Enter Microsoft Viva Engage. A Real Social Network For The Enterprise?

This week Microsoft slipped in a little product launch that is more significant than you think: a new application in the Microsoft Viva family called Viva Engage. And it has a lot of implications for HR and collaboration software.

What precisely is this? I think Yahoo News summarized it well: this is Facebook and Instagram for the enterprise. Let me explain.

Ten years ago Microsoft acquired a new and innovative company called Yammer, a product that was trying to build a Yahoo-like collaborative experience at work. It’s hard to remember, but at that time social networks were very new and we thought group message boards, photos postings, and threaded discussions were the cat’s meow.

Despite its early stage architecture, it had success. Many companies use Yammer as the global “Watercooler” to create employee discussions about everything: families, dogs, sports, recipes, employee resource groups, feedback on benefits, and more.

But let’s face it, in ten years a lot has changed. Today people post Stories (personal videos, your personal timeline) to TikTok or Instagram. They post hundreds of photos and videos, memes, and heart emoji’s all over the internet. And we have our own personal drawing board to create a personal profile, making us all “creators” in our own social networks.

Why not do this at work?

Well, you may argue that “the last thing we need is one more social network to deal with.” Between Microsoft Teams, Slack, Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, Snapchat, and our phones themselves, don’t we already have too many places to go? I certainly feel that way.

Well, apparently the answer is no. Each of these platforms has its own design center and each attracts different types of interaction. And based on the way they were built, they’re good for different things.

Slack, designed for engineers and gamers, is great for real-time messaging. It’s widely used by software and product companies for all forms of communication. Many people complain about it, but it clearly solves a problem.

Microsoft Teams is a more integrated platform to chat, learn, schedule meetings, and share documents. It is built on the Microsoft document foundation so you can build SharePoint sites without learning a lot about SharePoint) and share documents. We use the Teams infrastructure, for example, to store hundreds of research studies, presentations, and customer videos.

Facebook, which is the aging cousin of these tools, remains one of the most easy-to-use paradigms on the web. It continues to thrive as a place to stay in touch with friends and remember people’s birthdays.

Meta’s application Workplace, which is more successful than you may imagine, was built as a corporate version of Facebook, optimized for group chats, feedback, and collaboration. Workplace customers I’ve talked with (Farmer’s Insurance, McDonald’s, others) are thrilled with its ease of use.

How could Microsoft, then, upgrade its Yammer system to embrace these new features like videos, Stories, personal profiles, following others, emojis, and more? Enter Viva Engage.

As Microsoft puts it, this is a place to create a sense of belonging at work. I know, you can put all your personal stuff into Slack or Teams too, but Microsoft is betting on the idea that personal, family, sports, and other activities should go in their own special place. And I am now starting to get it.

Several months ago I was talking with Jim Barnett, the founder of Glint (now owned by Microsoft). Jim has founded a new company called Wisq, which is focused on building just this: a platform for workplace belonging and personal connections (they call it “A Place for Life at Work“). When I first saw it I was skeptical, coming from my traditional background that “work is work,” and my personal tendency to try to separate my personal stuff from work stuff. Well I now see that Jim was right. Companies can really benefit from a “new and different place” for personal interactions, separate from projects, meetings, and work activities.

I guess I would call this a Belonging Platform, part of the Employee Experience Platform market.

How do companies use Yammer and these other new tools? There are many use cases: open employee forums, to talk about your favorite sports teams, share recipes and vacation photos, or my favorite – post pictures of your kids and dogs. Years ago I looked at a system from Bridge that let employees post their personal interests, exercise tips, diets, and other personal mission statements – and I saw lots of employees flocking to these pages to learn more about who people really are.

That’s what belonging is all about: feeling free to be yourself at work, express your ideas and interests, and not feel that you are interrupting or slowing down work.

Unilever built its own system for this. They built a small application coupled with their internal social network that teaches people how to create their “personal mission statement.” As the company built out its Flex internal mobility and project system, the employee purpose profiles helped managers find people with different interests. These “belonging platforms” at work may do the same: teach people things about each other that really make work more fun and interesting.

By the way, there are many examples of these types of tools, each implemented in different ways.

One example of this solution is HiBob, one of the most interesting and fast-growing HR platforms in the market. HiBob, which I’ve written about many times (podcast with founder Ronni Zehavi here), is an entire HRMS designed to be “the Instagram of HR,” as Ronni puts it. HiBob has been exceptionally successful, and it’s largely because it feels like a natural place to hang out.

What if you want to use Slack for this? Many companies do. At IBM, for example, there are a number of personal Slack channels and according to my sources the single most popular channel is dogs@IBM (80,000 followers).

But Slack, like Microsoft Teams, doesn’t have features like Stories, personal profiles, and “employee following” to create belonging. So I believe this new platform market lets vendors add “social features” to their belonging tools that may not be appropriate for work-oriented collaboration platforms.

If you want to understand more, here is Seth’s overview and links to the Viva Engage details.


What Else Is New In Microsoft Viva

In addition to this new module, lots of other Viva stuff has come out. Viva Goals, the integrated solution from the Ally.io acquisition, is now available. Viva Learning now has connectors to Workday, Harvard, Udemy, and other learning providers, as well as a published API. And Microsoft introduced Viva Sales, a new application that starts Viva’s journey into sales enablement (think Seismic).

I know for a fact that Microsoft has much more to come. Each of these applications are designed to be “employee first,” with integrations to existing systems and a massive infrastructure for content management and access to the Microsoft Graph.

All this investment by Microsoft is paying off. We are Microsoft 365 users in our company, for example, and we can not only create meetings, share documents, and collaborate at any time – we have instant access to videos, documents, and all sorts of calendar recommendations from Viva Insights. And we don’t have an IT department.

The Employee Experience Market Now Has Sub Markets

As the architecture picture above shows, the EX Platform market is complex. Now that we’ve established this as a real market, I think there will be “sub-markets” to consider.

ServiceNow is building out many workflow features to handle ERP workflows in addition to learning, surveys, onboarding, and more. Vendors like FirstUp and Applaud are focused on employee communications and content sharing. Tools like WorkJam and Yoobic are focused on deskless workers and workforce scheduling. And vendors like 360 Learning, Degreed, Cornerstone (EdCast), and Axonify are focused on learning.

While we traditionally think of these as “HR applications” first, employee experiences second, I’d suggest that idea is now flipped. Before you buy a tool for its core feature set, you have to consider “how and when will people use it?” This is why the Employee Social Network (aka Belonging Platform) makes sense. We can now copy all the funky features in Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok into the enterprise, separating that activity from the daily work we have to get done.

Microsoft is not slowing down: the team is tenacious and has more to come. I see the announcement of Viva Engage as “market creating” move that ups the ante for Google WorkSpace, Salesforce Slack, Meta Workplace, and many other vendors.

Additional Information

The Massive Impact Of Microsoft Viva

ServiceNow: The Workflow Workhorse

ServiceNow Acquires Hitch: Enters The Skills Space

Cornerstone Acquires EdCast: Corporate Learning Disrupted