It’s a safe bet to assume the majority of Sprout Insights readers have encountered some form of social media platform in their personal lives.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, chances are you’ve sent a status update to friends and family in your network. If you’re a business owner or manager, you probably employ some of these same tools to communicate your brand message to the world and to interact with members of your target audience.

But can social media tools be used inside organizations for management and staff to communicate with each other? Given the very public nature of social media, there are obvious limitations to the amount of internal information a company is prepared to share on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

On the other hand, there is often a lot of valuable information tied up among your employees. It can be difficult to make sure that this information is available to all of the relevant stakeholders within your organization. To address this common enterprise business need, Yammer Inc. was born.

In this article, Yammer Director of Community Maria Ogneva, provides an overview of what Yammer is, how it sees enterprise social media impacting corporate culture, and the future of social business.

What is Yammer?

According to its website, Yammer is “the first and most powerful enterprise social network.” The Yammer platform offers to “bring the power of social networking to the enterprise in a private and secure environment.” You might say that it’s like Facebook for organizations; members use the platform to communicate and share information with each other — all within the private confines of the company.

Yammer is clearly onto something. It’s currently used in 85 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. But you don’t have to be Ford Motor Company (they’re a client) to benefit from Yammer. Maria Ogneva, Director of Community for Yammer, says that there’s a need for better internal business communication tools “wherever employees are not talking to each other, wherever information becomes obsolete very quickly, or wherever information and data is trapped or siloed.”

How Have Social Collaboration Tools Changed Corporate Culture?

Many businesses have a legacy of “information hoarding,” according to Ms. Ogneva. “Knowledge is power and many employees, and even management, were traditionally reluctant to share that power,” says Ogneva.

The concept of sharing is still relatively foreign to many enterprise organizations, she says. However, “social media has made information more democratic because it’s freely available on the web at the click of a mouse.” Ogneva concludes that the “ability to curate the right information is the new currency” of the information age.

Enterprise social media platforms like Yammer leverage the fact that over 1 billion of us are now familiar with the concept of sharing information on consumer-based social networks. This means that individuals with access to valuable information, and particularly those who can effectively disseminate it to others, are the new power-brokers within organizations. The superstars of the company are now the sharers, not the hoarders, of information. This has a profound impact on things like employee morale and retention, says Ogneva. Staff at every pay grade see themselves as “empowered employees who can have a tangible impact on the overall business,” she says.

This empowerment is not limited to employees. Management and owners of organizations can make much better business decisions when they have a deeper understanding of everything that’s going on within their companies. What’s more, CEOs no longer need to feel frustrated that their vision is not shared throughout the organization. They can use social collaboration tools to effectively convey the company mission and goals to everyone in the organization.

Ogneva cautions that CEOs need to be the drivers of the collaboration movement within an organization. “If a corporate culture exists that doesn’t support sharing, or if a CEO doesn’t do anything to change that legacy, then the organization won’t realize the maximum benefit of an enterprise social media implementation,” Ms. Ogneva says.

The Future of Social Business

“There’s a large graveyard filled with failed enterprise productivity tools,” says Ogneva. Whether the tools were too complicated, cumbersome or simply ineffective, employees can be skeptical about “yet another platform that they have to learn.”

However, advances in technology, like cloud computing, the BYOD movement, and the social media phenomenon itself have influenced employees to be more open to collaboration in the workplace. The term “social” is so deeply embedded in our culture now, “that we see a future where social business is just going to be called business,” says Ms. Ogneva.

Finally, Ogneva acknowledges that going forward, there’s a potential to mine external social networks for information that can be brought into internal processes. For example, one of Yammer’s clients uses the application’s API to link an external recruiting page on Facebook with the relevant human resources databases inside the organization.

The result is a much more effective way to find new employees than simply using social media or HR processes independently. This seemless integration between social media and internal business processes is what the future of business will be, says Ogneva.

Do you use social collaboration tools inside your organization? How has this increased the productivity or efficiency of your enterprise? Let us know in the comments below.

[Image credits: Yammer, Michael Cardus, Ed Schipul]