How to Use Yammer for Internal Collaboration
Colin Rigley

Yammer can be a tricky beast. People accustomed to living in their inboxes might find the experience off-putting, or feel that a social or collaborative network isn’t well suited for the enterprise.

At Carpool, we notice it’s more often the case that Yammer critics aren’t using the tool to it’s full potential, and a lot of people try to shoehorn it to do things it wasn’t built for.

If you try to squeeze everything Yammer is into a simple email substitute, you’re going to end up frustrated and disappointed. It would be like trying to take a Boeing 747 to work. Sure, it technically could get you there, but that’s not what it was designed for and it’s going to be a poor experience.

The first thing you need to do, is to stop thinking of Yammer as an inbox replacement. It has an inbox, but that should serve as a complement to your existing email. Carpool Director of Strategy Chris Slemp—who used to be known as “Mr. Social” in his previous job at Microsoft—explained in a post on Medium that he set his bookmark to the Yammer inbox rather than the homepage. Then he went about trimming and filtering his work email with a few “aggressive and simple rules” to leverage the most out of each communication channel.

“If it comes from my management chain, it stays in the inbox. If it’s addressed directly to me, it lands in a ‘To Me’ folder. Everything else goes to a ‘cc me’ or ‘Other’ folder, as appropriate. As stuff comes in to ‘To Me,’ I can triage, create a task, and/or move to my ‘Processed’ folder.”

Whereas email might be best thought of as an intercom between a few people, Yammer is more like a communal gathering space. Imagine your social network as a digital office where employees are able to socialize and engage in asynchronous conversation. It enables more transparent conversation, but that’s not what you’re shooting for. When it comes to Yammer, you’ll find you can get the most out of it when you play to the strengths of social collaboration.

Yammer CTO Adam Pisoni recently told Fast Company that “transparency is not a goal.”

“We had to go back and say, ‘No, actually, it’s not transparency that’s the goal. It’s the things that are enabled by transparency.’”

Yammer is Not Workplace Twitter

Communication noise can be a problem on a collaborative network like Yammer if you let it spin out of control (but honestly, that can happen with any communication tool you use). Many people understand the advantages of using Yammer to communicate in more transparent ways, which allows dynamic conversations to quickly move toward new ideas and, eventually, better work. However, those same people become overwhelmed by the onslaught of information that comes through Yammer.

The problem is that they’re not being proactive in filtering the noise from the beginning. When you first jump into Yammer, it can be tempting to join lots of groups and start following individuals. As beings of the social media age, we have been trained to think of these networks as a quid-pro-quo of social capital: I follow your feed, you follow my feed, we both get more followers, and our voice is amplified.

That’s not the case with Yammer, where it’s more important that you follow relevant content and individuals rather than try to gain a following. Yammer is not a popularity contest and the tool is most powerful when it’s configured to bring you the information that will help you do your job.

Mr. Social recommends that people bogged down by noise “join three groups that look helpful to your job” and that they “leave three others that may have looked interesting at the time, but aren’t helping you get your work done.”

Crowdsource Knowledge

One of the most powerful features in a network like Yammer is the ability to quickly crowdsource questions by posing them to a large group, rather than spamming one individual who might not have the information you need. Open conversation allows people to learn by watching and finding expertise in unexpected people and places.

Posing questions and ideas to a group, or crowdsourcing answers, allows subject matter experts to focus on their jobs and let others flex their brain muscles. It also can facilitate a speedier (and hopefully more accurate) response that is tested and confirmed via the crowd.

At Carpool, we recommend setting up an FAQ or Help group where people can pose questions to common problems. This not only enables faster access to information, but it can also proactively provide answers to people who see the information pop into their feed organically.

Managers can then learn how their people are doing by tracking participation, influence, type of engagement, and value of output. Watching a social network can also help managers discover trends and knowledge gaps, track impactful/meaningful conversations, and keep a pulse on how their team is working.

Some Final Quick Tips

  • Fill in your profile. Add a picture and a description to show some personality and let people know what you’re all about.
  • Search before you post to avoid duplicating content.
  • Ask questions in your posts, this will increase your chances of spurring a conversation.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Get to the point, you can always elaborate later if needed.
  • Be positive and “like” other people’s posts. Use the “Praise” feature. Encourage your peers.
  • Keep private stuff private. Don’t share messages in public groups without permission.
  • Don’t share confidential documents without permission.
  • Don’t post when angry.
  • Avoid topics like politics, religion, or posting cat videos.
  • If you’re a manager, try to encourage open dialogue. Encourage an open, collaborative culture where people aren’t afraid to take risks. This is how great ideas get their start.