How to Ignite a Yammer Network? Try a YamJam!

Austen_Hunter

This is a guest post written by Austen Hunter, Head of Transport Operations at Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC). He is currently responsible for the traffic control center, traffic signals design, real time passenger information systems, among other things. Austen has been instrumental in growing the BHCC Yammer network.

 

I work in a UK local government transport department and have no background in IT or Communications. I don’t even have a social media account with Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, except Yammer, which I joined four months ago. I wanted to try a “YamJam” to discuss an important business priority with a broad range of colleagues and to help promote better use of the network. A YamJam is a focused online discussion, using Yammer, where a group of people get together at the same time to share ideas, questions and views usually on a single topic. There are many different formats. This is how we chose to approach our first one.

To prepare for our “YamJam”, I read-up on as many tips as I could find from others’ experience with this sort of event (special thanks to Ed Krebs!).  I chose a subject that I’m passionate about and one that is relevant to a wide range of colleagues. I gave plenty of advance notice, made a list of all the key interested parties and possible senior sponsors. I sent invites to all those contacts, including our CEO, and kept track of who accepted and who converted acceptance into joining the specific group area on our Yammer network. This helped me to identify those who wanted to join in but might need help to access the network.

We placed an advert on our intranet site one week prior to the event and I sent follow up e-mails to the key people directly, not just as a reminder but also to address objections that I’d picked up from feedback. A common response was “I’m busy at that time”, so I explained that one of the great things about the format is that you can view and contribute at anytime, before or after the main event.

I posted eight suggestion questions in separate posts and invited people to “vote” by using the like button, or to add their own. We ended up with 22 suggestions. I think that this helped some people to engage with the topic and the media in advance.

On the day of the event, I split the 22 questions into ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ categories and chose the most popular in each category to put forward. I also added a ‘feedback’ question to finish on to see what people thought of the YamJam. We actually used six questions, but four would have been enough for one hour.

To break the ice, I asked people to introduce themselves and their interest in the topic at the beginning of the session. Thinking through the categories of the questions and how they link together helped to give the discussion more of a natural flow from one question to the next. At one point, we had people answering three questions at once, which was fine.

We made it clear that nobody was “on the panel.” In other words, anyone was free to jump in and respond to the questions. Having said that, the input from our expert facilitator was invaluable and enabled me to focus more on timing and keeping the discussion moving.

As a result, nine percent of our network’s members provided contributions, and if you apply the 90-9-1 rule, we reckon that, in total, 90 percent would have viewed the discussion, without the need to organise and pay for everyone to travel to a single venue. We received 30 times the number of posts that we normally receive on an average day – all focused on a valuable business priority. It’s hard to quantify how many new members were added to the network as a direct result of the event, but what we do know is that overall, membership has increased by 50 percent between the date that the YamJam as an idea was initially floated (six weeks ago) and the actual event taking place. During that time, our CEO has also joined the network.

Next time, I would focus even more effort on making sure that people feel comfortable with the media. I would also try to find advocates in different parts of the organisation to help increase engagement and share the workload of promoting the event. Clear senior level sponsorship would be great as would more exposure on the intranet. I would gather even more advance feedback and address any concerns. I would also do more to encourage everyone to have a voice and feel comfortable expressing their views and posing questions. Relating the questions to practical, real life examples or case studies could also help people to better connect.

All in all, the session exceeded my expectations. Colleagues have already been asking whether there will be more of these events ,and it has given me lots of ideas for future topics. I sincerely hope that others will take the opportunity to give it a go and host a YamJam of their own!