Last month, we had a Yammer explosion. It was as if all of a sudden everyone in the organization decided, collectively and at once, “hey, I really like this, and am going to write something and then keep replying to and liking what other people are sharing.” Within a few short hours, more than 30% of the org had logged on and shared their thoughts.
No, of course that’s not how the story went at all. While there was an explosion (we’ll get to the details later), it was much more like what you’d expect from a group of Navy SEALS lining up some C4 strategically across the organization to go off in unison with several other major events. In other words, what made Yammer go from that “kind of neat thing that looks like Facebook” to something that everyone from assistants to the CEO were using was the not-so-secret sauce behind any multi-channel marketing campaign.
That we can apply the same strategies inside as we do outside is what makes this so interesting and doable.
Tools count, but not so much
If you’re reading this now and are thinking “oh, we tried using Yammer (or something similar) but no one added real content and it was just a waste of time,” I hear you. I had my doubts that a system unconnected to any of our other collaboration/communication tools could drive such energy and provide such value. What I saw, however, was that at its core it’s not the tool so much as how people use it and drive usage. And that was a concept I recognized from the start. And perhaps equally important, I saw the tremendous opportunity of what could happen when we could connect the content to other tools and data (but that’s a topic for another time).
So, what’s in the sauce?
Josh’s recipe for internal communications success
- Grassroots support
- Leadership engagement
- Topics that are demand-driven
- Parallel communication lines
- Evangelists and super-users
- Grassroots support – Leadership engagement is necessary, but not sufficient. Success starts with a small group of people who use the system often because a) they like it, and b) it gives value to their work. And unlike other types of change management, you have a huge factor working in your favor: the people best positioned to be your grassroots leaders are the people most likely to gain value from the system – your connectors. You really couldn’t ask for it much better. Keep the conversation lively with this group and they’ll naturally pull others in as they shift how they communicate with others.
- Leadership engagement – When the CEO and President post it’s a good thing. When the CEO, President and other execs respond to people’s questions and comments, it’s even better. That very flat dynamic is powerful, much more so than “you can email me and I’ll respond any time.” When people actually see leaders responding thoughtfully and engaging others in conversation, it’s a show don’t tell come true. Leadership engagement is also important because presumably these folks are leaders for a good reason. The rest of the staff are curious about what they’re thinking about, especially on challenging and prescient topics. This is a good space for some of that dialogue to begin. Finally, when leaders engage it also means that an activity that is sometimes seen as wasting time in some circles is “sanctioned” and even encouraged. It may be implicit and unspoken, but it matters.
- Topics that are demand-driven – Ever wonder why a lot of posts go without a response? Unless they’re witty, funny, or have specific questions or @ mentions, posts that lack context are going to be ignored. This is as true in the rest of the social media space (or even your inbox) as it is within whatever live-feed you’re using in house. The best way to tackle this is to a) hire funny people, and b) strategically start conversations on topics that are front and center of people’s minds. Got performance reviews coming up? Post frequent questions or start a group where people can ask and answer questions. The groups that are interest-based (reading, music, travel) will naturally do this, and can be a good exemplar of how others can follow. So next time you post, ask “why should someone respond to this?” You should also hire funny people.
- Parallel communication lines – One of the most successful things we’ve been able to do is use Yammer as a way to both build up and have a side-conversation to other live and/or important events. This is digital marketing best practice (see Dachis Group’s analysis of Coke’s success during the Super Bowl. It really took me by surprise and will too if you were utterly bored by the cute bears) and should be part of your arsenal as well. This isn’t new, but with social media we just have more options. We launched a fireside-like chat with our President alongside with a Yammer hashtag that was for both collecting questions/topics and for helping to connect the listeners to each other along the way. It helped continue the conversation afterward, and drive interest in future calls like it.
- Evangelists and super-users – The role of evangelists has been well documented, within social media but also in “real life.” Find out who they are, and nurture the work they’re doing. Our org gives out a “you have time for this?/most posts” joke-award during the Holiday party. It’s a bit of an infamous award, but it serves a purpose well.
- Hustle – I didn’t expect, or really understand, how important this is. We have a team of 3 whose job it is to promote internal communications. That might seem like a lot or a little depending on the size of your own org, but they are unquestionably responsible for a huge amount of the energy and discussion that happens on our network. And one of the things they do so well is hustle authentically. They drive conversations and activities that drive other conversations (like videos, podcasts, and more) and they incessantly reference “that discussion on Yammer” so that it became inevitable that Yammer was just something that connected people check.
What we didn’t do but what some people will say matters
This is almost as important because you don’t want to waste your time.
- Waste time on brand. We call Yammer by its name – Yammer. Sometimes “Yam” as a verb.
- Over-analyze the “if” or pilot in the traditional sense. Building evangelists starts without a knowledge of who those people will necessarily be, and so limiting your audience kills. We made sure some safeguards were in place, and let loose.
- Do forced sign ups. If you want to get people on, give them a reason to come (you get to hear the chief marketing officer discuss challenges the org is facing and a new brand presence), not a what happens if they don’t.