" in the lower right corner.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Maybe they would give a different answer if you threatened to sue. If not, I suspect there will be a lawsuit over this if there hasn't been already. Whether such a lawsuit would succeed is another question. A lot of cloud services offer free accounts, activated upon verification of an email address. I guess what makes the Yammer case feel a little different is that it represents itself as a workspace for a whole company, associated with a company domain, as opposed to functioning as a personal productivity tool.

Still, it is not as though Yammer hacks its way onto your enterprise network to establish this corporate workspace. Your employees go to yammer.com and sign up of their own free will. If you don't like it, you can ban yammer.com at the firewall and forbid its use as a matter of corporate policy.

Ultimately, the best way to keep employees off an unofficial enterprise social network is to provide an official one that is as good or better.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

About the Author(s)

David F Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and was the social business track chair for UBM's E2 conference in 2012 and 2013. He is a frequent speaker and panel moderator at industry events. David is a former Technology Editor of Baseline Magazine and Internet World magazine and has freelanced for publications including CIO Magazine, CIO Insight, and Defense Systems. He has also worked as a web consultant and is the author of several WordPress plugins, including Facebook Tab Manager and RSVPMaker. David works from a home office in Coral Springs, Florida. Contact him at [email protected]and follow him at @davidfcarr.

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