If I had a Yammer…*

By Kate Spiers, Director at Wisdom London

Is enterprise microblogging the future for internal communications and employee engagement? Or is it a diversion too far?

As technology informs our communications behaviour, so corporates must embrace these changes and take to heart the new ways in which communication transactions are carried out, as they communicate with their workforces. Add globality into the mix, with its challenges of communicating across borders and cultures, and internal comms team have their work cut out.

Internal communications has seen the shift over the years from weekly meetings to weekly conference calls, from annual away-days to more frequent webcasts, print-based newsletters to online information sources and so on. The way in which we communicate moves at the speed of technology, and mainstream behaviours emerge from that in a very short space of time. So how do corporates harness these developments to enable them to inform and engage with their employees?

When it comes to microblogging, herein lies the challenge.

The age of information in which we live has been steadily blurring the boundaries of what ‘personal information’ means. It used to mean private, not to be shared. But now, as people share online their innermost musings and experiences from the life-changing to the mundane, with multiple platforms from which to express and opine, our expectations have shifted. We live in a world where information is now freely shared, received, intercepted, retweeted, repackaged and deconstructed. Nothing is sacred – we put information out there with the understanding that it can be batted around cyberspace by whoever wants to diffuse it. It’s as though pressing ‘send’ or ‘post’ or ‘update’ is equal to relinquishing control of the information we’re sharing. And we all seem to accept that at some level.

But the corporate world is different and it’s accepted that more clearly defined parameters govern the flow of information and opinion. Enterprise microblogging tools such as Yammer, Obayoo and Socialtext seem, on the surface to be a godsend – bringing a familiar, Twitter-like functionality within a more controlled set of parameters (Yammer works on email domains, so Yammer chat stays within that domain).

So, since Yammer’s public launch in September 2008, has enterprise microblogging had a notable impact on internal communications in large corporates? Well, it’s mixed. What does seem clear is that corporates are still figuring out what enterprise microblogging can do for them, and the results are sometimes surprising.

I spoke to Capgemini’s Comms team, who told me that the organization has been steadily and organically adopting Yammer since its launch at grassroots level (now nearly 6 000 users): “If anything, Yammer is helping to encourage greater use of [our knowledge management platform]. We are not using the fully secure version of Yammer, and so our guidelines discourage the sharing of documents and sensitive information as attachments – using links to information held on [the KM platform] we can maintain our security perimeter, but communicate in a more user-friendly (and intuitive, and accessible) environment. Essentially, Yammer is the communication tool, [the KM platform] our library. And it’s easy to link between the two.”

In this case, Yammer supports internal communities rather than internal communications per se. A base of 6 000 users is good news for Capgemini’s communities but this still represents a minority in terms of their 90 000+ global workforce. But what is most interesting to me is how technological cultures have shifted such an extent that almost 6 000 Capgemini employees have adopted Yammer independently, without any official mandate to do so – it is not, at this moment, an ‘official’ application at Capgemini – most likely because it mirrors their online information-sharing behaviour and due to the fact that it sits comfortably alongside a lot of employees’ Twitter use, via the #yam hashtag. In a tech-savvy environment like Capgemini, this suggests that other technologies could be quickly and intuitively adopted to engage and connect communities – especially in a very global and transient environment. Foursquare could prove effective for enabling face-to-face conversations with subject matter experts, or bringing together those with common interests in any one location, for example.

For Yammer and Yammer-like services to positively impact internal communications, it seems that striking the tricky balance between structure and organic growth is necessary for it to work – it can’t be forced. Nationwide have successfully implemented Yammer in much the same, organic way as Capgemini, although early adoption at C-suite level certainly helped drive its success. Through a very engaged leadership layer, Yammer allows the Nationwide community to stay abreast of company news, share views and exchange tips. The lack of rules has helped break down company hierarchy, but early management level participation seems to have provided some structure and sense of expectation about how Yammer can best be used in that organisation.

So yes, enterprise microblogging can be an excellent addition to the internal communications toolkit, but it’s clear that although it bears many similarities to traditional microblogging – and indeed that is part of the attraction for many adopters – it does work fairly differently on the inside. The onus for users is on providing value through posing useful questions or sharing information, rather than stream-of-consciousness type posts. As Capgemini’s communications team summed up: “Every day brings new anecdotal evidence about time saved searching for the right information or right person (quite often, one and the same thing) and new discovery about …what we can do as an organisation”.

Shared Wisdom: How to make enterprise microblogging work

1. Visible champions are needed – senior executives need to be seen to adopt the approach, venture opinions and share information.

2. Trust should be shown, encouraged and built upon through open exchanges of opinion and sharing of information.  This is a non-hierarchical way of communicating. Everyone should be able to enter into the conversation.

3. Communicate successes.  It’s not always obvious to all users (or potential users) exactly what the value is, but when the approach has resulted in a meeting of minds, sharing of crucial information, or forming a great idea, make it known.

4. Don’t force it. Users need to come to a service like Yammer when they are ready – make it easy for people to adopt and feel part of.

5. Provide some guidance.  As with all technologies, there will be some reticence, concerns and lack of understanding at the start.  Basic corporate guidelines can help (what we use this for, good practice, who can help you if you’re not sure, security constraints, etc).

Thanks to Tom Barton and David Johnson

*Sorry. Terrible pun – couldn’t resist.

4 Responses to “If I had a Yammer…*”

  1. Re pun, I’d be a Yammer than a #fail.*

    * may need some work.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by wisdomlondon: Can enterprise microblogging improve employee engagement? How do you make it work? New WL blog post: http://wp.me/pN3pZ-3j

  3. […] Wisdom London Creative Communications is our world… « If I had a Yammer…* […]

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