In the past fortnight my company’s use of Yammer has dropped from dozens of posts daily to pretty much zero. We’re a medium sized business of 160 people spread across 3 locations plus a collection of client sites – our need to connect hasn’t changed, our platform has. We’ve recently rolled out the first iteration of enterprise social features to our own internal management portal.

The portal – known as the Collaborative Platform – has been in use for a number of years. It started as a centralised performance management system and over time all the basics of running a consulting business have been built onto it: projects, resourcing, meetings and actions, contracts, time capture, finance and invoicing, recruitment, etc. The most recent release rolled out the first phase of enterprise social features – rich user profiles, chat walls and groups.

Admittedly its enterprise social features do not (yet?) match those of Yammer or other similar software solutions (SocialText, Jive, etc.). Functionally, it feels a bit like Facebook circa. 2007 rather than Yammer 2011. In terms of comparitive take up though, a significantly greater proportion of the organisation poked around on day 1 and continue to post onto chat walls and into groups.

It’s not what you do, it’s where you do it

It’s counter-intuitive, why would people choose a less feature rich environment? It’s not as if existing enterprise social services are hard to use, most users “get it” as soon as they try it. The only conclusion I can draw is that it’s not about the features – it’s about where users have to go to access the features. Location, location, location seems as true for enterprise services as it does for real estate.

Let me illustrate – if I need to find someone in the business, I log onto the Collaborative Platform to search. If I need to update actions from a meeting, I’m on the Collaborative Platform. If I need to look at contracted revenue, project details, performance data or anything else really, I’m on the platform. And every time I’m on the platform, I start on a home page which shows chat walls and feeds.

That means that most people in the business are seeing the company feed at least a couple of times every day, probably more. Evidence would suggest that once the feed is in front of people, they tend to engage with it.

The global watercooler

I often talk about the global watercooler when I’m talking to clients about enterprise social. It’s about incidental connections between people that otherwise wouldn’t have connected – people that happened to meet at the office watercooler and got to talking about common work related interests. People that are now collaborating as a result of an incidental meeting rather than being on the same team or project.

My vision for enterprise social is to take the global watercooler online – create an online platform where people connect incidentally. The underlying aim is to get more people in the organisation collaborating, to get more people sharing knowledge and experience for the better of the organisation. The more people that enterprise social can get to engage with each other, the more successful it has been.

The global watercooler – an online place that enables the regular and ongoing discovery of colleagues with shared work interests where organic collaboration wouldn’t have been likely to happen without an enterprise social platform.

The success of the traditional watercooler is, to a large degree, driven by its location. No-one hangs out at the watercooler tucked into the corner of the office near the entrance to the toilets. If it has a few more features – let’s say an ice dispenser – it may get a couple more people stopping past, but they won’t hang around for long. Everyone is gathered around the one closest to their desks, near to where they are getting their work done.

Enterprise social software is no different. Our recent experience evidences this, positioning enterprise social features alongside people’s day-to-day transactional features results in significantly greater user adoption.