How I learnt to stop worrying and love enterprise microblogging

Had a work from home day yesterday. Got to the dentist (no fillings, yay), finished some UX work, and drafted a university assignment. Love work from home days; vital to recharge the batteries. And, I’m equally (if not more) productive than when in the office.

Came back into work this morning and found a few voicemails waiting for me. Let’s see what we’ve got here: Digital Business, IS security, HR and Internal Comms. Yep, Yammer went viral and people were running scared!

I’d been using Yammer while working with my previous employer and had seen the incredible resulting change in peoples behaviour. Coming across to my new gig I was pleased to see someone had registered us as network, but there was very low uptake from a mostly inactive user base. Knowing the benefits, I was determined to see the same level of involvement I had previously enjoyed, so I set out to get people engaged.

This proved to be harder than I had hoped. In the two months since joining the business I barely had managed to get a dozen colleagues to sign-up. Friday last week I invited a a recently returned member of the team who I picked as a bit of a social media/innovation advocated. That afternoon she invited a couple of her friend. That was all it took. In the space of two days since my invite to her had been sent out, 400 people had joined.

It was a thing of beauty, but for a risk-adviser organisation this represented everything we would usually ran screaming from.

So what the hell is Yammer? Why is it going to change the way your organiation communicates? And why should even the oldest of old-world businesses learn to stop worrying and start to love enterprise microblogging!

It’s not easy being green

Having recently switched employers, it’s easy to forget the amount of intangible value you build up by working within the same network of people. Often it not something you actively seek out, but just by being part of an organisation for a period you meet people, learn what they do, understand their expertise, and know where to go for answers.

..Then you start a new gig, and all of that goes flying out the window. Suddenly you don’t know who to ask a question. You find yourself relying on the two or three people closest to your new team and bombard them with all sorts of crap. Sure, no one minds, but having to put yourself out there and make these connections – while you’re learning how new systems operate, trying to work out the political structure of the business, and making new friends – well it can be a lot to take on.

What if there was a tool that made the open sharing of information easier?  What if you didn’t need to know who the right people were  because you were able to pose questions to the entire business? What if you could build those networks without having to leave you desk? Well it’s all now possible with enterprise microblogging tools such as Yammer.

Background

Yammer has been around since 2006, growing exponentially after winning the TechCrunch50 award in 2008.

Initially, it was developed as an internal corporate communication tool for its parent company, Geni, but proved so popular that the organisation decided to roll it into a start-up and see if there was an external demand for the service. After 2000 organisations signed up on launch day it was obvious that there was, and since has grown to being the preferred solution for organisations looking for better ways to communicate and collaborate.

What’s a Yammer?

Yammer Screen

Yammer Microblogging Interface

Often misrepresented as “Twitter for Business”, Yammer provides organisations a platform from which everyone can share around the central question of “what are you working on?”.

To sign-up, you must have an email address provided by the organisation that has created the network. This ensures only authorised employees can view and create discussion. Once your account is active you can generate a profile with photos, job title, expertise, and other contact information; and then it’s time to get down and share.

Why you need to know about this

Once this capability went viral within my organisation, we saw a 2000% increase in members within two days. That tells me a couple of things:

  • Your people are screaming out to collaborate and communicate better.
  • While you might block Twitter and Facebook at work, employees are connected to these platforms and interacting in this social space every waking hour they’re not at work. Hell, with the market penetration of smart phones, they’re interacting with their friends in work time as well. This is how an entire generation engages now. Just because you don’t understand the shift doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore it.
  • Email is dead. It’s been dead for years but no one has told business. One-to-one communication is so restrictive. You have a big organisation; why not leverage all of your employees to answers questions. It allows your employees to stop wondering who the right person to ask is, get rid of all the unnecessary crap we put in our emails (think greeting, regards, signature), and simply pose the question to the widest group of people and see what comes back.
  • Deploying these capabilities suddenly generates a knowledge management tool for the organisation that didn’t previously exist. Suddenly all conversations, questions and answers are stored, indexed, tagged and searchable. Imaging the value for a new starter or consultant to access this level of content.

Freemium vs pay model

Yammer works under a freemium pricing structure. They recognise that a change in organisational behavior & communication that comes from tools such as Yammer requires is a radical shift in mentality for a lot of organisations, so they allow your company to sign-up as many users, for as long as you’d like, free of change. This allows you to get a feel for the tool, engage with employees to establish whether this is the sort of service you actually want to deploy, and assess the business benefits of paid implementation.

While fully-featured enough to support even the largest of organisations, what the free model does lack is the ability to moderate what is posted, visual branding of your network, and a higher degree of security features.

Yammer’s hook shows up once your network gets big enough and your people start sharing a level of content that causes management to decide this tool is indispensable. The natural inclination for risk adverse organisations is to want that additional functionality to gain a level of control back. Traveling down this path costs to $3 per seat per month, though discounts do apply for larger organisations

What about security?

Yammer requires member to sign up with an email address in the same domain as the network you are joining. This ensures that only authorised employees can sign-on and view content.

Under the freemium model, when a user leaves the organisation, any other user can challenge their Yammer account. This sends an email to that users address under which the account was set up with. If that address is no longer valid (as a result of the IT team revoking the email access) Yammer will shut the account down.

The paid model does provide active directory syncing, which automates this process.

Security is always a massive concern for any IT department, but we shouldn’t allow this to be a barrier to new ways of doing things. Policy should be in place outlining what your employees should and should not do.

A good practice taken from my former employer was to avoid putting potentially confidential documents online via Yammer’s inbuilt attachment functionality. Instead we stored them on SharePoint and hyperlinking (via the post) to the document ensuring private content stayed behind the firewall.

Think about the ways you want people interacting, put policy in place, and reinforce the correct behaviours


Up in the clouds

Yammer is a Could-based SaaS

 

From an initial cost, support, and reliability point of view, this is the where all business functionality is going. Remember how email is dead? Desktops are dead too! But again, this is a major shift for an organisation used to running everything from behind the firewall.

Relax. Again, this comes down to policy. People shouldn’t be posting confidential content here. This is not what the platform has been built for. Yammer is about facilitating those connections your people may otherwise not be able to make in their traditional day-to-day operations. Keep the confidential stuff offline, and if the cloud were to crumble, who cares!

How to handle growth

So what do you do when suddenly 400 people in your business are having conversations that could have never taken place a fortnight prior? Don’t freak out. It might look like a of entirely new (and scary) way of communicating, but it’s just the same conversations people have been having offline and across other channels for years.

From our own growth over the last couple of days, here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • Initially some people will treat it like Facebook. Lots of “Hello’s” and “What is this thing”. That’s ok! People are still working out how to interact in this space. Let them learn, make mistakes, fail. It’s the fastest way they will get to understand the right way to engage.
  • Exuberance will peak, and then the real content can start. People will discover colleagues working on similar projects that had never met before. Questions will be asked and answered. Networks & communities formed.
  • Provide a guiding hand, not an iron fist. Post your policy and invite comments. Try to interact with as many people as possible. If people are displaying the wrong behaviours, talk to them. Online if appropriate, offline if necessary.
  • Implement and assess. What’s the level of uptake? What sort of feedback are you receiving? Is this creating value? Stakeholders should be engaged and informed.

This style of short, shape, real-time communication is not something this is going to go away. If your business is to move forward, collaboration is key. Allowing your people to interact across the silos and up and down the org chart builds value, increases engagement, and may even result in a reduction in attrition. Yammer is free to sign-up, investigate and use. What’s stopping you?

Have you used Yammer in your organisation? I’d love to hear about your journey. Respond in the comments below.

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  1. How I learnt to stop worrying and love enterprise microblogging – StephenColman…

    This article has been submitted to IntranetLounge, a website with a collection of links to the best articles about intranets…

  2. […] way we communicate has already started to change. I’ve previously written about the benefits of microblogging in the corporate realm, Twitter is moving from strength to strength, and Google has been dipping it’s toes in the […]

  3. […] How I learnt to stop worrying and love enterprise microblogging October 2010 2 comments 3 […]



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