What is Enterprise Social Networking? How does Yammer work? What is internal comms’ role when using social media?

All of these questions and more were discussed at the latest free webinar from CIPR Inside this lunchtime, which was attended by 45 comms professionals.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) group welcomed Mike Grafham, Head of Customer Engagement (EMEA) at Yammer, who I was alongside on the expert panel at a CIPR event in October, and Internal Comms Manager Suzanne Masters from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Kevin Ruck from the PR Academy hosted the session.

I’m going to split this article into two posts; the first will focus on Mike’s thoughts and the second on Suzanne’s.  To start with I’m not going to assume readers know what Yammer is or how it works – it struck me today reading through the comments on the webinar chat function that internal comms pros don’t necessarily know much detail about it.

So in a nutshell and in my own thoughts, Yammer is a way for employees within an organisation to connect and communicate.

It’s been described as ‘internal Twitter or Facebook’ and I can see why the comparisons are made. You need a company email address to access it and it’s a way to share thoughts and ideas with colleagues regardless of location, function or job title. You can read lots more about it here and also read how Aviva Investors use it thanks to a guest article on this blog a few months ago.

Changing expectations
Mike spoke about how networking tools mean that people are more connected in their personal lives than ever before and how this has changed expectations in the way employees wish to communicate: “There is a far larger awareness of what is going on generally and this has created expectations of visible communication – employees expect information to be available and open by default.”

I read an article on Forbes this week about enterprise social networks and like their definition, although it does repeat the key words!: “It’s a vibrant high communication, high collaboration enterprise that uses social tools to accelerate business via connection and collaboration”. In other words, it is a way of connecting employees so they can communicate.

Daring to share
Mike’s definition of an enterprise social network e.g. Yammer, is: A private, secure network that connects the whole company.

He described how sending a message to one person alone is not naturally expected from people who are just starting to enter the workforce. This is making people think about what they share and how they share it with – daring to share instead on a ‘need to know’ basis.

Yammer takes advantage of the change in the way people communicate to see how it can be applied to business to get things done. It does this by bringing together like-minded people to achieve a common purpose and be more effective.

Mike said: “The world of work isn’t like this. It is often top down and closed. Being out of the loop on things is the biggest reason projects fail. Informal channels like water coolers and ‘down the pub’ conversations are hugely important to glue people together in an organisation and keep them on a common purpose.”

What’s it all about?
Replicating these informal conversations across a company is incredibly valuable. Doing so in a way where others can participate and understand how it works across the business, using their skills and abilities to make the most of it is ideal. This is what enterprise social networking is trying to achieve.

Enterprise social networks provide comms opportunities:

  • Two-way communication
  • Ability to provide context
  • Reduction in repeated questions
  • People encouraged to ask questions
  • People more engaged with the message
  • Understand what people are really thinking

Benefits and value of enterprise social networks
There are many other benefits and values of enterprise social networks.  I think this list and the one above are a great starting point if you’re writing a business case. Benefits include:

  • Gaining visibility across the organisation
  • Giving employees tools that increase collaboration, visibility and support company culture
  • Driving financial results through employee engagement and better customer service
  • Attracting and retaining top talent by meeting the needs of your people

I thought it was interesting to hear Mike say that the biggest reason Yammer fails when it is introduced into a company is when it is treated like a technical product. He recommends focusing on the communication benefits, in that it is a way of connecting people and ensuring the solution doesn’t get in the way of that outcome.

As promised, I’ll post the second part of this article tomorrow. It will focus on Suzanne Masters and her experience of introducing Yammer within an organisation.

Watch again and further reading
If you missed the webinar and would like to view it for yourself, you can do so here. Yammer also has a blog which is packed full of useful content. Check out their article on How to drive social adoption throughout your business.

What is your experience of enterprise social networks? What do you refer to them as? I welcome your comments – do feel free to share them below. Rachel.