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I recently heard the following sentiment from a client, “We’ve got Yammer, but nobody uses it.” It was the third time someone had lamented to me about their organization’s inability to make the social learning tool work for them.

So, just how do you find success with a new internal Yammer community? In order to answer that question, I spent some time interviewing Allison Michels, manager of Learning and Development for Yammer Education Services at Microsoft. She delivers education programs to customers and engages in the people side of change, and her focus is training and coaching the C-suite.

According to Michels, successful use of Yammer results in a network that is organized to share and work faster and more effectively than before. But “it takes four things to have a successful enterprise social network,” she says. These include:

  • clarity of vision
  • executive sponsorship and participation
  • integrations (like apps and daily workflow)
  • community management.

“They aren’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s really all of these elements working together, a bit messy at first, but orchestrated none the less,” advises Michels.  “A tactical approach can be found in a post from Kathleen Rouse, who provides insight on making your network a success.”

Here’s a little bit more from our Q&A.

Q: In my own experience, many wannabe Yammer-adopters just jump on the “social media and sharing bandwagon” without much thought. You mention “clarity of vision” as the first key to success. What does this mean? What kind of vision are we talking about? What are the good reasons to start with Yammer?

A: Sometimes you go in first with the idea of just using Yammer, and sometimes you are talking business change and transformation and the output is Yammer. But I think the overall key is to not limit yourself to a product. Think first about what you are really trying to achieve, with or without a tool like Yammer.

To help define this vision, you should review some of the templates available via the Social Journey section of Yammer’s “Success Centre.”

The key point is to get everyone aligned to that bigger vision. I was working with one executive team, when after three hours of a visioning workshop, the COO slammed his hands down and said “It’s about the people, it’s about the people.” It’s always been about the people. Specific tools just help them to rethink and change the way people work.

A notable example comes from the Belgian Government community “Club 35.” Recognizing the need for civil servants to come together and innovate, share ideas, and define the skills, Elke Wambacq of Kind en Gezin and Thomas De Spiegelaere of the Federal Department of Mobility launched a Yammer group. 

“Club 35” found that cutting across hierarchies, harnessing collective wisdom, and working together to shape the future of the civil service was easier with Yammer. And what started out as a small core team of dedicated individuals continues to grow in to a vibrant, geographically dispersed, democratic, and highly efficient community that is actively changing government for the better. For more success stories, you can check out Yammer’s customer story archives online.

Q: But changing the way people work takes time. As you say, “It doesn’t happen overnight.” Just how long does the average successful company need to make Yammer work?

Yammer typically works with companies to launch a few specific use cases. They might take four to six weeks to get rolling, or sometimes even three months. It depends on the level of complexity, culture, and readiness of the organization.

To get some ideas about successfully launching a community, I suggest reading what Yammer proposes for the first 31 days.

But don’t assume it will all go as planned. Recently, I worked with a customer and our “use case” looked great, so we rolled out the community. Unfortunately, it didn’t work—it didn’t stick. So the team went back to see what could be adapted the next time around. You need to see development and launch as a journey.

Overall, I would say it takes about one year before Yammer becomes natural. By then, you should have teams of people diving in to the tool to figure out new use cases and adapting existing ones.

Here are some other interesting posts that might help mangers get started:

Good luck!