By Stuart Forbes
If you work in corporate communication, you could be forgiven for thinking that Yammer appeared in a puff of smoke last year and is now taking over the business world. You could be forgiven for thinking this because it’s more or less what happened.
The company was launched in 2008 by founders David Sacks and Adam Pisoni, who were smart enough to take a look at what Facebook and Twitter were doing and apply it to a business context. Thus, Yammer was born. Now the tool is reportedly being used by over 90,000 companies and organisations – including more than 80% of the Fortune 500.
As most of us already know Yammer is a social network (like Facebook) that has its routes in microblogging (like Twitter).
However, what makes Yammer unique is its privacy relative to other social media platforms. Users can only communicate with other users within their organisation or a pre-designated group. If Jack is a user of Ferrari’s Yammer site, and Jill is a user of Porsche’s Yammer site, they can’t communicate cross-company. You can see the appeal to businesses: all the connectivity and mutual conversation of Facebook and Twitter, but with an explicit business focus and less risk of confidential information escaping into the outside world.
If you were thinking about exploring Yammer as a communications option for your company, you’d be presented with a selection of pricing options. Most start with the ‘freemium’ service – a functioning, introductory platform that might not come with all the bells and whistles, but won’t cost you a dime.
After a period of time, if you like what you see, for $5 per user per month, you can upgrade to the premium or ‘Enterprise’ option, which offers administrative controls, enhanced security tools, data export, keyword monitoring, directory integration, network analytics, SharePoint integration, a dedicated Customer Success Manager, and a host of other features.
If you’re sitting there having just done a quick pricing calculation in your head ($5 x everyone in your business), don’t worry; you can wipe the sweat from your brow. Yammer offers discounts for large enterprises, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations.
The freemium pricing model is working wonders for Yammer – they’re reporting a 100% increase in revenue every quarter.
But what’s it like to use the service – and how easy is it to adopt into your business?
We spoke to Colette Cote-Mayerhoeffer and Aneta Hall of Pitney Bowes US and Steve Nguyen from Cargill to get the low down on their companies’ Yammer experience.
Pitney Bowes started their journey with Yammer in December 2008. Aneta Hall had spent the last few years in charge of the company’s strategy for emerging communications and marketing channels. It was Hall’s job to work with her team from their offices in Stamford, Connecticut, looking into ideas and initiatives that could, as she puts it, be a “game-changer” for Pitney Bowes. Embracing Yammer was one of these initiatives.
First, she set about familiarizing herself with Yammer, setting up her profile before being joined by a few other colleagues from the R&D department.
In Spring 2009, following a period that saw some organic growth, Hall and her team decided to invest more time and energy developing Yammer as a comms channel.
At this time, other micro-blogging tools were considered, like Socialcast, but Yammer was preferred for its “self explanatory interface and ease of use.”
Pitney Bowes upgraded to the Enterprise pricing option in Autumn 2009.
“We really didn’t have a grand plan. We had to learn to figure out what it means to build a community. We wanted to find out what kind of conversations were going to happen. We employed a hero system – empowering highly engaged and resourceful operatives to share with their employees. We quickly realized that the secret to Yammer is collaboration.”
So, how successful has Yammer been within the organisation?
There are currently 400 Yammer users within Pitney Bowes. That’s roughly 12% of their global employees. Encouragingly, says Hall, those 400 users have generated 18000 messages, and 43% of these messages are in response to other posts.
“This is really key for us,” Hall says. “It’s not just a series of unrelated messages. It’s a conversation. And it’s a conversation that’s taking us to places we didn’t anticipate – exciting places. Obviously we’re eliminating geographical barriers – we have a growing number of telecommuters working remotely, and clearly Yammer is a great way to bring them together. But we can also take people who aren’t well connected, who aren’t in the same location and have a look at their function and star conversations to make sure that they’re all on the same page. So it’s a fantastic educational tool for us as well.”
Knowledge sharing opportunities
Colette Cote-Mayerhoeffer, who handles Pitney Bowes’ External Communications, has also been impressed by the educational potential of Yammer.
“Yammer offers shared knowledge,” she points out. “If someone gets asked a question which is outside of their existing knowledge base, they post that question on Yammer and a conversation is distributing knowledge and best practice across departments and locations. We see this sort of knowledge pooling on a weekly basis now. This is where Yammer really excels.”
But it is the organic, surprising conversations “from out of nowhere” that most excites Hall.
“You can’t predict what’s going to come up and be a really useful hit. There was one employee who posted about her productivity going down because her phone was changed for a different brand with different functionality. Out of this seemingly innocuous comment came a flurry of conversation about how we can improve our use of smartphones within the business. There were some great, great ideas and feedback. It’s really exciting.”
Whenever any social media platform is put on the table before senior management, the first thing they want to know (after how much it costs) is, a) is it safe?, swiftly followed by, b) how can we control it?
Pitney Bowes practices the “self-policing” model – and so far this system is working well.
“We have self appointed community leaders – these are people who don’t necessarily post that much themselves, but they’re well connected and they care about the community,” says Cote-Mayerhoeffer .
“And we have quarterly meetings to discuss the best way for us to build the community. The community makes sure that conversations are within the Yammer usage policy that we drew up with the Legal dept and HR. It’s very brief a couple of paragraphs, but it sets the boundaries. But primarily we focus on being nice – being nice is one of the core rules of the community at Pitney Bowes,” Hall adds.
Cote-Mayerhoeffer says, “It is really driving collaboration throughout the business, breaking down silos and bringing everyone together. It’s instilled our people with a new sense of community, and a refreshed sense of care.”
Three chief learnings
When asked to share tips with communicators who are thinking about taking the Yammer plunge, Hall advises:
1. Be patient. Community building is a process – it doesn’t happen over night.
2. Don’t approach community building with the idea of talking. Because the most value that you get out of it is from listening.
3. Reward your active participants – not in a monetary fashion. Acknowledge their participation, evangelize their efforts, and recognize their contribution through other channels.
Use of Yammer at Cargill
Steve Nguyen is a Technology Research Analyst for Cargill, working out of their offices among the green woods of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Steve was instrumental in establishing Yammer as a comms tool within his organisation.
Cargill’s Yammer experience began with their uptake of the Freemium service option in June 2009. As with Pitney Bowes, it started small – a few users exchanging messages. After a few months, there was a Yammer boom.
Nguyen recalls, “It just took off. We were nearly at 1000 users. It went from being this little known, quirky tool to something bigger and more significant. Naturally, management took notice.”
With the Freemium option, Yammer, not Cargill, owned the data and the conversations on the network. With 1000 users and counting, Cargill realised they had two choices: shut Yammer down before it got any bigger, or invest in one of the paying options and own employees’ conversations.
Nguyen and a few other pioneering Cargill Yammerers took it upon themselves to present the case for Yammer to Senior Management.
“That’s when we started to investigate Yammer itself, its capabilities, its security, how people interact with it.”
Nguyen had to sell the value of Yammer to his own managers. How did he do it? Research, research, research. He conducted surveys amongst the current crop of Yammer users within Cargill, asking them how they interact with the tool, and whether they use it at work or at home. He asked his Yammering colleagues to sum up the value of Yammer to them, leading to some wonderfully passionate responses from users.
“Reading the posts reminds me how large and diverse Cargill is – it makes me feel connected and engaged in a way that I would not have felt without Yammer,” remarked one happy Cargill Yammerer.
“With comments like that, we knew we were in a strong position,” Nguyen points out.
Equipped with sound research and passionate testimonials from within the business, Nguyen and his team took their case to a group of Cargill’s senior leaders.
“They really got it. Obviously they wanted to know about cost, security – all of the fundamental concerns that an organisation has to have with a new social media platform. But they quickly realised the value of this tool. In fact, one Vice President turned to the rest of the panel and said, ‘Do we understand the risk of shutting this thing down?’ – which I think is a really telling point. Right away our senior management saw the value of it and understood the risk to employee engagement if they pulled the plug.”
Cargill’s management ultimately decided to go with the one of the paying options.
Now Cargill’s Yammer site has around 7000 members – all joined via word of mouth. There has been no formal, mass internal communication encouraging employees to join Yammer. The tool has been allowed to grow organically.
“Not having a mass communication about it was intentional. We had to let it grow on its own and in its own way. And we’re still growing in membership and messages,” Nguyen says.
But what about the 90-9-1 principle of social media that says 90% of users are voyeurs, 9% get a little involved and 1% do all of the work? Is Cargill’s Yammer site propped up by a handful of industrious users, while the rest merely observe?
“To be honest with you, no. It’s been very collaborative,” Nguyen assures. “For the most part there’s a diverse representation across most of our regions and departments. And that’s what Yammer is: a fantastic way for people, for colleagues to have conversations across countries, departments and across the silos that used to exist.