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Implementing Yammer within Your Organization Using Twitter Best Practices

September 20, 2010

Written by Elizabeth C. Castro, Vice President, O’Malley Hansen Communications and Matthew Young, Communications Manager, Hanesbrands Inc.

There’s a joke in the Facebook community that says if you’re not on Facebook, you’re deceased. It sounds morbid, of course, but it speaks volumes about the power of social media: If you’re not using it, you’re not communicating with others or the world around you. The staggering numbers of individuals who flock social media sites from nearly all age groups continues to grow. They use these communities as the primary way to keep in touch with friends and family, connect with brands and companies and hear from news outlets. And with each post they read, they’re able to broadcast their support, or lack thereof with just a few strokes of the keyboard and a click of the mouse.

Two-Way Conversations are Now the Norm

Without a doubt, social media has vastly changed the way we communicate, creating an environment where two-way conversations are the norm. We expect it. We demand it. A similar expectation has translated into how employees want to engage with their employers. Employees are no longer satisfied with simply “being in the know”. They also want to ask questions about decisions being made within their organization, and voice their opinions – just like on social media platforms.

So what does this mean for internal communicators? Well, the traditional models of internal communications, such as employee newsletters or intranet news sites, while still valuable, fail to allow employees to speak their minds. But that is starting to change. Now, internal communicators are turning to social media platforms to open up the lines of communication, which are creating more engaged workforces.

Behaviors that Demonstrate Engagement (and that Social Media Can Encourage)

Surprisingly, past research on employee engagement* and how employees internalize organizational values reveal some important findings that still hold true when using social media for internal communications. The lesson is that if you get people talking in the right way, engagement and demonstration of core values will be revealed and enforced. Here are a few highlights that relate:

  • The power of the “water cooler” – Story sharing helps employees stay connected, forge relationships and learn more about your organization.  Internal communicators have continually tried to harness the power of informal networks or the “water cooler effect” with hard-won success. We’re not saying that social media can replace in-person relationships – they can’t –but social media can provide the next best thing to the water cooler, especially for organizations with global workforces.
  • Simply guide the discussion – Internal communicators already have the tools in place to push one-way information out to employees through newsletters and intranets, but they can also foster the right water cooler conversations by providing gentle cues. Simply provide guidance on issues and topics that show their voices have been heard and employees will “internalize company values and embody them on their own and in a personally relevant way.”  In strong cultures, employees are motivated – in part — by the actions of their peers.
  • Public recognition by peers builds engagement – Who knew the U.S. Navy’s internal communication structure was so effective! They have a system of public recognition amongst peers that motivates and encourages employees to live the organization’s values of honor, courage and commitment. The result: recognition of successes taps a desire to be part of something successful and creates an environment where collaboration toward a common goal is an inherent part of their daily lives.

The Implementation Process

In mid-2009, Hanesbrands Inc. looked at these behaviors as the results they hoped to achieve with an enhanced internal communications program that included use of a social media platform. After reviewing possible platforms to pilot, Yammer seemed like the right solution. Yammer is a Twitter-meets-LinkedIn micro-blogging platform used by more than 60,000 companies of all sizes. The primary draw was that it could create a secure, non-public social network that employees could use for quick conversations and clever collaboration.

The company felt this was a good starting point. But it wasn’t a completely smooth process. At first the team tried to restrict discussions to a particular topic and a particular team. Subsequently, the test quickly failed. Few employees used Yammer at all, dubbing it “boring” and “useless.” Then, the team decided to apply proven social media principles. The result: usage soared. Soon, any work topic became fair game for any employee to converse about and two-way conversations between management and employees started appearing regularly. It was exciting to see the success.Here are three critical tactics (and lessons learned) to get a social media tool off the ground within your organization:

  • Gain leadership support – Show leaders (even if it’s just one or two!) the value of micro-blogging within their teams by applying it to their favorite initiatives. Employees will be pleased to see their managers are part of the process and even more pleased when someone on the leadership team responds or comments on their posts.
  • Partner with your IT function early – The issue of security and safety will be a key concern for your IT function. So do your homework and include IT early in the process to ensure the platform meets your IT group’s requirements. Also ask about accessibility for all employees via the Web, e-mail, iPhones, BlackBerries, or an Outlook plug-in.
  • Help employees use the platform and see the value – A little training goes a long way. Help orient employees with a brief presentation (live or documented) on how to use the platform (be specific!) and share success stories from its use. Give explicit next steps for employees to take when getting started. This will ensure that open conversations are interesting, relevant and appropriate.

The Five Guiding Principles for Success

Once your internal social media tool is in place, get maximum value by following the best practices already used in external social media tools outside of work. Here are the guiding principles:

  1. Content is king – Focus on the conversation, not the platform. Conversations with relevant content create value and drive continued involvement. Over time, employees will naturally gain a better understanding about your company and begin to build a stronger sense of pride in it.
  2. Openness rules – Organizations should be prepared to hear it all: the good and the bad. Communicators should coach leaders and subject matter experts to address any negative comments in an open fashion through honest, two-way conversations.
  3. Be personal – Social media is not mass media – the megaphone mentality just doesn’t work. Employees expect answers from real people, not one-way corporate dispatches.
  4. Input = engagement – Create opportunities for employees to feel more engaged by asking for input that spurs discussion and could drive your organization forward. Think of it as a virtual suggestions box.
  5. Recognize them – Social media is hands-down the easiest way to recognize the achievements of employees publicly. Make good use of your social network by doing this often, and coach leaders to do the same. Also encourage others to recognize their peers.

Internal vs. External

Since restricting social media use is less effective than allowing discussion on any topic, it should be noted that one big advantage of using an internal social media platform (rather than Facebook or Twitter) for company conversations is confidentiality. Creating a secure internal network for employees to discuss anything, especially non-public discussions, gives employees the latitude to make progress on any issue and add more value.

To be fair, there is a certainly a need for employees at companies to be active, honest voices in external social media. For internal communications, however, a secure social network, even with a small amount of expense, can add much greater value than the riskier alternatives – without compromising your company’s policy on information sharing.

External social networks are the perfect training grounds for using social media for internal communications. Following the same best practices found on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn with your internal social media is the easiest and most natural way to embrace social networks at work.

* Source: Communications Executive Council, “Guiding Employees to Model Brand Values” (2007)

Elizabeth C. Castro is a vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications in Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter @Eliz_Castro. Matthew Young is the Communications Manager at Hanesbrands Inc., a leading marketer of apparel under strong consumer brands, including Hanes, Champion, Playtex, Bali, Just My Size, barely there and Wonderbra. You can follow him on Twitter @YoungComm. 

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