We have looked at many of the available Microsoft Apps over the last number of weeks, and learned a bit more about these, where they could be used and some pros and cons. You will find a list of these here.

This week, we turn our attention to Yammer. Another Microsoft App.

What is Yammer?

It’s a communications App, not unlike any other chat services you have used but Yammer can have interest groups set up and the conversations only happen within those groups so it’s more of a ‘community of learning’ thing these days.

Yammer has been around for a few years now and it pre-dates Teams. And it appears many of the benefits of Yammer have been incorporated into Teams as well. But, back to Yammer.

What can Yammer do?

It’s a networking tool which can be used across Queen’s (and other institutions). People can be added to groups of interest, for example:

  • Digital forums
  • Health & Safety
  • Wellbeing
  • Student Voice, etc.
  • Programmes of study and specific year groups

The group members can be updated on conversations, policies, events, news, etc., within groups. Queen’s could also set up a broadcast channel where all staff and/or students could be added to a group for those important messages which need to reach everyone. That might be an announcement about IT maintenance, Covid updates, graduation, etc.

Imagine you co-ordinate a three or four year degree programme and you want to broadcast relevant information, news, opportunities, etc., to all students on that programme of study. Currently, the only method of achieving this is via email and who reads those? Really. Yes, we have Canvas announcements but communications are limited to within a module of study, never mind the overarching year or programme of study. We have limitations, but seriously, consider Yammer.

Why not think about setting up Yammer year groups and an overarching Yammer group for all year groups. That means year 1 students could have things of interest for first years posted to the year group Yammer. If there’s a careers convention, that information could be shared with the All Years Yammer. There might be a group for prizes and/or awards and other study opportunities, who knows? What groups get created can be decided upon at programme level.

And why not create a school/faculty student broadcast group? This could cover things like policies, general regulations, IT Services, Disability Services, information about assessment and other things that students within a particular school would be interested in.

Integration

And as Yammer is a Microsoft product, guess what? It integrates with other Microsoft spaces. AND it can be linked within the Queen’s Virtual Learning Environment (Canvas) and/or other ad-hoc systems. So what’s the catch? Well, students need to be signed into Yammer but that’s not such a big deal as all staff and students within Queen’s University have access to O365 and the Apps. And more often than not, there’s some O365 App or program being used within any 24 hour period, so we’re signed into Office 24/7/365 anyway!

Think of Yammer as being a network, this can be social or more formal. There’s many uses for Yammer and it depends on what, why and how a group is set up. There might be different etiquette for different groups. That’s OK. Create group rules. Boundaries are good.

Can I add external guests to Yammer?

Yes you can.

Yammer provides you with the functionality to add in people whom are external to Queen’s University to your Yammer group. However, the external person(s) must have a valid work or educational email address to participate. That said, if the Yammer group is a community of people doing research, then external researchers from different institutions can prove beneficial with much discussion and learning taking place within the group. This can help focus research efforts!

For Student Union Clubs and Societies, it might be nice to set up different club groups to bring people together in a more social sense. These groups are also good for arranging events and meet ups. We know that many clubs use FaceBook, WhatsApp and other social media tools to keep in contact.

Always look at the Terms and Conditions of use for different social media tools. Who holds your information? Where? And who else can access it? Sometimes we don’t think about how our information is being stored and/or used. This can lead to misunderstanding and grief.

Yammer in this instance uses a verified staff/student email address rather than a personal email or mobile phone number (which can be considered as ‘more personal’ in terms of information). As we have O365 at Queen’s University, when new staff take up employment and/or students enroll upon and study on degrees, they automatically have access to the Yammer App. It’s just a matter of joining and/or getting invited to some groups of interest.

Why use Yammer, why not Teams?

The main difference of Yammer and Teams comes down to the number of users who can participate in discussions. Teams has a 10,000 user limit currently. Whereas Yammer can handle as many group members as required and this extends the potential to communicate across the whole of Queen’s.

Also, teams is used for collaborating on projects using many Microsoft Apps. Whereas, Yammer can be used to gather opinion and broadcast messages. And, Yammer does allow for files, images and content to be shared, but the files cannot be opened and worked in the Yammer environment. So Yammer is very much a two-way communications App without the live-collaboration aspect.

That said, the Yammer App can be embedded into Teams as a Tab. That allows for several Yammers from different subjects of interest to be ‘plugged’ into a Teams space. It provides Yammer access to students and reminders about the Yammer service. It could encourage students to regularly use those Yammer groups.

What practices should I consider when setting up a Yammer group?

It’s like any other digital space in that the space will be used for a particular purpose, i.e., to discuss science, education, politics, etc. Firstly, only use the group for the reason it was created. Secondly, consider the Yammer group like a party and you are the host. So as people join the group, welcome them to it. Mention them personally and encourage them to interact.

Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge and resources. You could be helping others in the groups without knowing it. Along with this, if you know a participant has a strong interest in a website or information you have found, by all means share it and tag them in on the post. This not only highlights to the participant the website and/or information you have shared but it gives other group members insight into someone else’s interests and it might spark discussion, interest and engagement.

When running a Yammer group, it’s crucial to get group members involved and engaged within the group. That might be posing questions and asking for comments from everyone or specific people. This gives group members opportunity to be present and voice their opinion. Do consider asking less ‘vocal’ members for their contribution too. This helps keep interactions balanced, it reduces the loudest voices in the group and encourages engagement.

Download the App

Why not encourage members to download the Yammer App? This means group members can access the group from their mobile devices and this makes the group less formal and more accessible. Another alternative is to integrate Yammer straight into your Outlook account. Let’s face it, email will always be open and running as an App in the background no matter what else we are working on. And Yammer saves time, effort and extraneous emails hitting your Inbox. It makes sense to combine / integrate your communications tools which still means it’s one App to check communications on different services.

What are the benefits?

Yammer is a nice alternative to email where group members can be less formal and express themselves through the use of text, emojis and GIFs. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a casual chat with someone compared to formal emails? And the number of emails? How many times have you been CC’d into an email where messages go back and forth and round and round? It can be hard to keep up with email conversations but Yammer offers a social network for less formal interactions with discussion threads that everyone can participate with.

Another benefit of Yammer within Queen’s University is the longevity of the group. It might start off with a number of students in a particular discipline but as the group space doesn’t have a time limit, i.e., academic year, it can just keep on going and growing. It might be students join in their first year of study and progress until they graduate, in the main time other members have joined the group and much knowledge and/or experience has been shared. Many opinions and viewpoints discussed and this adds to the richness of knowledge, understanding and discussion.

Yammer can also be used as a timeline, i.e., how conversations have evolved from group creation to maturity. Many things change over time such as technology, policy, legislation, processes, opportunities, etc. Along with this, older posts are held and can be easily accessed. This means new group members can read past announcements.

More communications?

You might think this is just another communications tool on top of all the other communications channels and Apps out there. Whilst it’s good to have options, too many can be overwhelming, confusing and forgotten. It can be hard to encourage people to the service and it can be hard to make them stay.

Whilst there are a wealth of social media communication Apps available, people tend to gravitate towards the social media and services their family and friends use. When creating a new group, you might have to advertise the group and it’s intentions to your audience and what the benefits are of joining. Once you get momentum, keep going!

Next time

In our next blog post, we will be looking at Microsoft’s Whiteboard, what it is and what it could be used for. Join us then to learn more.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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