At Nationwide, Yammer links rank-and-file with the C-suite

Try these four steps when making micro-blogging part of your internal communications.

Try these four steps when making micro-blogging part of your internal communications

There are limitless options for bringing social media into your company internally.

Tools are available for intranets—commenting, sharing, creating profiles—and there are dozens of third-party options for internal Facebook or Twitter-like applications, or anything in between. Add Yammer to the list.

An internal micro-blogging tool fashioned much like Twitter, Yammer is accessible only by your staff.

Employees at Nationwide Insurance find it so useful that 7,000 of its 36,000 employees have jumped on it in the last year without prompting from internal communicators.

How? The director of social media at Nationwide, Shawn Morton, tried Yammer and initially thought it wouldn’t be useful because it was too similar to Twitter and Facebook. Then, several senior leaders, including the president and chief technology officer tried it, which set off a chain reaction within the company.

“We went quickly from a dozen users to thousands of users over the course of the next few months,” Morton says. “It’s growing all by word of mouth.”

Although it might not be so easy to sell, here’s what you can do to persuade management to give Yammer a try.

1. Find an advocate. Track down decision-makers who realize the value of social media.

Morton found advocates in the company president and chief technology officer, who were enthusiastic about Yammer’s potential and decided to get involved.

As is true for many communicators, Morton had to familiarize them with how social media could fit into Nationwide’s culture.

“I think the big hesitation was, “How are we going to be participating?'” Morton says.

“It’s so open and so transparent that there may have been some concern,” he says, “but I had at least enough support from leadership that they said, ‘Let’s move forward, let’s put a plan together.’ As a concept and as an opportunity, they definitely saw something there.”

Morton made the business case for why it would be useful and got the green light to launch Facebook and Twitter presences, as well as Yammer.

2. Break down the company hierarchy. If your boss is still hesitant, promote the benefits, one of which is employee engagement, which Yammer offers.

(Learn more about why some companies use Yammer.)

An employee who wouldn’t feel comfortable sending an e-mail to the president can now engage with him through Yammer. The president, who may not feel comfortable talking football with employees in the lunchroom, can do so through the informality of micro-blogging.

“It’s very authentic,” Morton says. “It doesn’t come off as a press release or that someone else is writing for them. You can hear the tone of their voice, and they’ll often share things like, ‘I just met with the board; these are the topics we discussed. This is the topic we will focus on more next quarter or next year.’ “

Yammer doesn’t have the 140-character limit that Twitter does. Instead of, “What are you doing?” it asks the question, “What are you working on?” Comments like these give employees insight into the company, and they often respond with something like, “Thanks for sharing. Thanks for giving us access to this information.”

Tip: It helps that leaders are as active on Yammer as employees. Executives should ask questions just as much as they contribute to conversations.

3. Don’t give it a hard sell; let it evolve organically.

Third-party micro-blogging platforms such as Yammer may not look good on paper, says Morton.

“Yammer is from a startup, it’s Web-based, it’s outside the firewall,” Morton says. “Those things probably work against it from being initiated internally. Give it a try, see how it works, and if it does, it’s a great test case.”

Yammer has gained widespread popularity in its first 15 months at Nationwide. Now, as its growth is slowing down, Morton says it may be time to talk it up on the intranet to give it another surge of users.

So far, employees use it primarily for business purposes. They post articles, talk about work they’re doing, announce events, ask questions, or even become a part of work-related groups. (There are about 200 at Nationwide.)

Sometimes, they even ask questions about how to use it.

“A lot of times the users will post that they’re new and they don’t know what to do with it, and the community actually jumps in and gives them a little bit of encouragement,” Morton says.

4. Don’t make too many rules.

Although Nationwide has an electronic policy that covers e-mail and intranet, it doesn’t have a formal social media policy.

Morton prefers it that way: “It depends on how you approach it, but I think people will accept you giving them tips about how to use it well, but I don’t think they necessarily always look well upon, ‘Here are some rules: Don’t do this, don’t do this, and don’t do this.'”

There haven’t been any negative repercussions to Yammer at Nationwide, Morton says. Workers use their real names and photos, and that helps preclude abuses that might occur in anonymous communities. It may also help stop people who use Yammer to waste valuable work time.

“It’s all out in the open; it’s hard to hide,” Morton says. “For the people who are the heaviest users, you could do everything to lock it down but they could pull out their iPhone if they really want to waste time.”

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