This Is Not Your Parents’ Software Training

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Many of our customers ask us: “What type of training should I do for Yammer?” I think that’s a very important question to ask, because the evolution of work software necessitates an evolution of training programs behind it. On the one hand, software like Yammer is easy-to-use and really intuitive, but on the other hand, education and training are still important because your success is determined by how you use it. Just because something doesn’t need a manual on how to use it, doesn’t mean that everyone knows what to do with it.

In the end, technology is only part of the equation; the bigger — and more complex — part of the equation are the people and how they use the technology. Things get even more nuanced in the business setting, because the success of a network like Yammer is based on its ability to meet organization-wide objectives, departmental objectives as well as individual objectives. Your training strategy is going to be highly contextualized to your business, but here are some big-picture things to keep in mind:

  • Less classroom, more hands-on: Social software is highly experiential and thus doesn’t lend itself to long classroom sessions of yesteryear, where the presenter takes all day to explain a complicated product — feature by bloated feature. Rather, it’s something that has to be experienced. Because social software is highly dynamic, facility with such software becomes greater the more feedback you get from using it. You should still do classroom training occasionally, but focus them on a dialogue rather than static one-way communication. It’s also important to note that social media has taught us to learn in different ways: the velocity of obsolescence means that we have to learn and master something in a shorter time than a conventional “class” could ever accommodate.
  • Focus on benefits, use cases and relevance: Remember, everyone is tuned into their favorite radio station WIIFM: “what’s in it for me?” Employees don’t need one more thing to use;  they need something that helps them get their job done faster, better and with greater pleasure (that’s right — aesthetics and usability matter at work). More than teaching people how to click around in the tool — although you will have to do some of that with “digital dinosaurs“– your focus should be on demonstrating value and relevance and helping understand how the tool fits into their workflow. If you can help people tie their own success to it (more visibility, better career, more money), you are golden!
  • Focus on the “why” and not the “what”: A good way to illustrate relevance is to focus on the “why” of something vs. the “what”. For example, if you want employees to fill out their profiles, you can’t make it a task and expect compliance. Rather, focus on why having a profile is important and how it’s going to help your users get found by someone looking for their expertise.
  • No death by powerpoint: If you do elect to do a more conventional class, keep it more of a dynamic discussion vs. a one-way rehearsed speech. Sometimes, you will need to present some theory, and when you do, I implore you to not kill your audience by powerpoint. Powerpoint is an aide that brings to life your words and helps guide your presentation flow. As a rule of thumb, use minimal words and pictures that elicit an emotional response — you want to connect your words to emotions. If you have paragraphs and excessive bullets in your presentation, you are doing it wrong.
  • Focus on best practices: Consistent with your overall goals for the platform, you should help define best practices — how you want people to behave. Your community is going to evolve its best practices over time, but you should take the initial step. While you should cover tips for success in a training session, the real bulk of the job is to nurture your users as they dive into the product. Having a core group of “ambassadors” (or as our customers call them “Yambassadors”) is paramount in setting a productive tone, as later members will mimic their behaviors.
  • Demystify what, when, where: To write this post, I consulted with my esteemed colleague Allison Michels, our internal guru on training. “You need to help your users create a what / when / where decision chart,” she advised. Oftentimes people don’t know what message should be posted to what medium and they end up getting nervous and not posting, or wreaking havoc on the natural “flow” of the community. Make sure you help people demystify the complexity of modern communication — what goes on email vs. what belongs on Yammer.
  • Millennials do need training. Millenials, as good as they are at social technology, still do need training. The training they will need is different from what late adopters need. They don’t need to be sold on importance of conversation or possibilities of viral content and serendipitous discovery. What they do need is to understand is how Yammer is different from Facebook — from differences in content and audience, to the techniques, such as using groups to get work done.
  • Provide a private space: Another pearl of wisdom from Allison is that you need to provide a private space for new users to post messages. This will help alleviate anxiety and give them a safe place to “practice” before posting to a network with 10,000 people. This way, they can become an expert in private, where you can coach them.
  • No drive-by training: As we established, learning by doing is really key. This doesn’t mean that you give your users one training session and throw them into the wild to fend for themselves. Keep your virtual door open and establish a space (Yammer groups are great for it) where you can be available to answer questions. Mobilize your ambassadors to also help new users, and foster a mentorship (perhaps a reverse-mentorship) culture. Create a resources catalogue, where you can post a selection “Get started” resources and FAQs.

Remember, your training is not about a single class, which is refreshed once a year. It’s an ongoing dialogue, which aims to enrich the novice, the advanced, and the expert — all at the same time. You as the trainer, will learn quite a bit in the process yourself. Guide people, but give them the freedom to discover the possibilities. In the words of Allison, “your job is not to turn on the lightbulb, it’s to facilitate others turning on their own lightbulbs.”

Good luck and happy teachings! Please drop us a note in the comments and let us know what’s been working / not working for you.

Photo credit: Kaptain Kobold

  1. Thanks for this post. At our organisation we try to implement Yammer for over a year now. We are a k12 school foundation that is spread over 11 locations. The employees agree and see the value of yammer. But it hasn’t taken a flight yet. As soon as your single sign on with google apps for education is completed the system is completely integrated with all the tools a primairy teacher needs. Above post touches the points we are aiming for now. Thank you Maria.

    • Thanks for sharing your story! Please email me if you would like for someone from Yammer to get in touch with you to help you along the journey. My email is maria (at)

      – Maria

  2. Great comments on “Just because something doesn’t need a manual on how to use it, doesn’t mean that everyone knows what to do with it.” I’m about to retweet the same on Twitter. The biggest things that I think are stopping our org from using Yammer more effectively are 1) bugs with search functionality and 2) endorsement by management and the type of “what” and “why” training mentioned in this article (and “how” training for a few)

    • Eric, thanks for your comment. I’d like to know more about the bugs with search you are experiencing. Can you email me at maria (at)

      Senior leadership’s endorsement is really key, as well as being deliberate in your strategy and best practices. If you send me an email, I’d love to put you in touch with someone who can help you with your strategy.

      – Maria

  3. I’ve found it’s been somewhat effective to model good social business connecting, forming communities and communicating and then highlighted what I did. For example, I asked a question, tagged it as Articulate (always buggy) and as ‘help’. An expert user in our business posted an answer and I modified the tags (topics) to add ‘answered’. Then I showed people what I did, what that’s a good idea and demonstrate searching for the same answer to show it makes people more productive if they can find answers faster without tying up experts with the same questions all the time.

    Also, if someone posts something or e-mail’s something, I post a nice reply explaining how they could have done that differently, the value that would have created, and explained how to do it. Yammer coaching if you will 🙂

    What else is everyone doing? What’s working?

    • Thanks for sharing it with the Yammer community, Blair. How do you strike the balance between showing a “better way” vs. becoming too “preachy”?

  4. Mike Thomas

    Great blog post, which is very timely (I found it via a Google search for Yammer training). I’m currently putting together a 1-hour overview training session about Yammer – in fact Allison has kindly offered to help. Thanks again for some great thoughts – this one has been added to my browser’s Favorites!

    • Mike, that’s great to hear! Is your training session internal-only, or will you be sharing any parts of it externally? What other topics should we write about that are useful to you?

  5. Mike Thomas

    Hi Maria. It’s internal to our company. There are 60,000 employed here. About 20% have signed up to Yammer but we have a “slient majority” – I’d say that many people have signed up because they’re curious – maybe they’ve seen a note about it on the Intranet, maybe a colleague has mentioned it to them. But most of these people don’t post anything and probably don’t even look at Yammer on a regular basis. They don’t understand social networking and see Yammer as too much like Twitter/Facebook. It’s a timewaster and they don’t have the time to “waste”.

    As a trainer, my aim is to create a training event that enlightens and educates people in our company about the business benefits of Yammer. I’m happy to share my thoughts, ideas and feedback on here!

    As for other topics? Well I’ll have to think about that one.


    • Just wanted to give you an update. I’ve delivered a few training sessions now. The’ve all gone down really well. I’ve managed to convert a few people and the sceptics are less sceptical.

      I’ve focussed on the benefits, some use cases and relevance and even set up a dummy group for people to play in.


  6. As I move from teaching children to teaching adults, it surprises me that the business world is catching up to elementary-school teaching practices.

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