I’ve now worked in communications for more than 14 years, and in that time I’ve done a few professional-related things, but today was the first time I was part of a ‘Yammer Chat’.
Yammer describes itself as an ‘enterprise social network’ — or as a colleague once described to me, ‘it is Facebook for work’. For those of you familiar with Facebook (it has one billion users, so that probably means some of you), it works in much the same way, but encouraging information sharing, idea discussion, and knowledge collaboration with more focus on the ‘professional’ and less of the ‘social’. If everyone in a company has an account, and if it integrated into the work people do, it can be a wonderful thing. It is even better if you are able to be invited to ‘groups’ in other companies, because it is an excellent way to share information, rather than deal with a raft of group emails. I’ve used Yammer as a ‘collaborative tool’ on a team project before, but I’ve never been part of a team organising a question and answer session.
Today, I was involved in a ‘Yammer Chat’ with two senior executives — the chief executive (CE) and an executive director (ED) — who were answering questions about a decision to put a major project on hold for 12 months, and the more-than 30 staff whose roles will be affected. This was a chance for staff to ask questions to the two senior staff, using Yammer, and have them answer in real-time — for all to see. It is important I mention, that the day before the chat, all staff had received an email about the decision from the CE; and the working day before that, the CE and ED met with the project team face-to-face as a group.
If participation from staff, and responsiveness from senior managers is to go by, the chat was a success. About a dozen questions came through, and it was agreed that any extra would have been difficult to manage quality responses for.
There are a few things that came to my attention before, and during, the chat that I thought was worth sharing with anyone else looking to do something similar:
- Get to the venue — meeting room, boardroom, office — early. You want to have time to set-up all the required computers/laptops without feeling under pressure when the start time is nearing.
- Have Q&A notes prepared in advance — there are questions that you can prepare for and agree with everyone involved before you start. Have them electronically accessible so you can copy and paste answers to save time.
- For each ‘expert’, have a computer/laptop, and a ‘typist’. In today’s chat, there were two experts (senior managers) and two typists (internal communications staff). This allowed the experts time to think about and decide the best response to the questions, while the typists focussed on transcribing the answer, clicking on the right links, and tagging the right people (some ‘experts’ will be able to do both, but this is not always the case so be prepared).
- Promote that the chat is on to staff — let people know on Yammer, on the intranet. People need to know so that can set aside time to be part of it.
- Don’t run the chat across lunch because staff should be encouraged to have a break. This chat was from 2.00-2.30pm, after the traditional lunch period when people are trying to resettle into work, so this ‘lighter’ activity was well-timed for people looking for a (work-related) distraction.
- If you have a projector screen — use it. In today’s chat, the CE’s computer screen was projected on the large screen in the boardroom, which acted as the ‘main screen’ for the group to read and review questions together.
STARTING THE CHAT
- Have one of the ‘experts’ welcome everyone, and remind staff which ‘experts’ are answering questions (as some users might want to direct their question to one, rather than both; and it allows you to update any last minute changes to the planned line-up of experts).
- Remind everyone on Yammer how long the experts will be available to answer questions, and the finish time.
DURING THE CHAT
- As a question comes in, if there are multiple experts, make a clear decision who is responding to each question.
- Have experts check each other’s answers (where possible/relevant) for consistency of message.
- When responding to a question, try to keep ‘conversations’ together (hit the right ‘reply’ button). As a back-up, use the questioner’s name in the answer so people always know who the expert is responding to; and because it is polite.
- Be accurate — if you can’t answer on the spot, say so, explain why, and if possible, that you will follow-up and get in touch.
- Take time to respond to get the answer right — staff want accuracy, and a few extra minutes to get the best answer written is time well spent (also why it is an advantage to have multiple experts if there are many questions to cover).
- Check spelling and grammar.
- Keep it professional but ensure the experts’ answers are authentic — people will soon see through spin, and they will be bored by bland answers.
- Have a ‘monitor’ person in the room. This is the role that I played today — checking new questions coming in, keeping track if the same question was being asked repeatedly, checking if ‘new chats’ were being started up on the topic by mistake (or deliberately).
- At the end of the chat, encourage people to post any further questions if they have them; and confirm that the experts will respond.
- Thank everyone for being part of it — the questioners; and the ‘watchers’ too.
AFTER THE CHAT
- If anyone outside of the ‘chat team’ (experts/typists/monitor) need to be contacted about a particular query or issue to follow-up, do so as soon as possible.
- Capture the questions and answers and share as appropriate in your organisation (with staff via intranet, with senior management team etc).
So that was my take on a Yammer Chat — if you have any thoughts, extra advice, or stories of your own experience, I’d be interested to learn more. And if you have extra tips, let me know, and I’ll post them here (with credit).