A primary challenge of administering any kind of online space is leading with empathy, the ability understand and share the feelings of another person. What do users want to see? How do they think? How they are most likely to find the information they are looking for?
In Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social network platform (or anyone of the several other ESN tools), empathy can be found in how a post is made, how a file is named, or how information is organized and shared.
Yammer does not offer file folder functionality. All files are stored Yammer discussion group file libraries in one long list. Though the lack of file folders is an often cited Yammer weakness, I think that this is actually an incredible benefit, and a powerful statement of empathy.
If Yammer did offer file folder functionality, users in my network would need to guess how I approach file storage, and which files they would find in which folders, and how those folders might be nested in other folders. Not very empathetic.
To avoid this confusion, Yammer uses topics. Topics can be a word, or multiple words, attached to any document. I encourage users new to topics to use them as they would use a file folder. If I had a new policy to share with my team, I may very well attach topics #Policy, #2017Policy, and #2017DeptXPolicies. It is as if every topic is its own virtual folder, and the single file is being kept in several of these virtual folders at once.
Once a topic is attached to a file in Yammer, there are many ways that topic can be used as a means to organize and connect users to information. And though there are many benefits to using topics, there are also many ways topic functionality can be improved.
- Topic Selection
Any word, or combination of words and/or numbers, can be a topic.
GOOD: After the “Add Topics” link has been clicked, a field appears to enter your topic. Existing topics appear in a drop down menu that match what is being typed. If a topic already exists, it can be selected from the menu. If it has not been used, no suggestions will appear and a new topic can be added.
COULD BE BETTER: Topics should appear on this selection drop down list in an immediately discernible order, preferably alphabetical. As it exists now, it seems rather haphazard. Also, regardless of the topic length, the entire topic should be visible in the drop down menu. Topics currently get cut off if they are too long.
- Topics, Spaces and Capital Letters
A topic can be included in a post by first typing the # symbol. However, the only word that will be recognized as part of the topic is the word immediately next to the # symbol. For example, if I type “#Great Posts”, only “Great” will be recognized as part of the topic. If I want the whole phrase recognized as part of the topic, I need to type “#GreatPosts”
GOOD: When words need to be connected in order to be used as a topic, they become immediately recognized as a topic. It is also a very easy usage tip to teach. Underscores can also be used.
COULD BE BETTER: When underscores are used to separate words, they become invisible, so users may assume topics will work correctly with spaces between words. Additionally if capital letters have been used in topics with several words, such as “#TopicsAreGreat,” only the first letter will still be a capital after the topic has been added, so it reads as “#Topicsaregreat.” The capital A and the capital G can be added back in, but it does take a few clicks of the mouse.
- The # (hashtag) Symbol
A word becomes a topic when it has a #symbol in front of it. But, when adding topics using the “add topic” link (rather than just typing it as part of a comment), the # symbol is automatically added.
GOOD: The less we have to remember, the better, and not having to add the # symbol saves both time and effort.
COULD BE BETTER: When using the “Add topic” link, make it impossible to type in the # symbol. “##GreatTopics” looks terrible.
- Searching Topics
Using the search box in the upper left hand corner of the Yammer page, users can search on any name or word. Yammer will search resources, groups user profiles and topics.
GOOD: Searching is made easier by the inclusion of topics. Users are able to connect easier to important collections of information.
COULD BE BETTER: The way topic search results page seems rather haphazard. I think there is room for improvement here. Also, Yammer needs to enable users to search on multiple topics at a time. Yes, I can search on two or more topics using boolean search methods. I can search for “”Topics” and “Great””, and I will get search results for each topic. The real improved user experience though would be a way to search for files and conversations to which both topics are attached.
- Sharing Information Collections
I want you to see all the files that match the topic “#MembershipForms.” I click on the link, click on the topics tab on the search results page, and copy and paste the URL in an email or Yammer post, and you will see the exact collection of information I want you to see.
GOOD: This is incredibly useful and powerful, and connects users to information with convenience and empathy.
COULD BE BETTER: I think Yammer should make this feature more obvious. When clicking on a topic, have an option to copy the address for conversations and/or resources. Include pop ups that encourage users to share direct links to topic resource pages.
Yammer topics is an incredibly robust tool, and I think with a little more empathy and refinement, it can be a real game changer.