In a few online and offline discussions recently, we’ve ended up discussing how the Wales Audit Office is using social networking to improve internal communication. Mark Stuart Hamilton has blogged about how we’re using it and the work involved.
We’ve recently introduced Yammer at the Wales Audit Office – for internal use. Like other social media, Yammer is a platform where people can post messages to each other, start conversations and improve knowledge sharing.
The difference between Yammer and many other social networks is that Yammer is designed specifically with business in mind.
We had been thinking about launching an internal social media platform for ages, but the time was never quite right. But after redesigning our intranet we revisited the idea.
Our old intranet had a system called post-its, which allowed people to post short messages to the front page. Original discussions focused on expanding that system (such as post-its being targeted to specific groups of people). But we soon realised that a different solution was needed.
Various options were explored and, after careful review, it was agreed that we would choose Yammer.
Yammer has a paid-for enterprise version and a free version. The enterprise version offers more administrative tools, although the free version was good enough for us for testing purposes. So, we set up the free version, along with a small pilot group.
At the start, this pilot consisted mainly of people who had asked for a system like Yammer since they would be more willing to start new discussions and breathe life into the system. We wanted as much content on Yammer as possible before the launch, so people would think of Yammer as something others use on a daily basis – not something to use a lot for the first day or so and then immediately forget about. In line with this philosophy, we expanded the pilot over time, so that more groups and content would be created.
That said, we still wanted to generate hype behind the main launch and get people excited – to encourage as many staff as possible to join in once it was officially launched. We have two television screens in the Cardiff office that display corporate news on a slideshow. One of these slides was changed to read “Stop! Yammertime” and posters featuring MC Hammer were placed around the building carrying the same motto.
At the start, we provided no other information about Yammer. We wanted to generate discussion and a sense of mystery. Over time, we revealed more and more information, but the intent was always to instil Yammer into people’s minds rather than introduce it as a surprise.
We scheduled training sessions for people to attend about how to use and get the most from Yammer. Some staff were initially sceptical about Yammer and we have worked hard to show how Yammer can be beneficial for business, for networking and social interaction with colleagues. However, it is worth noting that marketing Yammer as “Facebook for business” is likely to generate a more hostile reaction from people who do not use or dislike Facebook (or other social media).
A few weeks after the Yammer ‘teaser’ advertising and the ‘taster sessions’, we officially launched the redesign of our intranet. We wanted to integrate Yammer into the homepage to further solidify the intranet’s role as the primary communications platform. The homepage now has an embedded Yammer feed in the sidebar.
The new intranet was originally planned to have a Yammer notifications icon that displayed the number of unread Yammer messages received, but this was cut from the release for technical reasons and will be re-added later*.
Our old news ‘comments’ system was also replaced with a ‘separate’ embedded Yammer feed. Yammer comments automatically provide a link to the article being read thanks to the Open Graph protocol.
Before we launched Yammer, our vision was that it would become a knowledge-sharing utopia. Almost everything would be sent to specific, targeted groups, and these groups would be made public so that people in different areas could provide insight into things that they otherwise would not know about.
In practice, it is hard to tell how much knowledge sharing has occurred, since people who learn something do not usually leave a comment to say that they have learned something. We also underestimated the importance of private groups. Some members of staff feel more comfortable if their messages are not sent to the whole organisation.
We will be doing a bit of work soon to evaluate how it’s being used by staff and analysing the take up, activity rates and value to the business.
Overall though, we consider Yammer to be a success – based on the amount of interaction taking place – and expect it to stay that way in future. Generally, it has been positively received and this is reflected in the kinds of discussions that are happening.
*For the curious, the unread messages icon is actually deceptively hard to create. The short version is that it requires creating a Yammer app, using the Yammer API to make the app impersonate a user by getting and storing their bearer token, and then getting their unread message count. The problems are performance-related and should be fixable by moving certain code client-side.