I am prompted to write this post because of tonight’s #swchat hosted by David Christopher and entitled ‘The fear of going social’. For more on what the chat is all about and how it works, take a look at Chris’s Tweet chat page.

Tonight we are talking about the feat of going social in the workplace. This resonated for me as we used Yammer at Reed Buisness Information. It was launched in the business early 2008 I think (or around then – seems like a long time ago) and it grew and grew.

It was interesting to see how many people were actively using Yammer versus how many people signed up and also how people organised themselves. They created groups, some of which were private.

Interestingly, these private groups mirrored the physical silo mentality within the organisation and which exists in many organisations.

At the time I was running a weekly knowledge sharing event (with some of my colleagues @adders @karlschneider @andrewrogers) and we decided to run a session on Yammer. We publicised it on all these channels we used to promote the event – email, Yammer, pop-up in the reception area.

The event was well attended and in it we asked for people to share their thoughts on Yammer, how they were using it, what was stopping them from using it etc.

Attendees included the power users as well as people who were not using it.

What came out was interesting and important for anyone who wants to launch social software – by that I mean software that enables people to talk to each other in front of the rest of the organisation – in the organisation. Here were three barriers.

People were fearful of saying things that others could see.
When you are used to talking to immediate collaegues it feels like a large, unjumpable gap to talking infront of the CEO, the board or other managers.

People are concerned they will make themselves look stupid in front of their peers.
You need to have confidence in what you have to say without

Managers block or vet what team members say.
I thought the vetting of comments on a platform that is similar to Twitter was quite an eye-opener. That said, a manager who is concerned how their team will be ‘seen’ will do things like this.

Our session was quite early on in the organisation’s adoption of Yammer. As use of Yammer progressed it was quite interesting to see who used it and what for.

Basically, those who used it were those who were comfortable to do so. No one department was more visible than any other. That said, the IT and editorial teams were probably the most engaged. I was always amused that the marketing team were never big users.

So what was it used for? Mostly as:

It was also a good place for experts around the company, who often didn’t get to share their knowledge, to share their thinking. The IT security specialist was a star. He used to let everyone know the security angle whenever someone was moaning about the fact the security policy got in the way of doing things. I learned a lot from him and also reassessed my views on security issues.

None of what happened on Yammer was managed. Someone started using it one day (a senior exec) and it just grew from there.

Everyone learned as they went along with the early adopters and advocates showing that it was in fact OK to use it and share useful things.

The success of any ‘social’ tools will be dependent on how ‘social’ the organisation is already. You’ll need to be happy for a bottom up approach because without it people will not feel free to talk – you can’t force people to do this.