Yammer is a private social network that is owned by Microsoft. The tool is designed to encourage communication and sharing within an organization or business using a similar format as Facebook. Users sign-up using their company assigned e-mail address. The e-mail is tied to a common domain that verifies access into the network and connects all users from the same organizations. The network does not allow others into the network or access to the network unless they are given special permission by the organization. It could be considered a private Facebook for inside organizations.
The interface operates much like Facebook. Users can “like”, “reply”, and “share” comments and have private chats with others in the network through an instant message feature. Users can choose to make a comment to the whole organization, or use the tool to form work groups and communicate just to a specific group or sub-section of the organization. The service can be accessed from a desktop or mobile devices through downloadable apps.
Yammer allows the use of hashtags that can be used to quickly find information about common topics and has an easy to use searchable database of all user within an organization. The system allows users to list skills that can be searched. Much like e-mail and other social networking sites, Yammer uses a timeline approach, so the most recent and pertinent information is at the top of the news feed. Yammer is free for basic services, but for upgrades in services and support businesses pay a fee per user per month charge ranging from $8 per user per month to upwards of $20 per user per month.
Purdue Extension is looking at various ways to improve internal communications and increase productivity among employees that work in all levels of the organization. Yammer could provide a platform to encourage internal communication and collaboration and reduce the amount of time spent on e-mail. As a leader, Yammer could provide an opportunity to hear from all levels of the organization. As topics or question arise, the Yammer platform could provide an avenue for co-workers to chime in with answers, suggestions, or more questions and leaders an opportunity to make changes to training, programs, or policies based on feedback and conversations. For Purdue Extension the skills feature of Yammer could be very helpful in answering stakeholder questions. For example, if a county-based Extension Educator received a question from a local stakeholder about food safety, the county-based Extension Educator could search for people with the skill of food safety and quickly connect with the experts in food safety to answer the stakeholder’s question.
The use of hashtags would help avoid duplications and save time if the Extension professional used the hashtags to categorize information. For example, if the agriculture educators were seeing an insect on the corn crop in southern Indiana, they could post pictures of the insect and have specialist from the Purdue campus identify the insect. As other Extension professionals in other counties noticed the insect or had stakeholders asking questions about insects on the corn crop than they would be ready to answer questions and suggestion interventions to reduce crop damage.
Because extension professionals are spread across the state of Indiana in various locations, Yammer could help build social capital within the organization. Employees could connect on common issues, successes, and challenges. Yet, I wonder if everyone in the organization would embrace the tool. Would the tool just be used by those already connected through other social media tools or would the tool encourage greater collaboration and dialogue?
The tool may not be the best place to collaborate on documents, it seems it is best for conversations. As a leader I worry about how many employees will actually use the platform. Will the tool become viral and everyone will want to participate or will employees see it as another system they have to check daily? How would we minimize gossip and focus on business conversations? Would the tool bring people together who are first adapters of technology and further separate those that prefer traditional communication?
Despite my questions and the potential downsides of Yammer, I think Yammer is worth considering for internal communications. I would be interested to know if you are currently using Yammer in your workplace and the pros and cons you have experienced.
In addition to Yammer, I am very interested in learning more about Poll Everywhere and WebEx. Poll Everywhere seems a good fit for Purdue Extension because we work with adult learners and are always looking for interactive ways to engage with audiences and learn from their experiences. Purdue is currently considering a contract with WebEx for webinar and video conferencing services. We have been using Adobe Connect and Lync for webinars and video conferencing and have had mixed results depending on the number of participants and the amount of interaction among the participants. Webinars and video conferencing is used daily in Extension work, thus the need for high quality, reliable, and user friendly tools to meet and engage with co-workers and stakeholders daily is essential to our work.