I don’t think we use Yammer the way Yammer was designed to be used. Yammer was first introduced in 2008 as an enterprise social networking tool to give teams at companies and organizations an effective way to communicate and collaborate in real time.
Microsoft bought Yammer in 2012, and during the last 6 years, has been bringing it deeper and deeper into its Office365 suite of tools. Now, Yammer exists side by side with tools like Sharepoint, Teams, OneDrive and Planner providing work teams a broad spectrum of tools to get work done seamlessly and effectively.
At the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) though, we use Yammer in a sharply focused way to connect people. With almost 900 member congregations, the URJ leads the largest Jewish Movement in North America, and over 10,000 leaders from our congregations are involved with The Tent, our external Yammer network.
We don’t all work for the same company, and we don’t serve on the same team. The users in our Tent Yammer network however do have similar roles at organizations that have a commonality of mission. We lead our Reform Jewish sacred communities. We provide meaningful worship. We engage members. We welcome non-members. We participate in acts of Tikkun Olam (social action) in an effort repair the world. We manage our budgets with frugality, empathy and wisdom. We lead sacred institutions.
So our Tent Yammer network has become almost like a congregation in the cloud. Our users are leaders, and our leaders use The Tent as a way to remind themselves they are not alone in the sacred work they do. The treasurer at a small congregation in Idaho can easily connect with the treasurer or a large congregation in Florida. The executive director of a congregation in Arizona can connect with the membership vice president at a congregation in Texas. Rabbis can connect with board presidents. Answers are found. Experiences are shared. Problems are solved. For instance…
A temple educator posted “I am looking to remodel my teacher assistant program for religious school. What ideas do you have share?” Not only did she hear from other educators throughout the country, but the URJ hosted a webinar in response to the question to so good ideas could be discussed and expertise could be shared in an interactive way. The webinar recording was posted in The Tent.
A temple administrator shared a concern that fewer and fewer people are attending the annual meeting of her congregation, and wanted to know if leaders at other congregations had ideas on how to attract more attendance. Over 500 people saw the post. Leaders at other congregations freely shared advice and experience. Creative ideas, fun ideas. Ideas that drew attendance and raised money. Replies came from down the street, and from across the country. Other administrators replied. Board presidents, cantors and board members.
And perhaps most sensitive of all is always the conversations about dues. What do our members pay to affiliate with our congregations, and how do we deal with those who can’t afford to pay the full, stated amount? As the administrator of our Tent Yammer network, I select a particularly powerful and interesting post to highlight as our Tent Post of the Week (#TentPOW). I recently highlighted a particularly wise comment that one of our users made in The Tent, that obviously has resonance for many.
“Members pay what they wish and no questions asked. All donations are strictly confidential.”
Simple. To the point. Incredibly powerful. People replied with their thoughts, their insights, and stories of what they do at their congregations. Obviously, temple dues is a subject that leaders throughout the Reform Movement struggle with month to month, year to year.
Our Tent Yammer users are not professionals who work down the hall from each other, and we are not working together on team projects. Our users use Yammer to help one another. To make our communities stronger. To share expertise, and to support one another through times of difficulty and struggle.
We use Yammer in a way that works for us, and though I don’t believe that our specific, unique use case is what Microsoft has in mind when they are developing new functionality and operations for the software platform, Yammer enables our leaders to connect, to share, to learn, to teach and to help sustain and strengthen their congregations.