3 Effective Ways to Bring a Smile in Yammer

GIF’s are not a sophisticated means of communication, they are short animated images that many people find annoying, cringe worthy and sometimes seizure inducing. They can be bright, flashy and loud, even though there is no sound.

Enterprise Social Networking platform Yammer recently introduced the ability to include GIF images in posts. In an earlier blog post, I expressed concern that GIF’s would be seen as distracting and silly. They are not directly related to our work, so why would people choose to use them?

However, since introducing GIFs in our Yammer network, we have found them to be a major driver of involvement and engagement. Yes they are bright and flashy, but as a result, eyes are drawn to the post to which the GIF is attached. We have seen that GIF files have a positive effect on how  people interact with the platform.

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This is good. My goal is to get people engaged in our platform. If a silly image of a man standing in a bowl of Ramen soup will drive engagement with the information I am sharing, then I will post that image.

Thankfully, GIFs are not the only way people engage with information, but it is flashy, and sometimes it can be fun, and there are important lessons to learn from how GIFs drive engagement.

  1. Have Fun with Hashtags
    Even with the most serious of business messages, a creative hashtag can offer just the levity needed. Fall short on budget expectations? #MaybeNextYear. The sales trip was not a success? #AtLeastWeHadGoodFood. Forget to submit a report on time? #IWontMakeThisMistakeAgain. Lots that you can do.
  2. Attach a Photo
    So, maybe a GIF, (or even worse) a Meme, is not the message you want to send. Photos now appear in Yammer in a large, beautiful format. William Shakepseare Because+eating+lots+of+food+is+fun+_4761d021bc4b348be0216bfb9b035aa9wrote that a “picture is worth a thousand words.” Amen brother. An image, well  used, can say an awful lot. Trying to get people to go out to lunch? Most likely, no one will be eating a burger this size, but this is certainly an image that will capture their attention.
  3. Use the Praise Tool
    Clicking “Praise” above the comment field will enable you to make a post as praise. Tag the person you want to praise, and pick a fun, maybe silly icon to use. Though there are not dozens to choose from, find something that might bring a smile based on the nature of your post. Personally? I like the monocle and mustache. Capture
    Yammer is all  about business, and rightfully so, but that does not mean we can’t have a little fun along the way, and that does not mean that this fun won’t even improve the work that we do. Have fun in Yammer at work. Give people a reason to smile.

Yammer: Feature Rich or Distraction Heavy

Much to their credit, the developers at Yammer continue to add new functionality and features to its enterprise social network platform. Since acquired by Microsoft in 2012, it has slowly become more integrated with Office 365 functionality offering its users true collaboration functionality in a feature rich environment.

When a Word (or Excel or PowerPoint file) is viewed in Yammer, it opens in Word online. If “Edit File” is clicked, the file opens in a full browser based version of Word, offering much of the same options and features found in the desktop app, plus the ability for simultaneous editing my multiple users.

Discussion groups now offer Office 365 connectivity. Associated Sharepoint sites can be created, file folder based document libraries, OneNote and Planner files. All of these tools greatly enhance the power of Yammer to truly be a cohesive workplace tool for conversation, content creation and true collaboration.

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Even when making a comment, Yammer now offers new features. Files can be added to a comment directly from a computer, from OneDrive or from a Yammer group. Very recently, Yammer has even introduced the option to upload GIF files, those animated graphics seen in many social network posts and emails.

When talking about Yammer in my organization, people often wonder aloud why we don’t just create groups in Facebook. “Everyone has a Facebook account, why not just do they work where people already are spending their time?”

I talk about how Facebook is not created for work. While trying to wrestle through challenging conversations and important work issues, users would also be seeing cat videos, advertisements, and cooking videos. We should be doing our work in a platform that not only is truly dedicated to our work, but also offers the ability to do that work in a relatively distraction free space. All of the links, all of the tools, all of the posts (for the most part) we see in our Yammer network is deeply focused on our work.

Does the addition of GIFs take away from that work focus? While GIFs are fun to look at, I have yet to see a GIF that truly adds to a conversation, contributes to our knowledge base, or helps the work move forward.

However, GIFs do grab our attention. They make us smile. They bring our eyes to a post, and maybe through that GIF, we will engage with a post in a way we may not have done otherwise. On Marketingprofs.com, Marissa Aydlett writes:

“GIFs bring the right amount of fun to your content while they enrich your messages. GIFs grab hold of readers’ attention, keeping them engaged from the first sentence of your communication to the last.

Moreover, GIFs are particularly helpful in grabbing attention in our over-stimulating digital world, where consumers are regularly drawn in a variety of different directions… and can be easily distracted.”

So, I find myself concerned and intrigued. I am concerned in the sense that for all the conversations I have encouraging people to use Yammer because it is a platform dedicated to our work, free of distractions, they will soon tell me to eat my words. Won’t a GIF take us distract us from our work?

But, I think I am a bit more intrigued than I am concerned. When driving down a long, boring road, a little bump in the road can make us a bit more alert, and look around and appreciate the scenery. Maybe, in the day to day course of our work, we will see a GIF, loosely connected to our work though it may be, and we will smile. Maybe we will engage with the information in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise. Maybe we will wake up.

Maybe, we will even do a happy dance.

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“One tattered copy of the ‘Working Out Loud’ book began to make its way around the office.”

“I think we should do Working Out Loud circles.”

Naturally, my boss and our Director of Human Resources wanted to know more. I told them I had recently read the book Working Out Loud (WOL) by John Stepper, and how it helps us set and achieve goals in a group support setting by learning new habits using 21st century technology.

We talked about how each group would be 4-6 people, and would meet one hour a week for 12 weeks. They expressed support for the idea, and encouraged me to move forward. I later learned they did not really understand the idea, but agreed to let me go ahead and give this a try. Pretty cool.

We announced Working Out Loud through our Enterprise Social Yammer network, and I shared some basic information about what we would be taking about in a WOL circle, and what we would be doing. Five people signed up, and we were on our way.

Some people, however, were lingerers. They were interested, but they did not express interest in time for our first group to begin, so the next month we began another group. For a number of weeks, 10 people in two WOL groups learned about being more collaborative and transparent. They pursued a goal with the support of colleagues and friends. They learned new skills and new habits. Our WOL participants went from being acquaintances to being friends.

And then, the circles came to an end.

But, WOL had made a real impact. People were sharing in ways that they hadn’t before. New relationships had been formed. WOL was referred to in meetings. “Well, as we learned in WOL, we can achieve more impact if this project is shared more widely.” One tattered copy of the Working Out Loud book began to make its way around the office.

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When time came to announce our next series of WOL circles, 20 people signed up right away, and now these 20 additional people were experiencing the process of learning new habits and achieving important goals in four new circles. Working Out Loud truly had succeeded in a meaningful way.

I believe we have had the success we have had because so much of the way WOL has spread has been organic in nature.

  1. I had an idea that I brought to my boss. My boss did not ask for case studies, and HR did not ask for outside references. We did not discuss financial models. I was not asked to submit formal proposals to be approved by various managers. They just said “Yes.”
  2. We did not, in any way, compel staff to participate in WOL. It was completely “opt-in,” and the time and work that WOL necessitates was completely supported by executive leadership.
  3. Word of mouth spread, on its own. People talked to each other about their experiences. Executives heard about WOL from their staff. People wanted to experience what their colleagues and friends had enjoyed so much.

We did not exactly know what we would be getting with Working Out Loud, and we certainly did not know how to encourage people to participate. Much to our surprise, we didn’t have to. Working Out Loud did that on its own.

Working Out Loud Success through the lens of Yammer Analytics

I confess. I was selfish. I was only thinking of myself.

When I suggested that we introduce Working Out Loud at my workplace, yes…I was thinking about how my colleagues could achieve meaningful goals, and how they could improve their career or personal life, but those were not my only concerns. Mostly, I was thinking about how Working Out Loud could help our Yammer networks.

Our staff has been using Yammer for almost three years to communicate and collaborate internally in a home network, and with members of our organization in an external network. While staff Yammer adoption was strong enough, I recognized it could be stronger. And maybe, if through Working Out Loud we could better appreciate the value of sharing information and working in a collaborative platform, our Yammer engagement rates would grow even stronger.

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Recently, a member of one of our Working Out Loud Circles made a comment about a post I had made in our home network regarding Yammer engagement rates as found in Swoop, our Yammer analytics platform. She had come across my post while doing research in support of her Working Out Loud goal, and was amazed to realize how much our engagement levels supported the overall goals of Working out Loud, which encourages people to network, leading with generosity, and to make work visible, and framed as a contribution.

Swoop Analytics sets every user’s Yammer activity in the context of any one of five different engagement personas, or levels. While there is no incorrect engagement persona for a user to have, the overall goal is to achieve the highest “Engager” level,  which means you are asking questions on your Yammer network, sharing information and staying connected to people.

If someone is making posts less than twice a week, and they don’t reply to anyone else, their personal level is “OBSERVER.”

A “BROADCASTER” makes more posts than they receive replies. A lot of information is pushed out. Additionally, they don’t often reply to other peoples’ posts.

Along the same lines “RESPONDER” makes many more contributions than they receive replies, but their contributions are usually replies, likes and posts. They are a bit more engaged than their “broadcaster” colleagues.

Now, the pendulum begins to swing a bit. A “CATALYST” receives more replies than they make contributions. They are making posts that people care about, and they are inspiring people to action.

Rather than necessarily being the most active user, the “ENGAGER” has an even balance of contributions and replies. They post, they click the “like” button, they reply, they are interacting with people, and people are interacting with them.

All these levels refer to Yammer activity, but they also make perfect sense when looking at them in the context of Working Out Loud.

Observe

We are going to experience less Working Out Loud success and growth if we only “OBSERVE” what is happening. If we never reach out to people, if we never have anything to share, if we never express our appreciation, we will make little progress in sharing information, or connecting to more people.

A key part of Working Out Loud that when we network, we do so leading with generosity. We consider first what we have to share, rather than that which we might receive. Sometimes that means we broadcast the information we each have. We share what we know. But, if we only broadcast, if we only push out, we are not letting very much back in. We are not learning.

If we are Working Out Loud at a “RESPONDER” level, that means we are probably not being very proactive. We are only doing what we have to do, and we are not being thoughtful about what we have to share or how we might be able to help others.

When we are at the “CATLYST” level working at a level where we are actively reading the posts of others, and we are sharing information that people care about, and information that people respond to.

Solidarité-internationale_guidedelamobilitéFinally, when we are Working Out Loud at the “ENGAGER” level, we are networking with a true spirit of generosity and empathy. We care about the information that people are sharing, and people care about the information we are sharing. We “like” the posts that we see, we comment on how the information has helped us, and we share the information with others in our network.

In turn, others are “liking” the information we share. Our network is growing, and together with our contacts, we are learning new things and we see real, meaningful improvement in our life both at home and at work.

Working Out Loud has indeed helped our Yammer networks to grow,  but only when we use our analytics are we able to truly understand the key ingredients to that growth, and to understanding how Yammer really can help us find a true level of connection, transparency, engagement and success.with our colleagues and members of our organization.

Collaboration and Yammer Access

There is no organization, be it a suburban household or a multi-billion dollar international corporation, that does not want to find ways to collaborate more effectively.

1120140483_9509Though collaboration may be a bit simpler in a household (shopping list on the refrigerator, Sunday night planning meeting for the week ahead), most every organization, large or small, is trying to collaborate better. Trying to stay better connected, trying to be more transparent, trying to be more effective.

One key to better collaboration is making sure people have access to information. Yammer, and other enterprise social network (ESN) platforms, provide access through private networks, discussion groups and file libraries. When setting up a Yammer ESN, it is important to understand who can have access, and how information can be shared.

Home Yammer Network: Glickman Telecom (my imaginary billion dollar company) sets up a home Yammer network. All Yammer networks are based on email domains, so our Yammer network would be found at http://www.yammer.com/glickmantelecom.com. Only people with an @glickmantelecom.com email address can get into the home network.

Discussion Groups: In our network, discussion groups can be created. These groups can be either be public to everyone in our private network, or they can be private for a specific team.

Add Extra Domains: We have a sister corporation called Marx Digital. We can go to our Network Administration page in Yammer, and indicate that anyone with a marxdigital.com email address is able to access our network.

yammer-place-o365-groupsCreate an External Group: Users without a glickmantelecom.com or marxdigital.com email address can be invited to our home network by creating an external group. This is a discussion group feature designed for the specific purpose of collaborating with users outside of our organization. Users in these groups, though, must have a work email address. Gmail, Yahoo and  other major ISP addresses will not work in an external group. External group users will only have access to that group, and not to the entire network.

Create an External Network: If there is a need to regularly engage with users outside of the organization, with users who may have a work email address, or a gmail address (for instance), Yammer offers external networks. An external network works exactly like a home network, and users with any kind of email address can be invited in.

Now that your Yammer network has been created, and you have determined which users should be in your network, it is now time Set the Table for Yammer Success by planning your groups, curating information and getting people engaged. Now, the real work begins!

How I learned to stop worrying and love Yammer topics

1280x720-yammer-blueA 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.

  1. 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.
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  2. 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.
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  3. 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.
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  4. 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.Capture
    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.
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  5. 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.

Yammer and the Light Switch Mentality

DCF 1.0The light switch is one of the most simple pieces of technology we use in any given day.

One piece of plastic. There is a clear, embedded display to indicate the status of the light, and changing the lights’ status is as easy as…well…flicking a switch.

We see the tool, and know what to do with the tool, and in almost every case, the tool operates as we believe it should. Over time, we have developed a mentality about the light switch, and what we expect it to do. We see it. We flick it. It works.

This mindset of convenience and functionality, this “light switch mentality,” creeps into other areas of our lives, especially technology. We expect to “flick the switch,” and our technology will work right away. We open the box, peel the plastic off the screen with a delicious satisfaction, press the power button and see the screen light up for the first time. It just works.

To an extent, we have this same mentality with web sites and digital platforms. We click on the icon, or type in the web address, and we (realistically) expect to see the information we want to see, and interact with the people we want to interact with, right away.

Yammer, Microsoft’s Enterprise Social Networks that supports communication and collaboration within an organization, works differently. Though we can easily set up a network and invite users into our online space, further success will take much more than a mere flick of a switch. Yammer network managers will be much more likely to find success if they understand the time involved, and if they understand the changes they are asking users to make.w

“Please, change the way you work.”
Though email is a very poor tool for group communication and collaboration, it is the software platform most of our colleagues have used for decades. Yammer network managers need to understand that users are being asked to abandon a tool they are comfortable with and know how to use, in favor of something they have never used before.

“Please, work transparently.”
Yammer encourages users to work in a way that makes their work processes, challenges and successes visible to their entire organization. When our organizations are more transparent, colleagues are better connected, duplicative efforts are avoided and opportunities for cooperation and connection are found. And yet, Yammer network managers need to understand that transparency represents an incredible leap of faith and habit for most people to make. What was once private is now public. Information once closely guarded by a chosen few is now out in the open for all to see.

“Please, check here regularly.”
We are in the habit of checking email every day. We are in the habit of checking websites for the news, social media and business networking. When a new Yammer network is rolled out, Yammer network managers need to understand that a network represents a new place to check, and therefore a new habit to create.

We can quickly turn the lights off and on. We just need to flick the switch. But, a Yammer overly-complex-light-switch-covers-by-green-tree-jewelry-1network succeeds only after people have developed new habits, after they have learned how to use new tools and after they have learned how to work in new ways.

So, launch your Yammer network, but do so with the clear understanding that just because you have “flicked the switch,” the light will not turn on for everyone right away. Train your users, give them compelling reasons to visit the platform, and help them to realize the benefits of working in a transparent, collaborative platform. Give yourself and your organizational leadership the gift of time, patience and understanding. Change like this does not come easy.

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