What are employees really feeling? For the business that dares to find out, the Yammer enterprise social network is offering a way to gain some insight into their sentiment. But the bigger question may be whether potential business customers really do care to know.

Yammer, recently acquired by Microsoft, is hooking up with Kanjoya to bring to enterprise social networks data on employee attitudes and perceptions based on their online conversations. An enterprise social network aims to bring to the corporate sphere what Facebook does to the consumer space: It creates community.

Its focus, though, is on bringing employees together across departments and even geographies to collaborate, ask questions, and share knowledge. In a survey conducted by Altimeter Group of organizations with over 250 employees during Q4 2011, improving collaboration between departments and teams and finding experts or sharing expertise around the company were the two most significant impacts for companies that had deployed an enterprise social network platform.

Kanjoya’s Crane software provides emotion-based analysis to Yammer users via a dashboard. It uses Yammer’s open APIs to retrieve data from Yammer groups and the overall company network, according to a release about the news. As an example, it puts forth that a company can view the dashboard to see how employees react – to the tune of 80 distinct emotions – to a change in company health benefits, drilling down into them by groups like geography. “By enabling this integration, Yammer customers will be able to recognize when something has affected employees either positively or negatively — and take action,” says Jim Patterson, chief product officer, Yammer, in the release.

But would learning that the prevailing emotion to such a change is “annoyed” have any impact? If it’s true that companies really do believe their employees to be their most important asset, which implies that they’d like to keep them, you’d think it might be something the organization will consider before it makes any other changes to the health plan – especially if it’s finding that more not-so-thrilled emotions are showing up in regard to other corporate actions. The same Altimeter survey, however, shows that employee retention was low on the totem pole when it comes to the impact enterprise social networking has had — at least so far.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents selected “very little impact,” and only 4 percent gave that factor a significant impact rating. That may have been because the tools themselves weren’t widely available to assess that impact at the time of the survey. On the other hand, the survey also found that increasing employee retention ranked highest among the factors that respondents say were not important at all to their decision to deploy an enterprise social network.

Of course, survey respondents may be using other ways to gauge how employees are feeling, and with an eye toward promoting retention. And it also could just be a matter of education – let them know it’s possible to use their ESN to see into their employees’ hearts and minds, and they will come.

With the Yammer/Kanjoya integration, a sentiment graph will let a company compare the volume of emotions, while a word cloud will let it visualize specific words associated with trending conversations. The integration also will help target the most influential employees on Yammer and who’s contributing to emotionally trending topics.

Yammer also reportedly has begun to roll out real-time chat, making it look and feel even more like Facebook.