6 ways Yammer increased employee engagement at Teach for America

The internal social network affords engagement opportunities that few other communication channels provide. Here’s how to use it to your advantage.

Whether your organization’s employees are spread over several floors, offices, regions or countries, connecting employees to one another and to the organization’s mission is, to say the least, a challenge.

Sure, you can send emails, tack messages to bulletin boards or post to the intranet, but few communication methods connect and inform people like Yammer.

In a Ragan Training video, “How Yammer spurs employees’ feedback and collaboration for Teach for America,” Aaron French, managing director of internal communications at Teach for America, explains how Yammer helped increase employee engagement at the organization.

Here are a few of his tips for making the most of the internal social network:

1. Encourage employees to discuss news and issues.

At its core, Yammer is a way for employees to share news. In French’s words, it’s a way to say, “Hey, 2,400 people who work at Teach for America, I find this interesting because I work here, and I think you will, too.”

French and his team promote Yammer as a “brave space” where people are empowered to discuss topics they might not know much about, but still with the community’s support.

For example, the head of Teach for America’s research team often uses Yammer to share research he finds interesting. He recently shared a blog post about how art in schools can boost achievement test scores.

“He now becomes the face of being a content expert,” French says. “Now people know what he looks like, they know what he’s interested in and they know who to go to if they have questions about this type of stuff.”

Should you worry about employees’ having the freedom to post whatever they like? French doesn’t.

Because everything a person posts is accompanied by his name and photo, the community is good at self-policing, he says. “I personally don’t believe in policing social networks, because I think when people see that top-down approach, they are less likely to engage, and you’re less likely to have really good conversations.”

2. Crowdsource information.

A Teach for America employee wanted to determine the fastest way to get an answer to a question. She tried the typical methods, such as email and submitting a tech support ticket, but she also posed the question on Yammer.

She received an answer on Yammer within an hour or two. She waited more than 24 hours for an answer from tech support.

This example isn’t meant to rag on the IT team, but rather to demonstrate how efficiently Yammer can help you crowdsource information. “You never know who is on that feed watching and who is a subject-matter expert and who can immediately answer without ever clogging your inbox,” French says.

3. Get the word out.

As a communicator, you’re used to people pestering you to push their information. Lucky for you, Yammer is an easy way for people to distribute that information themselves.

For example, a member of Teach for America’s IT team uses Yammer to post answers to frequently asked technology questions and share helpful information, such as how to stay safe online. He includes a hashtag on each post so people can easily find the information later.

Yammer shouldn’t be your only method of communicating with employees, French warns. It’s where you can keep certain information top of mind, “but it is not your only way of getting the information to employees, especially for very important things like benefits or open enrollment,” he says.

4. Strategically spur traffic.

Though many Yammer conversations happen organically, French and his team often try to spark additional engagement. One way they do this is by offering content that employees can find only on Yammer, including The Chat.

The Chat is a open conversation that Teach for America employees have monthly with the organization’s co-CEOs. It’s a chance for employees to ask their leaders anything they want. Employees can phone in their questions, but French says more people participate by submitting questions through Yammer.

French will start a thread on Yammer, including a searchable hashtag. Employees pose questions in the thread, and the CEOs will answer either in the thread or on the call. A chat about diversity brought in more than 600 posts.

5. Connect people.

“People enjoy the interaction with other people, because it’s human. It just feels natural to interact with people,” French says.

That’s why it’s important to pepper in some fun on the internal social network.

An employee from Teach for America’s technology department posts riddles every week, and French welcomes new Yammer users every month by asking fun questions and tagging them. When he asked users to share their favorite boy band, the post saw strong engagement.

“Creating ways to allow people to engage with one another, laugh and have fun-even when you’re not in person-is a very important concept,” French says.

6. Stick with it.

French’s most important piece of advice is to stick with Yammer, even if it doesn’t seem to be catching on. He recommends using the internal social network for several months to track and understand how people are using it. He says, “You have to be that one person who believes that Yammer can be the solution.”

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