We’ve been using Yammer across our company since fall 2010. The ability to have Groups is, on the one hand, almost table stakes for any enterprise collaboration tool, and yet, I love Groups. It’s one of my most-used, most-loved features in Yammer (along with Notes—and don’t ask me to play favorites between them). Maybe it’s because I still haven’t rewired my brain from using folders very well, or the fact that groups are just plain easy to deal with and have some uber-useful bells and whistles. So, I thought I’d dedicate a blog to going over some of the nifty things you can do. Trust me, it will be fun!
Who Gets to Create a Group in Yammer?
First off, anyone! Yes, anyone! You, the guy down the hall, the gal across the world! In fact, anyone who has access to your Yammer network can create a group. You don’t need permission. You don’t need to wait for someone to tell you do it. But to quote Spiderman—hey, those webs are a pretty sweet way to think of networks—“with great power comes great responsibility.” Got an idea for a group you’d like to create? Cool, first thing is to do a search to make sure a similar group hasn’t already been created by some other kindred spirit in your organization. Try a few search terms and browse around in the Group Directory. You might also have to check in with your community manager in case there are any policies you should be aware of. But, if your Group doesn’t exist and you are up for the care and feeding of it, go for it. Feel the power as you click the Plus icon.
But wait, can I make my Group private or just for me?
Yup, you can. You can choose whether to make the group accessible to anyone in your Yammer network (the word Public refers to inside your network) or to a select few individuals who have to be approved. The default position generally is that, unless you will sharing some sensitive info in your group, you should leave it as Public so that others who might be interested in the discussions in the future can find it and contribute to it, and it makes the content part of the generally searchable body.
But if you need to cordon it off, we understand. Sometimes there are special reasons to keep it private to a few individuals.
Now, if you are sometimes disorganized like me, I’ve created a group in Yammer, just for me. So selfish, I know. The shame. You have an option when creating a private group (even for just 1) of not listing it in the Group Directory so that it doesn’t clutter up everyone else’s experience of browsing for new groups to join. And why? You ask. Why would you want your own private group on Yammer? Isn’t that the antithesis of sharing? Ah, the shame again—hanging my head. I send my notes there when I’m at conferences, when I have worked partially on docs that would be nonsensical to others, or references to external research that would appear to otherwise be random and don’t fit. And why do I send them to Yammer? Because I can search for them and crib them together with topics, it’s like a memory box of bits ‘n pieces that I find useful and are just waiting for their prime time to be shared with everyone. Ever emailed yourself something so you could find it later? Yup! Yammer is like that but way better. Part of learning to “work out loud” in my experience is being in the right tool to start the journey.
In some companies, I’ve seen managers and employees have groups of just the two individuals involved so they can give 360 feedback/performance reviews all through the year. Very cool.
I’ve Created a Group, Now What?
You’re not done! Go ahead and populate the Info tab on your Group with a good description of what should be in the Group. You brought your Group into the world. You have some parental responsibility of what happens to it. Also, personalize it with a tile image. Add some files or start some Notes. Populate the Quick Access part to help people get a hold of the resources they’ll need most. Next, you are ready to share. Invite other users to contribute. Perhaps, post a poll to get the conversation started.
Groups are like Tamagotchis. You have to check in on them regularly, contribute, feed, water and keep them clear of junk; otherwise, they die. Show them off to your colleagues! Be proud of your Group. Sometimes they will have a natural lifecycle. For example, a project may have a defined beginning and end. Your community manager probably will have a policy for renaming your group to an archive. But we don’t want your Group to have an untimely demise for lack of care or interest.
All Set up, What’s Next?
Email It In
Stupid but true, the bell (or is it a whistle?) I love the most is Post to this group by email. Again, you shake your head and wonder why. Because most of the information you get from other people, especially outside of your company, comes in via email. I save the email addresses of groups in Yammer in my Outlook contacts, and when I get one of those emails, that either a) the discussion should have been in Yammer to start with or b) the discussion originated outside of my company and needs to be shared with others in the company I email it to the appropriate group in Yammer. They’ve even improved the way that attachments are posted and all the chains of previous email is handled by turning it into a PDF, which makes it searchable. Can we all say—Awesome!
Pro tip: If there’s only part of the email that you want to forward to the group, for example, have it suppress your email footer (it looks goofy in Yammer), use two hyphens – and it will not forward from that point down in the chain of neverending RE RE RE FWs.
Once the content is in your group, people can still reply to the conversation via email if they’d like, or post directly through whatever device and app they like to use. They can add topics to surface the discussions to people not in your group too.
One other thing, on the Post to group by email, in areas of the world where the bandwidth is lower, I’ve found that sending it via email can be more reassuring than having to wait for a web site to load. Just my experience, yours may vary. I know that when I worked in the oil business, your phone is often the only device you have access to in remote areas, and bandwidth can be highly constrained.
Embed this Group in Your Site
As I’ve mentioned, groups live or die by participation. One way to make sure people know about your Group and contribute is to embed it into where they do their work. Clicking on this feature pops up some code. Don’t fear the code. Just copy the 8 lines or so. It’s just like in YouTube, if you wanted to put a video on another web page, you’d copy the little script and paste it. So you can do the same thing into any web page, could be in SharePoint, or WordPress or wherever. It’s a great way to expose the content to new people, too, and to encourage them to join your group to contribute.
Oh, how I love thee Notes function. I’d love thee more if you were OneNote (hint, hint to the nice people in Yammer North). Inside a Group, you can create Notes, I won’t go into all the things you can do with Notes, but suffice it to say, it’s a kind of Wiki with simple formatting, that up to 12 people can simultaneously co-author. Has a basic versioning/track changes too. Wait, let me say that again, you can have 12 people edit a Note at the same time. How cool is that? Ever wanted to work on something in real time with your teammates and yet stymied by the ol’, “Well you make your changes, and let me know when you’re done and closed the document and then I’ll make mine.” Ha! And even better, this real-time coauthoring will come to Office Web Apps very soon, so you’ll be able to edit your PowerPoint, etc., at the same time as your co-workers, as well as see all the conversation about the document, instead of the string of separate email.
For 2014, at our company we have an ESN goal to not have a meeting without Yammer. You can co-create the agenda in a Note, co-write the meeting notes, and co-work on the deliverables all from inside your Group. And remember, it’s all searchable. Because finding it again is half the problem.
I hope this has inspired you to use Groups more in Yammer. Go out and browse the Group Directory in Yammer now, find a group you didn’t know about, join in and contribute. Then when the time comes to create your own Group, you’ll know who to invite to get the conversation started and what worked best. Remember to use Praise often to reward the behaviors you’d like to see. You can never give out too much Praise as a Group owner or contributor.