Tinkering with tools: What’s up with Yammer?

Perhaps as part of this new-year-new-ideas frenzy, I am starting a new type of posts, next to the series of shoot-posts, the ‘Tinkering with tools’ (TwT) series will not be so much technical as oriented towards the user experience of tools: how we use and adapt social tools to fit our practice.

In this first TwT, the case of Yammer is under the magnifier.

Yammer is the new rage – the corporate social network has been gaining a lot of recognition and users in 2011 and seems stronger than ever. In my new organisation – the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is part of a broader network of research centres called the Collaborative Group on International Agricultural Centre (CGIAR), we are also using Yammer. Time to zoom in on the theory and practice behind Yammer.

Yammer: rad or fad?
Yammer: rad or fad?

At first sight, Yammer has the look and feel of Facebook (same blue and white scheme and definitely more feature options than on Twitter + the ubiquitous ‘Like’ option)  and some of the functioning logic of Twitter (a lot of micro-blogging, use of @ to link to a person and of # to relate to a topic). It is not yet very clear to me to what extent the CGIAR as a whole is pushing for Yammer as an enterprise-wide social network or whether Yammer has just evolved organically to the discretion of each CG centre. In any case on the CGIAR network (let alone related project networks) there are over 1300 members (out of an estimated 15.000?), over 80 groups and over 10.000 messages have been posted since the adoption of the social network some three years ago I believe. It is not insignificant. And it makes the practice all the more important.

What to make of the tool?

I never used Yammer before joining ILRI and frankly, being a Twitter and Facebook user, I found Yammer super easy to grow into – although I can totally imagine that this is not the case for everyone, particularly if they don’t work on knowledge management and social media ha ha. Then again every tool should be explored by every user to find out if it suits their style and practices. And there is nothing wrong with deciding – after careful exploration – that a tool doesn’t work for us. From my experience, here are some useful and not so useful features of Yammer…

What’s good about Yammer

What’s not so helpful on Yammer

  • The micro-blogging feature which makes it very easy to read and share a lot of information with a wide set of audiences (different closed groups and open networks)
  • The ‘like’ and ‘reply’ functionalities which provide crucial feedback on what we post
  • The topics which allow grouping of all posts under one heading
  • The simplicity of finding people by typing their name (@)
  • The automatic link image display which urges to click on the links posted
  • Contrary to e.g. frequent use of Facebook, there really is more focus on workplace matters, which makes it easy to filter out junk noise
  • The ‘leaderboards’ feature which stimulates positive competition to have more posts or responses etc. (an avatar of the knowledge ego-log
  • The default notification settings which tend to clog the inbox and require careful attention for new users if they are to use this tool
  • The limited tag functionalities: only most popular topics are displayed and it’s not possible to rename a topic to an existing topic (to bring all posts under inconsistent topics under one topic heading). Topics can also not be used in groups
  • The limited functionalities of pages – no possibility to paste tables etc.
  • The fact that – and this is not specific to Yammer – it takes time for people to follow and be followed, which means a lot of messages might not reach intended audiences.

So where are we now? There is still a lot of potential for Yammer to grow within the CGIAR and that means a lot of awareness-raising, coaching, training to make sure people feel comfortable with the tool. It also means a lot of feedback (see this post on the power of feedback) to ensure good practices. And, sure, not everyone is on it, not everyone is a super active user but we hear that many silent users actually enjoy reading their newsfeed and digests. At any rate, Yammer at ILRI is way more effective for sharing information than any intranet I’ve been given to check or use in the past 10 years. In addition, ILRI and the wider CG system have implemented a few useful practices to make the Yammer experience richer to all:

  • Developing a tailored page on ‘Yammer essentials’ which helps any newcomer find some good practices and useful settings (e.g. turning off a lot of email notifications, updating profile, indicating what centre they are part of etc.);
  • Offering ongoing training and coaching for individuals and teams, to avoid letting people in the dark and giving up early on;
  • Making extensive use of @ to alert concerned people when they are mentioned in the network – to stimulate them to at least follow the buzz on the network, if not update regularly;
  • Connecting Yammer to all the blogs and wikis and websites around our CG centres as and when relevant to make Yammer the ‘reflector/connector of choice’;
  • And recently developing a bespoke application (it is possible when asking Yammer) to integrate blog feeds into the ILRInet group, without affecting design – this option was available before but messed up the layouts really badly and made the blog posts’ text practically unreadable. This has been fixed by my colleague Zerihun Sewunet and it looks wonderful.

We are still learning with the tool but there seems to be some momentum. That said, of course there is room for improvement and the buzz on the internet around Yammer indicates that there is a lot to learn about Yammer and about how people might want to use it or not…

What of the buzz around the tool?

There’s been quite a few articles about Yammer in the past couple of years – here is a selection to find out what you think and to find better ways to use Yammer. First, why Deloitte staff love Yammer:

Related blog posts:

Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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  1. Dear @Maria and @usedbyyou,

    Thank you both for your comments and offering support on Yammer. Please note that in spite of the points for improvement I mentioned, the blog post indicates that we are/I am happy with Yammer and that we hope to have enough uptake by staff little by little.
    @Maria, I totally agree with you that a lot of shortcomings are due to the use of the tools rather than the tools. This is also what I preach around me for all the web2.0 skeptics. However, I do think that e.g. the notification settings could have been a lot less email-heavy than they are by default (in the free version anyways). I understand about the pages (and anyway at this stage only a few of us are working with pages here) and indeed good to remind everyone to follow topics to receive relevant notifications.

    @usedbyyou, thanks a lot also for the link to the training. I will mention this to people that need more specific help, although we provide also some in-house training on Yammer (provided by my department ‘Knowledge management and information services’



  2. Hi Ewen!

    My name is Maria, and I manage community and social media efforts for Yammer. I found your blog, and wanted to thank you for writing this in-depth post and for your discussion of what you like about Yammer, as well as areas for improvement.

    I definitely agree with you that with a communication platform like Yammer, usage can’t be mandated from up top, and success is determined by the ability of users to find their own use cases and successes. That being said, it’s important to figure out as an organization what business objectives this tool will help you meet, and establish best practices that move the process forward. For example, let’s consider the usage of groups and topics. They are a great way to find what you need and receive the right information delivered to you. But for that to happen, other people have to put the right posts into the right groups. To maximize the value, it’s very important to make sure everyone is on the same page. On the Yammer blog, you may find a few resources that can help you guide in the process. I’d also love to connect you with a local Yammer employee to help advise you in your journey.

    To address your critique of things that need improvement:
    1) Default notifications — do you mean default emails? Each user can set up notifications for each group and each type of message. As far as overall notifications within the product, we are working on a few things that will give better visual cues to where attention should go.
    2) Tag functionalities — that’s not something that we have planned currently. To rename topics, you can do that from inside the post. Just delete one topic, and attach another one. Topics can absolutely be used in public groups, just not private ones — at least not yet.
    3) Pages – this is a new product, and there are quite a few enhancements coming. Pages are a big area of focus. Please feel free to expand on how you use topics.
    4) Re: following — this is why we have other feeds that don’t depend on following. To make sure you receive what you need, follow topics and groups.


    – Maria Ogneva, head of community, Yammer
    @themaria @yammer

  3. Hello Dick!

    Thanks for checking in! Yes, my experience of Yammer has been very positive overall – and about the intranets I didn’t mean just the IRC intranet but other intranets I’ve seen in other organisations too.
    Your farewell party sounded fab! Just checked your blog – you must have been a happy man, and duly tributed by Cor and the likes indeed.

    I’m really glad that IRC is going to work further with you, they would be fools not to!

    And yes, come visit us in Ethiopia after your Asia trip!



  4. Hi Ewen, great you are sharing these lessons on Yammer at ILRI “is way more effective for sharing information than any intranet I’ve been given to check or use in the past 10 years.” I forwarded to Cor.

    On 18 January I had a fabulous retirement party at IRC after 40 years of working, nearly 30 in the WASH sector, see my blog http://dijoh2o.wordpress.com/.

    IRC is hiring my expertise in the next few years starting with 25 days this year. I hope that I can visit Ethiopia and you in one of those years. My first ‘pensionado’ trip will be end January to Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Dubai.

    All the best,


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