07 Jul
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Yammer Customer Network: A Use Case For Yammer Communities

By in Tips & Guides on July 7, 2011

In Greg Lowe’s last post Creating a Yammer Community, he described the basic configuration to set up a Yammer community within your Yammer network. This basic functionality can get you collaborating with key groups outside your company quickly. What happens when you have more complex requirements?

Without examples, this wouldn’t be a very interesting post, and since we “drink our own champagne” here at Yammer, I’m going to use our own Yammer customer community as an example. The Yammer Customer Network (YCN) is an example of a robust Yammer community for all Yammer customers. With almost 1,500 very active members (and growing daily), there’s a lot of content that’s being created. Although it’s absolutely key to the health of your community to allow for flow and serendipity, growth necessitates a set of best practices and structural decisions to be made. With Yammer Premium, you can include Usage Policies, Groups and Content Monitoring that can catapult your community to the next level. Here are some elements that make our network successful:

Ease of access

For each community member, the Yammer YCN appears as another network on the homepage. You can track your total unread message count (in red); and when you click the drop- down, you can see which networks you have access to and an unread messages count in each network.

Usage policy and best practices

Prior to joining the YCN, all members have to accept the Usage Policy (premium feature). This agreement is written in plain English and indicates among other things that our customer network is a “no sales zone”. It also clearly establishes repercussions for republishing confidential information publicly and being maliciously hurtful towards other members.

In addition to the above “non-negotiables” from the usage policy, we’ve set forth a set of best practices that make this community a better place. In this article,  I’ve discussed the difference between policy and governance. Think of policy as a set of “don’ts” and governance as a set of enablers, answering the question of what to do vs. what not to do. In the end with proper guidance and education, each community will eventually self-organize around a set of guiding principles.

Ideally, your community should strike a balance between proactive knowledge and best practices sharing (informing) asking questions (provoking thought) and answering questions (sharing experiences). In addition to clearly stating the mission and the usage policy, make sure you take the time to educate and maintain dialog about the health of your community.

Clear role definition and active community management

Active community management is imperative because it establishes accountability. As the YCN grew, so did the need for multiple people to manage the community. This is where being able to assign multiple administrators to a community comes in handy (premium feature). We still recommend that you limit this capability to as few people as possible, but having at least one backup ensures that your process doesn’t bottleneck if your community manager / admin travels, gets sick or (gasp!) goes on vacation. As more people start to participate in your community, you will want to establish roles for various members; their admin access is going to be driven by these roles.

Noise management

In the beginning, we had very few groups. Activity in the main feed was lower, and most people followed all of the messages. Now that we are managing the community actively, we are seeing a large uptick in activity and are finding it helpful to use Groups (premium feature) to focus specific conversations around things such as Product Feedback, Yammer 101, QA, Product Releases, Analytics, etc. We established these key groups, as well as encouraged members to create new groups to fit their needs. Here’s the rule of thumb in the YCN: when the whole community can benefit, post to the main feed; if your conversation is specific in nature, make sure that you are posting to a group. When commenting on items in the main feed, make sure you keep in mind others’ level of noise.

Private and public spaces

Each paying company gets a private group on Yammer for communicating directly with the Customer Success Team. This enables teams to share information quickly and help others see the history of activities as new people join the customer team. You may also opt to create private Groups for the purpose of collaborating with specific people around specific topics in a private setting. Keep in mind that once you determine privacy settings in Yammer, you can’t change them later.

Engagement events

Make sure you start by seeding the community with the “right” members — members who are passionate about reaching the community’s overall goal and are likely to start and participate in discussions that others will find useful later. After you have grown your community to a suitable level of engagement, continue to invite everyone you planned to invite.

Sometimes, a community event is a great way to “inaugurate” the community. We recently merged several communities into one and relaunched it. In order to kickstart excitement and engagement, as well as get all the members to meet each other, we held an event purely in Yammer. In a townhall format, Yammer CEO David Sacks answered questions in real-time. A more detailed account of the steps we took and the results it produced is forthcoming. One of our customers, Austen Hunter, wrote this great post detailing best practices of running such an event. An event that has a broad-based appeal to your community could mark a great start for your community. Make sure your engagement activities don’t stop there! For more tips on effective community management, check out my post for CMSWire.

Photo source: katielips

2 Responses to Yammer Customer Network: A Use Case For Yammer Communities

  1. Christine says:

    I’m not sure I understand the difference between network and community within Yammer. Can you clarify?

    • Maria says:

      Christine, thanks for pointing this out. “Communities” is an old term, and this this post was written before they were renamed. Currently, “communities” are named “External Networks”. An External Network is like your regular (internal) network, to which you can invite external contributors. It’s perfect for connecting with partners, customers, and other members of your ecosystem — to communicate and collaborate more closely.

      Thanks again, Christine!

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