Encouraging adoption in enterprise social networks

In my job, consulting with many organisations who are adopting Microsoft products and services, including Office 365, I have a lot of discussions about Yammer and other modern communication methods (e.g. Sway).

Many have already had pilots with Yammer and found it didn’t work for them. Some are smart enough to realise that it wasn’t Yammer at fault but a lack of executive sponsorship. Adapting a new medium for communication takes time; it needs a cultural shift. If your boss uses it, you might consider giving it a try (although when I had a team, my experience at getting them to use Yammer was best described as mixed). But if your boss’ boss uses it, or the CEO, and the internal communications team are are using it instead of email, then you might stand some chance of success – because, as well as executive sponsorship, it needs critical mass (which means people need a reason to visit).

Of course, the platform itself has to be usable. In my last place the corporate social platform was Newsgator (which was awful), coupled with an old version of SharePoint and, aside from the teams whose job it was to evangelise its use, it was pretty much ignored. In fact, so much so that other social networks popped up in their own bubbles: the sales community were using Salesforce Chatter; although Yammer actually seemed to gain more traction in some areas (via an external network hosted by Microsoft for partner engagement) because there was something of value there for people.

So, we need executive sponsorship, critical mass, and a usable platform, with content that people value. But there’s something else too – people have to stop using the old methods in parallel.

Recently, I witnessed one organisation where someone posted some infomration on Yammer and it got a flurry of activity/commentary on the original post (so far so good). Then someone else sent an email to a distribution group to highlight the same information. That sender might not have seen the original post but email isn’t a good way to share links about new products. Some (myself included) may consider it as just unsolicited bulk email (spam) but spam that’s sent from inside the organisation. To make matters worse, because Office 365 Clutter doesn’t filter out email from people in your management chain, that email will never be filtered.

No, no, no, no! Post once, on the right medium*. Yammer for information sharing/comments on a topic that might run and run; instant messaging for messages that require a response… instantly (the clue’s in the name) and stop abusing email (which, incidentally is an asynchronous communications mechanism to which you should not require, or even expect, a response). As for voice mail, SMS, etc. Well, who knows… anyway, I’m supposed to be writing about getting people using enterprise social networks here – not a lecture on communication methods (and I know one size doesn’t fit all).

So, that’s my view – which you might agree with, or you may not. But it’s been cathartic to have a little online rant and at least it means I’ll get at least one blog post up this month! For another view, take a look at what the Yammer team at Microsoft shared with me – a 2012 Office blog post on Deploying a Successful Enterprise Social Network: Best Practices From the Field.

 

Mark Wilson is an increasingly busy, grumpy and ranty man, who wants to reduce the volume of email arriving in his Inbox…

* I do have to admit that, on occasion, I have been known to email a group of people and say “please reply to my thread on Yammer”, because I knew a lot of them didn’t use it but I wanted everyone to see the replies withough creating a Reply All email storm. This is not good.

Restricting access to Yammer

A few days ago, Matt Ballantine wrote about Enterprise Social Media and the need to focus on building an audience:

Internal communications people can fall into the trap of believing that what they produce is content rather than advertising. Internal communications appears to be the only form of direct marketing to which there is no legal right to opt out.

 

The challenge then with Enterprise Social Networks, especially when they are treated as an internal media channel, is that if all you are pushing out is advertising (and yes, the latest interview with the CEO about the next 5 year strategy is advertising) you are trying to build an audience on marketing alone.

So, cue Yammer, Microsoft’s Enterprise Social Networking product, purchased a few years ago and slowly being integrated into Office 365…

As I wrote back in July, Yammer comes in two flavours:

  • Yammer Basic is a bit like the wild west – users sign up with their corporate email accounts and a network is formed, using company resources, but over which the company has no control.
  • Yammer Enterprise is a paid product, included in certain Office 365 Enterprise subscriptions, which provides a level of administrative control.

Yammer tile from Office 365But, here’s the gotcha – once you activate Yammer on your Office 365 subscription, a Yammer tile will appear on the Office 365 App Launcher and you have no way to turn it off.

I was recently working with a customer who had activated Yammer on their domains (to shut down the anarchy of Yammer Basic) but who wasn’t ready to start using the product yet (going back to Matt’s point about building an audience – i.e. launching the platform in a controlled manner, with appropriate business sponsorship and support).

Disabling logon to Yammer

With a Yammer tile in Office 365 but no way to turn it off, I was left looking at options for restricting access to Yammer:

  1. Use block lists to prevent users from logging on. That doesn’t scale and would be an administrative nightmare, so it’s not really a credible option.
  2. Disable Yammer in ADFS using a claims transformation rule (more information on TechNet). This would have been a nice idea except that Yammer SSO is deprecated since support for Office 365 authentication was introduced (it’s still supported, but not being developed). Denying access to Yammer on the Office 365 Identity Platform relying party trust meant that I also denied access to other Office 365 services!
  3. Use PowerShell to modify user licences except that doesn’t work – changes to the YAMMER_ENTERPRISE plan do not have any effect.
  4. Use Yammer’s logical firewall to block access based on IP address (thanks to Steve Rush for the suggestion). This is a bit crude but it works – just make sure there is a range for which access is allowed, so you can still get in and administer the network when you are ready to start using it!

Blocking access to Yammer via IP - end user experience

Pick the primary domain when activating Yammer on an Office 365 tenant

One of the challenges with working with Office 365 for a living is that it now offers a pretty broad range of services. I work in a unified communications and messaging team (think Skype for Business and Exchange) but I also need to know about:

  • Windows identity topics including Active Directory (AD), Azure Active Directory (AAD), Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS).
  • Windows server roles/features like Web Application Proxy as well as the obvious infrastructure services candidates (DNS, etc.).
  • SharePoint – if not to set up site collections etc. then at least to manage OneDrive for Business.
  • Office – integration of office apps – desktop and mobile.
  • Yammer

(…and the list goes on)

Yammer can be challenging, partly because it’s still fairly loosely-coupled to Office 365, but also because it keeps changing (as do all of the Office 365 services, I guess).  Last week I was working with a customer who had several domain names on their Office 365 tenant and who wanted to bring them together in Yammer.  Unfortunately I’d already activated Yammer Enterprise on their Office 365 tenant, using the domain name for one of their subsidiary companies and you only get one shot at the initial activation.

After raising a service request, we were directed to a Microsoft Office support page on consolidating multiple Yammer networks… but any subsequent moves will result in data loss – which is why it’s important to pick the primary network when activating Yammer (you can export the data, but often the Yammer networks are unmanaged, informal networks created by employees outside the control of the IT department). I’m hopeful that Microsoft will be able to switch the primary network for us before merging the networks.

Getting started with Yammer

Yammer has been around for years but a while back it was purchased by Microsoft. It’s kind of like Facebook, but for businesses, and now that it’s included in certain Office 365 plans, I’m increasingly finding myself talking to customers about it as they look to see what it can offer.

The thing about Yammer though, is that it’s (still) not very tightly integrated with Office 365.  It’s getting closer in that Yammer can be used to replace the SharePoint newsfeed and that you can now log on to Yammer with Office 365 credentials (avoiding the need to have a directory synchronisation connector with an on-premises Active Directory) but it’s still very loosely coupled.

Yammer has a stealth model for building a user base or, as Microsoft puts it, the “unique adoption model” of Yammer allows organisations to become social. Most companies will already be using it in pockets, under the radar of the IT department (or at least without their explicit consent) because all that’s needed to sign up to Yammer is an email address.

As soon as two or more people with the same domain name sign up, you have a network, in Yammer terminology.

Yammer Basic

The free Yammer Basic service allows people to communicate within a network, structured around an activity feed, which is a rich microblog to track what colleagues are doing, get instant feedback on running conversations, share documents and information on projects people are working on. Users can like posts, reply, and use hashtags/topics for social linking, flag a post and point to someone in a reply. They can also create/respond to polls to get ad-hoc opinion on an issue.

Yammer Groups allow for scoped topics of conversation – for example around a project, or a social activity. Users can follow other users or groups to select information that’s interesting to them – and Yammer will suggest people/groups to follow.

Yammer Enterprise

When an organisation is ready to adopt and manage Yammer centrally, they can add IT controls (essentially, bring it under control of an administrator who controls the creation of groups, membership of those groups, and many other settings).  This is done by upgrading to the Yammer Enterprise product, either as a standalone service or, more typically these days, integrated with an Office 365 subscription (typically an enterprise plan, but other plans are available).

In theory, activating Yammer on your Office 365 subscription is a simple step (described by Jethro Segers in his Office 365 tip of the day post). Unfortunately, when I tried with a customer last week it took over an hour (with the page telling me it would take between 1 and 30 minutes, so be patient! It also needs the domain name to be verified in the tenant, which may already be the case for other services, or may require some additional steps. The whole process is described in a Microsoft blog post from the French SharePoint GBS team.

Each Yammer network has its own URI. In the case of a company network it will be yammer.com/companyname, based on the email address used to create the network.  If multiple domain names are in use, they can be linked to the same network but the network will always be private to the company that owns it. Also, I found that one of my customers had two domains registered in Office 365 so we used the one associated with the parent (holding) company for yammer, and until we repeat the process to bring in the other domains, users are authenticating with their @holdingcompanyname.com addresses.

External networks

External networks can be created for collaboration outside the company – e.g. to business partners and I have started to create them with my customers for collaborating around projects, getting them used to using Yammer as we work together on an Office 365 pilot, for example. Access to external networks is by invitation only, but can include users from multiple organisations. Each external network has a parent, which retains overall control.

Wrap-up

In this post, I’ve described the basics of Yammer. I’m sure there are many other elements to consider but this is enough to be getting started with. I’m sure I’ll post some more as I find answers to my customers’ questions over the coming months and some of my colleagues hosted a webcast on Yammer recently, which can be viewed below:

For more information, check out:

Short takes: Shrinking Outlook OSTs; locating and removing “stale” Yammer users; editing GPS tracks

Some more snippets of blog posts…

Reducing the size of your Outlook offline store

Tim Anderson commented recently that he’d noticed how recreating his Outlook offline store (.OST) file was more effective than compressing it.  I decided to give mine a go (especially as my recently shrunken Inbox means there wouldn’t be much to re-sync).

Unfortunately, my IT admins appear to have locked down my configuration via group policy so I couldn’t disable/re-enable cached mode. @p3rfact came up with a suggestion that worked though:

As it happens, my file was not that large – although recreating it did reduce the size by around 25%.

Clearing out users from Yammer

Yammer  networks can be synchronised with Active Directory using Yammer Directory Sync but ours is not (for various reasons). There is a pretty simple workaround though for clearing out users from Yammer who have left the company (credit due to @AlanPurchase for working this one out):

  1. From the Network Admin view in Yammer, export a .CSV file with all the users in the network.
  2. Open the .CSV file in Excel and filter on the state field to show active users and on the email field to include domains that you are interested in (for example, I only wanted those in our UK organisation).
  3. Cut and paste email addresses into a new email in Outlook, then use Ctrl+K to resolve the names against the Global Address List. Anyone that isn’t in the GAL will not have their email address resolved.
  4. In Yammer, remove each of the users that are no longer in the organisation – you have the option to remove their posts or leave their posts and remove the account (more details in Microsoft knowledge base article 2820235).

GPS Track Editing

I’ve blogged before about how I log all of my bike rides, runs, etc. – it’s sad, but I like to see where I went on a map – and to know how I performed. Every once on a while, things go wrong though – like one time last summer when my Garmin suddenly decided I was several miles away and the route I was following became nonsense. The only answer was to reset the thing and start tracking again (breaking my ride into multiple tracks).

I found a free GPS Track Editor that helped me to merge/edit tracks (directly editing the XML in GPX files is a chore) and create something that at least represented the route I was on (although it does have one section that is a dead straight line “joining the gap” between my two usable tracks – it should actually follow the road via Whittlebury)!

Redirecting users from a PC browser to a mobile app: one of the few good uses for a QR code?

A couple of years ago, QR codes were all the rage. The groovy little black and white hieroglyphs were on every bus-shelter advert, leaflet and even business cards.  Some were in colour, and some either relied on the built in error correction to become a piece of art! I wasn’t convinced that they always made sense though – and it seemed I wasn’t alone…

Some studies showed that consumers didn’t know what they were. Others warned of malware hidden in QR links. Some were cynical. And some analysts warned of their impending demise:

QR codes are ugly. Give me ubiquitous, directional RFID instead. We won’t be plagued with QR codes in 2012

@mgualtieri

Mike Gualtieri

Earlier today I was asked to join a business partner’s Yammer network.  This particular (Redmond-based) partner has a “special” interest in Yammer (ahem), so I dusted off my old, not-used-for-a-couple-of-years Yammer credentials, signed in and accepted the request. Yammer encouraged me to update my profile (fair enough… it was 2 years out of date), and then to download the mobile app (sure, why not?)…

[imagine sound effect of record needle scratching and music coming to abrupt end…]

Some mobile app developers are smart enough to realise that, when you navigate to a page on your PC that advertises their mobile app, you don’t actually want to go to the app store from the PC browser… so, what’s the perfect way to send you there? Exactly! Provide a QR code, which can be scanned with a mobile device’s camera to jump instantly to the appropriate Apple App Store/Google Play/Windows Marketplace location.

Yammer doesn’t do this.

Sure, it’s easy enough to search the App Store and download the app but, meh, why make it harder? Make the user experience simple. Maximise the number of conversions (or whatever the marketing speak is for “make people download your app”).

Here endeth the lesson.