Tired of e-mail overload? Give Yammer a try

Yammer promises to reduce e-mail overload, boost productivity and turn dry internal communications into useful messaging.

Yammer promises to reduce e-mail overload, boost productivity and turn dry internal communications into useful messaging

If your company’s e-mail is crammed with extraneous info blasts and Twitter doesn’t provide the privacy or flexibility you need, a new tool called Yammer might be the proper avenue for your internal communiques.

YammerIf you’re familiar with Twitter (see previous Ragan stories here and here), you’ll get the Yammer concept. It’s a way to send short messages about your current project or what’s happening in the office—including doughnuts in the conference room.

The messages are viewed online, through a Yammer desktop client, or on mobile devices such as BlackBerries, instead of via e-mail.
Unlike Twitter, which can be viewed by anyone who decides to follow you online, Yammer is limited to your organization. Messages are private and can be targeted to specific workgroups.

Like Twitter, Yammer is free. However, companies that pay a minimal fee ($1 per month per user) can get access to administrative tools, such as password policies and customization.

David Sacks, CEO of West Hollywood, Calif.-based Yammer, is quick to point out how Yammer is not like Twitter.

“We’ve outgrown our Twitter-like roots,” Sacks said. For one thing, he explained, there’s no limit on message lengths. (Twitter messages can be 140 characters, max.) And Yammer, which launched in September, has begun rolling out tools to make its service for friendly to corporate users—such as group messaging and the ability to add attachments.

“We wanted to take a consumer technology and make it just as easy to use at work,” Sacks said of Yammer’s origins. Ease of use is key, Sacks said, adding that wikis and other corporate tools have fallen short of their hype and can be daunting for workers to use and access. Yammer doesn’t require that kind of ramp-up time.

What do people Yammer about? Anything of interest or relevance to co-workers—such as alerts about brainstorming sessions, a noteworthy Web link or maybe an after-hours gathering.

“Before Yammer, all of these conversations would take place on e-mail,” Sacks said. “Yammer moves these discussions out of e-mail; it’s kind of a company discussion board. You can then reserve e-mail for communications that require a response.”

Yammer messages are archived and searchable. Sacks cited the case of a chief marketing officer who used Yammer to get up to speed in his new company.
“I was able to look through my colleagues’ [Yammer messages] yesterday and find some valuable statistics that will help make my job as the CMO here immeasurably easier,” Aaron Strout blogged about his new job at Powered. “I can also get a better sense of the culture, what people talk about, how they converse with one another and what they’re reading.”

Yammer can also encourage people to comment on internal discussions or a salient trade journal article that another person has posted, Sacks said. They might be hesitant to issue a mass e-mail and clutter everyone’s already overstuffed inboxes. With Yammer, they can post a quick opinion with a clearer conscience.

Manage PR accounts with Yammer

At the Omaha ad agency Ervin & Smith, it was the barrage of non-urgent e-mail messages that spurred the adoption of Yammer.

“The president of our company talked about all the e-mail that she’d get if she left the office for just an hour,” said Misty Wendt, a senior account executive at Ervin & Smith. “We thought that we’d love to find a way to communicate without those all-audience e-mails.”

Wendt, a Twitter user, read about Yammer winning the top prize at TechCrunch50, an influential technology event—and decided to give Yammer a spin at the ad agency.
“I love Twitter, but there are certain things I don’t want the whole world to know,” Wendt said, noting that since Yammer is limited to the company, there’s no fear of tipping off the competition.

Cindy West, VP and director of operations at Ink Inc. PR in Kansas City, Mo., said she loves Yammer’s ability to bring a sense of community to a far-flung staff. The company has offices on the West Coast and employs many telecommuters.

“It’s a fast communication tool that can motivate everyone and keep account directors up to speed on what the teams are working on for the client,” West said. “We use the Group function to organize clients, and the team that works that client account is assigned to that group. They then Yammer their activity, story ideas, media feedback, success and current trends. The key is to use it as the activity is happening.”

At Ink Inc., West asks Yammer users to limit messages to business topics—so, no messages about doughnuts in the conference room. “Our office is small—we can just yell down the hall.”

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