Yammer was one of the first enterprise microblogging tools, and it continues to add features to extend the original concept of Twitter into an enterprise business application. A while back, I wrote about one case example, Implementing Enterprise Micro-messaging with Yammer at Océ., Océ is still an active user of Yammer. I was pleased to recently speak with Yammer’s VP of Marketing, Steve Apfelberg, about their capabilities and latest developments. Steve said that many of their new features came from customer input. You can see a sample screen below.
We began with an overview of some of the ways Yammer has extended the functionality of microblogging beyond Twitter to better serve business needs. First, they have not placed a 140 character limit on updates, or Yams, as they call them. There is a suggestion to keep things crisp but many business messages require more than 140 characters. I agree and have reluctantly avoided Twitter at times for this reason when it would have served a good purpose.
Next, Yammer allows for file attachments. Twitter allows for links to documents but often you want to use microblogging as an internal distribution channel for things like the latest sales presentation. These attachments are stored in the Yammer cloud and become searchable in their own right, a useful feature.
Steve said that Yammer allows for public or private groups within each Yammer network. This is not like Tweetdeck groups as the feature allows you to indicate who can receive what updates and provides different access levels. Yammer also has more social networking functionality than Twitter as there is an enriched profile feature. Samuel Dreissen at Océ said that the Yammer profiles helped spread usage. Samuel said he got more compliance with the profile completion in Yammer than in knowledge management systems because of the simplicity of the form. As new users complete their profiles, the system guides you to invite your colleagues, which support the viral adoption of Yammer.
To further enhance social networking, Yammer also offers org charts that connect profiles. You can see how participants are connected and this can help you decide who to follow. Yammer provides suggestions on who you might want to follow that are partially based on the org charts. You can see a sample org chart below.
Yammer provides auto updates or Yams based on user actions such as joining a group or adjusting an org chart. There is two-way email integration. Steve said they did this since some people still live within email. You get email notifications if you want and can post to Yammer from email.
Users can “like” an update. This will then display the update in the message feed of all of their followers who do not follow the original message poster. I really liked this feature as it avoids spamming people with redundant messages but also does the work for you of trying to figure out who already saw the message and who did not.
You can use tagging through a hashtag in the same way you do with Twitter. Steve said this is something frequently used within their own firm to segment information into searchable topics.
We next discussed their latest major feature, Yammer Communities. Steve said that many customers who were using Yammer for internal communication asked them if they could additionally utilize Yammer to collaborate with their external business network, including customers, partners, suppliers, and vendors. Until now, this was not possible as Yammer required all members of a Yammer network to share a common, work email domain.
Now Yammer Communities enables companies to create a new type of Yammer network that is not restricted to a common email domain. The Communities option provides companies with a secure, private, and separate space to communicate with their external business contacts. Membership, messages and other data in the Community are completely separate from membership, messages and data in the parent company network; users must toggle between networks to access these separate Community networks. It has all the features of the traditional or “canonical” instance of Yammer. People within a company can use both. Steve gave the example of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston that has used Yammer Communities to allow newly diagnosed cancer patients to communicate with cancer survivors in a secure manner.
Yammer provides both a free version and premium paid versions with expanded features. More than 10,000 companies and organizations created new Yammer networks in Q1 2010, bringing the total to more than 70,000. More than 70% of Fortune 500 companies are using Yammer and there are over 800,000 users. This is a testimony to the power of microblogging and to what Yammer brings to this capability.