Yammer 106: Yammer Groups

Yammer Groups are a powerful addition to its micro-blogging service, particularly for larger companies.

It’s great to have a Twitter-like service limited only to your company, but in a large organization there are frankly discussions (particularly frank ones) that should be kept to a smaller group.

Otherwise, if any employee can have access to any message in the company network, the conversation will need to be limited.

For example, when we get calls from journalists working on a story, we need to be able to discuss who would be the best subject expert to answer the questions. That typically happens by phone or e-mail, but a service like Yammer would be a great way to quickly alert our whole team about the request and to gather feedback and ideas. But that conversation shouldn’t be open to (potentially) several thousand employees.

In the old version of Yammer, as I described in Yammer 103, sending out a press call alert could be done by tagging the post as a #press-call-alert, and then inviting members of the media relations team to “follow” that tag. But anyone with a mayo.edu email address who had joined Yammer would have been able to see those posts (and perhaps follow that tag.)

With the new Yammer groups feature, it’s a lot more secure. You can create two kinds of groups:

  1. Public: Anyone with an email address at your company can join and view messages.
  2. Private: Only people who are invited can view messages or join. Furthermore, you can decide whether you want the group to be listed in the company directory of groups.

A Public group could be used when you want to create a community of interest that doesn’t need to be exclusive. An example might be people with a common subject interest, such as marketing trends, or cancer research, or human resources news.

A Private group is more appropriate for a defined work unit or team. For example, this is the group I started for the work division in which I am a manager:

I made it a private group, because it should be limited to people who report to my division chair. But I chose to list it in the Group Directory because that way I can start the group without inviting everyone. Yammer users can see the group and request to join. For a small work unit, though, you may not wish to include the group in the directory, since you can easily invite everyone who is a member of the team.

One of the neat parts about the groups feature is that when you start to invite someone who is already in Yammer, it quickly scans and suggests matches based on the first few letters you type. And if it doesn’t find a match, it still lets you invite people to the group based on their email address…which also invites them to join Yammer. I believe this will be an important feature for Yammer’s growth, as people invite their closest colleagues to join their work groups and therefore Yammer.

To make the groups work efficiently you need to have members adjust email settings so they get notification when someone in your group posts a Yammer. Each member needs to do this. Mine looks like this:

You can decide which groups’ updates are sent to you by email, or you can check the bottom box, to “Subscribe to new groups I join via email.” That way you will automatically get the updates for any group you join, without having to remember to change your email settings when you join a new group.

Following tags is a good way to engage on specific topics, and to know when discussion is happening on subjects that interest you, across your company.

But the new Groups feature significantly increases Yammer’s usefulness as a tool for work-unit collaboration.

The Yammer blog has more detail on Groups.

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Yammer 105: Making Yammering Effortless

I have found that when we introduce new electronic tools to the workplace, the adoption and usage varies inversely with the amount of effort required. There also is a significant direct relationship to the perceived benefit, but the basic questions are:

  1. How difficult is this going to be?
  2. How much do I need to change what I’m already doing?
  3. What’s in it for me?
  4. What’s in it for us as a group?

The first two questions can trump the others. No matter the payoff, if it’s too much of a change or is perceived as too difficult, you won’t reach the critical mass of users that will make the answer to #4 compelling.

When it comes to politics, it seems we all want change. But in the workplace we like our routine.

If individuals can see a personal benefit that doesn’t depend on everyone else also adopting the technology, that can help the adoption get started. And if that adoption can draw others along, so that they contribute to the greater good with very little modification of their current routine, well…

That’s change we can believe in.


Everyone uses email at work. Everyone complains about getting too much of it. If a tool can reduce unwanted and irrelevant email messages while still giving you access to the information if you later need it, that would be a great value, wouldn’t it? And if you could mostly use it right from your email client (i.e. Microsoft Outlook, Entourage or Apple Mail), wouldn’t that make the burden of questions 1 and 2 almost nonexistent?

This post is mainly intended for my work colleagues, who are part of my Yammer network. But SMUGgles can learn from the basic concepts and apply them to your networks (although the links I provide to make it easy for my work colleagues to join and follow tags will not work for you.)

Five Steps to Making Yammer Effortless

1. Sign up for Yammer using your work e-mail address. This is covered in more detail in Yammer 101.

2. Make your E-Mail Settings tab look like this:

This will ensure that you get e-mail notices of new posts from any people you are following and for any tags (or topics) you follow. To cut down on unnecessary email, I suggest that you de-select requiring confirmation of posts via email and notification of new messages you post via email.

3. Follow tags that interest you or that are relevant to your work

For our Medical Edge team, follow #medical-edge

For our media relations staff, follow #media-relations, #press-call-alert and #story-idea

For our Social Media team, follow #social-media-team

How do you follow tags? Click the relevant link and once there, click the blue “Follow” button as you see in the example below:

4. When you want to send a message to other staff who are interested in these topics, instead of deciding what email distribution list to use, Yammer instead using the relevant tags.

In this way, everyone who has followed the tag will get an email. You don’t have to pick a distribution list. The users have self-selected.

In addition to the main tags that refer to the interest group that should receive the message, feel free to add any other tags that would help you find the message later. Creating a tag is as simple as putting a # in front of a #word or #phrase-joined-by-hyphens.

Once you have done the set-up in Yammer, which takes about five minutes, this is the only step that involves any change from the way you currently exchange information by email. You’re just using Yammer instead of a distribution list. And I would suggest that this is even easier than email, because you can just get to the point and the format doesn’t encourage rambling messages.

5. When you get an e-mail message from Yammer relating to one of your tags, if you have something to say, just reply via e-mail as you normally would.

Yammer will log your response and will send it to everyone else. You don’t need to log into Yammer and post your response there. Just send a plain old-fashioned e-mail reply, and Yammer will take care of the rest. Your message will become part of the thread…as the recorded customer service messages say, “in the order it was received.” The entire conversation and its resolution is archived for reference.

6. Read messages you get from Yammer, and then delete them. You don’t need to save messages, because if you later need them you can search for them within Yammer.

For more background on Yammer check out the full Yammer curriculum.

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Yammer 104: Yammer as GTD General Reference File

In this post I wrote about how a blog can be the ultimate personal electronic “general reference” filing system that is consistent with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, or GTD, approach to life organization.

I still think a blog can be useful for general reference. I often use the SMUG blog in that way. I vaguely remember that I’ve written about something here, and use the search box at right to find the information, often including links to relevant external Web sites.

But that post was written in the pre-Twitter, pre-Yammer era. I think these micro-blogging tools can be even better for this general reference function than a full-blown blog is.

Continue reading “Yammer 104: Yammer as GTD General Reference File”

Yammer 103: Coordinating Media Relations Idea Gathering

Among the benefits of Yammer is the ability to subscribe to, or “follow,” conversations or “tags” that you find interesting.

So instead of a mass e-mail going to 100 people in your department, you can Yammer with a tag, and only those people who are following that tag will get the e-mail.

Then they can respond by e-mail, and it all gets gathered, archived and redistributed through Yammer.

Here’s a practical example.

Suppose you have a geographically dispersed media relations team. You want to gather recommendations for potential subject experts for a story in an article you are writing for a publication.

Old Way #1: Send a mass e-mail to your whole department. Annoy most of the recipients with what they consider spam.

Old Way #2: Send an e-mail to a distribution list you have created, those who work in media relations. But no one who isn’t on your list gets the message, even if they might have something to contribute. The message is locked up in your recipients’ e-mail inboxes.

The Yammer Way: Go to Yammer and post your question with appropriate tags. It will look something like this as you enter it:

And in the Yammer timeline, it will look like this:

So, for colleagues who have followed the #press-call-alert or #media-relations tags, and who have their e-mail settings set appropriately, like this…

…will get e-mails sent directly to them. If they reply to the message, their responses also will be posted to Yammer.

The other benefit is that by being in the Yammer timeline, your message is available to others in your workplace, who may not have originally subscribed, but who might see that a conversation is occurring and decide to chime in.

And through Yammer tags, people subscribe to messages of interest to them. You don’t need to have someone maintain a master distribution list or, what’s worse, have each individual on the team maintaining his or her own distribution list. The lists maintain themselves in Yammer as people “follow” given tags.

The other benefit is that instead of having the info locked in e-mail inboxes, the Yammer site is searchable, creating a knowledge base for the workplace. But we’ll discuss that more in Yammer 104.


  1. If you are a Mayo employee in Public Affairs, click this #public-affairs link and see if you can get signed up for and have access to this Yammer tag. You also could try following #social-media-team, #medical-edge, #media-relations and #press-call-alert.
  2. If you are NOT a Mayo employee, I would be interested to find out what happens when you click those links in #1 above, or specifically whether you can see this particular Yammer. Part of the benefit of Yammer is that you can limit your updates to be only visible by your co-workers. If you can see mine (or if you can’t), I’d appreciate knowing that.

So let me know how this works for you in the comments below!

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Yammer Time(s)

Yammer, which I have been featuring in a new curriculum offering, was featured significantly today in the New York Times and its Technology blog.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Successes like YouTube, the online video site sold to Google for $1.65 billion in 2006, convinced some venture investors that building a Web site with a large number of users could still be more valuable than making money from paying customers.

Now, as the global economy enters a severe downturn, the relative merits of these two philosophies will be tested again.

The two poles of the debate are apparent in the world of microblogging, where people use the Web or their cellphones to blast short updates on their activities to a group of virtual followers.

Yammer’s business model is compelling, Mr. Sacks said, because it spreads virally like a consumer service, but earns revenue like a business service. Anyone with a company e-mail address can use Yammer free. When that company officially joins — which gives the administrator more control over security and how employees use the service — it pays $1 a month for each user. In Yammer’s first six weeks, 10,000 companies with 60,000 users signed up, though only 200 companies with 4,000 users are paying so far.

The founders and backers of Twitter, which has reportedly raised $20 million from venture capitalists, are just as adamant about their decision to grow first and monetize second.

I love Twitter. In fact, a Tweet from Dennis McDonald is what alerted me to the blog post, which led me to the article. But I think the real strength of Yammer is precisely that it didn’t make a choice between growing and monetizing.

It has a business plan.

It can grow immensely (as it has) through viral, bottom-up adoption. It’s mode of adoption isn’t really much different from Twitter. Anyone can sign up for free using a company e-mail address, and can invite co-workers. The only limit is that people from outside your company can’t be part of your network.

But for most businesses, that’s actually a plus. I can talk with my co-workers about what I’m working on, or share links, without the whole world seeing.

And I’m betting that with this New York Times coverage, the growth is going to greatly accelerate. I recommend you check out both the article and the blog post.

Yet despite being positioned for strong growth, the Yammer leadership actually has a plan for how to make money from the service; a fee amounting to $12 per employee per year.

Some companies may try Yammer and then decide to go with their own microblogging networks, completely behind the corporate firewall. But at least through Yammer they can experiment with the concept for free instead of spending a bunch of money on a new software package and trying to get employees to use it.

This is a variation of how Microsoft has driven Sharepoint, except the Microsoft staff already has strong relationships with the corporate IT departments. Microsoft gives Sharepoint to companies for a free trial, and then charges a large fee if they end up deploying long-term.

Yammer doesn’t have those IT relationships, and so is using a bottom-up strategy.

I will still use Twitter for connecting with the world, but it’s going to be fun experimenting with Yammer to see how it can help workplace collaboration.

Do you use Twitter? Have you tried Yammer? What do you think of the two services and how you might apply them in your work?

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