Using Yammer data export to manage conversations

YammerExportBlogImageThe team I mentioned in my blog “Using Yammer for a business process” had difficulty tracking all conversations and actions in their Yammer groups. Their groups knew heavy traffic, and conversations went up and down on the page, depending on latest posts. It was easy to miss a reported issue when it had been open for a few days.

So the team asked if it was possible to give them a report of the data, so they could better

  • track questions, issues and especially resolutions
  • keep track of the people who had joined the conversation (posting in the groups was an objective for all sales people)

I do not know if any of you will ever need this, but as I am also keeping this blog as a reminder to myself, let me share it – you never know 🙂

What is available?

As far as I know, there are four options for reporting:

Group Insights
You can find this on the right-hand column of the group. This gives you some data about the number of people, messages and views. However, this does not give any information about the content, so this was not of interest to them.

Yammerconvexpgroupinsights
You can find the “Group Insights” on the right-hand side of the group.
Yammer-groupinisghts
This is what you see in “View Group Insights”: the numbers of messages and people.

Power BI
I am not an expert on PowerBI, but I have seen some reports for Yammer which look pretty good. It is also possible to show the content of each message. However, as we did not have this available for end users, (for reasons of licence costs + the preference for other BI tooling) it was not a suitable option for this purpose at that time.

Flow
“When a message is posted in a group on Yammer” is a trigger on Flow. You can send data to a SharePoint list, although I do not know if you can sort or group on conversation. Flow could have been an option, but  with their post volumes, they might have needed a premium plan and we did not want to risk that.
BTW, an interesting use of Flow and Yammer is this “Sentiment analysis of Yammer posts” by Chris Bortlik.

Exporting the network data
This option allows a Yammer Network Admin to make an extract of all conversations, dates, people and what not between two dates. This was a suitable answer to their question so we set about to make this happen.
It is not possible to export the conversations of one group only, so it took some figuring out if and how we could do this in a responsible way:

  • Data security concerns in general – as this option exports all conversations from all groups, the Network Admin could also see conversations from private groups. Of course any network admin is supposed to be a responsible and trustworthy person and has likely signed an NDA when joining the organization. Besides, they can give themselves access to private groups anyway, so after some discussion this was approved.
  • Privacy concerns for the members of the groups in scope – but everyone had agreed to this way of doing their business and was aware of and OK with the export and the data – in fact, the report was shared with all concerned.
  • Cleansing and presenting data – how could the substantial amount of data be processed quickly as this was going to be a weekly task for the Yammer Network Admin.

So, let me share how to work with the data.

How to export the data

A Yammer network Admin can make an export of data, as described here.

Following the instructions, you will get a zip file with several data sheets, of which you need the one called Messages.

Yammerexportzipfile
This is the zip file. Open “Messages” to view the raw data export.

Example, please!

Here’s some group conversations I made earlier 🙂. There are some updates, replies, replies to replies, and an announcement, in a random post order. I have numbered them to make it easier to see how things are displayed in the export.

Yammerconv1

Yammerconv2
These are all conversations in this Group

When exporting the data and opening the “Messages” file I get a file looking like this:

YammerconvExportRaw
The raw data export

I have created an Excel in which I go from the raw data to the final sorted data in several steps / tabs. You can view or download it here

Cleansing the data

The raw file contains many columns which are not relevant for this purpose. The following ARE important:

  • id
  • replied_to_id
  • thread_id
  • group_name (if you have multiple groups to manage)
  • sender_name (and/or sender_email)
  • title
  • body
  • created_at

Please remove the other columns to make your file a bit more manageable.
The result is shown in tab “Correct columns” in the Excel sample.

As I said you will export all conversations in the network in the given time interval. You will now need to sort on “group_name” and then remove every line item that is not in one of the groups in scope.
There is little activity in my one-person Yammer tenant so there was only one group and one person in my export. I have removed those columns to make the file less cluttered. This is the “Work data” tab.

Interpreting the data

Now, let’s see how they belong together:

  1. Every message gets a number, the “id”. A higher “id” means that the message has been posted later than a lower “id”.
  2. The raw export sorts the messages by “id”, ascending (earliest message on top).
  3. Every thread (conversation / series of messages) has a number, the “thread_id”.  It is the “id” of the first message of the thread.  For the first thread (Message 1) this is 1197762641. So, all messages that have 1197762641 under “thread_id”  belong to Message 1. In the tab “Colour-coded work data” each number has its own colour, providing they are/have a reply or a thread_id.
  4. Every reply has the “id” they replied to, in the “replied_to_id” column.
  5. Every new thread has an empty box in “replied_to_id”
    It looks like this:

    Yammerconvexportnewmessage
    Every new thread is NOT a reply to another message, so the “replied_to_id” is empty.

Presenting the data

This team wanted to be able to quickly scan through all conversations, to see if they had been addressed. They were looking for messages in the “body” that said something like “This complaint has been registered in CRM with number 123” or “We have discussed this with management and added this to our wish list for 2020” or similar. These messages would typically be at the end of a conversation. Anything that showed that the message had been read, processed and entered into the appropriate system.

So, we sorted the messages on “thread_id” first and then on “id”. This gave them the info they needed. You can see that in the “Sorted data” tab.

Yammerconvexpsorteddata
The “sorted data” that the team could work with. Please note the colouring is only for demonstration purposes!

Additionally, they sorted on “sender_email” to count the number of entries for each Sales person.

Additional suggestions

  • We all sometimes reply to the original and sometimes to a reply. You can sort that out in the data export if you want, but in this case all threads needed to end with a resolution. So in general, the last updates in time were the most relevant.
  • Please select your date range carefully or you will end up with an unworkably large file, not only in number of line items, but also in GB’s. And remember to turn off the attachment downloads!
  • The “title” field is useful only when you want to make a distinction between normal updates and Announcements. Every reply to an announcement is treated as a normal update.
  • Please make sure your users do not use paragraphs or hard returns in their messages as only text before the hard return is exported into the “body” field.
    Yammerhardreturnmessage
    This message has hard returns in the text. See below for the export.

    Yammer-hardreturnexport
    The export breaks after the first hard return. How annoying!

Have you ever used the data export option for Yammer? Please let me know!

Why not use Teams?

If they were to start this project now, I would probably advise Teams rather than Yammer. But I have not been able to find any way to export the data, nor is a new Teams post a trigger for Flow at this moment. So I am not sure if Teams would have met their reporting requirements.

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Using Yammer for a business process

YammerWe tend to think of Yammer as an optional communication and collaboration channel, where you can discuss topics and share information with and ask questions to all your colleagues, independent of where they are in the organization or on the globe.

But Yammer can also be used as part of a business process.

I recently talked to a Retail Sales organization that has been using Yammer for several years for a number of business processes.

1. Sharing information about customers.

A Yammer group has been created for each major customer.

Sales people visit shops, shop managers and customer head offices.
If they see empty shelves where their product should have been, incorrectly priced products, packaging with peeling labels, a nice display idea from a competitor, or anything else they find remarkable, they take a picture and upload that to the Yammer group with their comments.
This way they share it immediately with colleagues and the back-office, and the back-office can take instant action if necessary.
(For long-time readers, this is very similar to the process we had to facilitate with a Team Site as Yammer was at that time not an approved tool within that company)

YammerBus-Nicedisplay
Example of something interesting at the customer.

2. Flagging opportunities for improvement.

A dedicated Yammer group facilitates this process.
Whenever something could be done better, this is mentioned in this group, such as:
“I notice that the company flag at the Customer Center looks a bit worse for wear – can we have a new one?” or  “Can we please agree on a standard update interval for prices as I now have to find the latest prices in my own files rather than in the system?”
The Sales Managers discuss these suggestions and take the necessary action.

YammerBus-ImprovementsPost
Example of a potential improvement: reduce postage costs for samples

 

3.  Sharing winning strategies and achievements.

Another group has been created to share wins and winning strategies, as well as losses. Of course the Sales people are eager to share their wins, or show how they have added value or made a customer happy! Losses can also be a source for learning of course.
That information helps colleagues in two ways: they know what is happening with that customer, and they may learn different tactics to increase their negotiation repertoire.

YammerBus-Winexample
Example of win and interesting developments.

 

Not perfect

Is this perfect as a business system?
No. Yammer is not a CRM or Task Management system and conversations are easily lost without a process in place to capture and follow-up on them. Management and back office need to capture all posts manually and turn them into action lists and reports.
Posts are sometimes shared in the AllCompany group instead of in the group. (But you know you can move Yammer posts to different groups, right?)

YammerBus-Move conversation
In case you did not know – you can move conversations to a(nother) group!

 

But it works for them – the mobile Yammer app saves time for the Sales people, who are the face of the organization. They are on the road a lot and taking a picture with their phone and explaining in a few words at which branch of which customer they are and what they see, is quick, easy and useful.

As the Sales force does not often meet at the office, general improvements or the sharing of sales tactics might be forgotten without the Yammer group – but with the app they can share details immediately from any location.

Examples work!

The scenarios above may not work for you. But I have found that sharing examples help people to imagine what they can do with Yammer.

The other day I showed a rather skeptical audience these, and some other examples, of using Yammer. I also explained that, contrary to email chains, Yammer conversations are visible for people who get added to the group, e.g. new employees in the team.
All of a sudden one person said: “Aha! I am a Subject Matter Expert and I get a lot of emails from different people, asking me the same questions over and over again. If we use a Yammer group, we can share the questions and answers with everyone. That will save us all time. ”
We created that group there and then – it was also a good demo for the audience 🙂

Can you share some examples of how you have used Yammer for business processes?

A cure for “Social Media” allergy.

It still happens…managers who do not want “Social Media” in their organization, since they think this means “wasting valuable working time”.  Sometimes it is Communications who resist, because they think Social Media will remove the focus from their Corporate News items. Or it could be HR or Legal, because they are afraid that people will say inappropriate things.

Are you convinced that a social intranet is a good thing for your organization, but you feel that senior management blocks it because they do not like the word and therefore refuse to understand the concept and the benefits?  Why not use a better word for it? Here are some examples.

1. Give your complete Social Media suite a fancy name.

You could call it “The Hub” or “the Water Cooler”. Or as Philips does, “Connect Us“.
The good news is that it is a nice way to refer to it, and it does not sound as competition for your other initiatives.
The bad news is that it sounds like something separate from your other tools, while you may be looking for integration.

Barb Sawyers gives some more suggestions here.

2. Focus on the aspect that is most relevant for your organization.

Another option is to zoom in on the actual way this will help you in your organization. Social tools are pretty versatile and can be used for a variety of business purposes. The best name is depending on your specific purpose and your specific organization, but what about these:

  • Networking or Knowledge Sharing. In modern Knowledge Management circles, the people in the network are now considered to be more important than the actual knowledge of the network itself. And indeed, I have been able to find colleagues to connect with when I started a project. I searched for skills and experience in the company’s employee profiles.
  • Company Address/Phone Book. If this is created from your employee’s profiles, why not call it that? Nobody will object to the necessity of having that!
  • Two-way Communication or Open Communication. If you currently have formal, top-down communication on your intranet only, “two-way” or “open” communication could be the next logical step. It may come from comments to news articles, but also from microblogging and status updates.
  • Dialogue. Once again, this sounds like the next logical step for your internal communication.
  • Discussion Board/Forum. If you are used to discussing topics and opinions throughout your organization, why not keep the name when you change the tool from the traditional Discussion Board functionality into something more contemporary such as microblogging?
  • Democratic communication. I personally do not like this word too much, but it may be useful in some instances where you want to stress that all employees can have their say.
  • Crowdsourcing. You can use this if collecting ideas, getting feedback and opinions is the most important reason to introduce social media. My own experiences are very good – I have already received lots of good feedback to my questions through Yammer. I have also crowdsourced a “general terms of usage” for the Dutch Government intranet platform Pleio with help from the Pleio tools and Twitter.

3. Do not talk about it.

“We do not give it a special name, it is just part of our set of Collaboration tools”, an intranet manager told me once.  I really like this approach. If this does not sound like “work” then I do not know what does! What I like most about it is the natural and seamless assimilation of this new work tool into your existing established tool set. With all the hype around social media, giving it no emphasis is a refreshing idea.

What is the name that you use to describe your organization’s social tools?

How NOT to implement a Discussion Forum

ForumHonestly, I hope this post is way out of date, in the sense that everyone knows how to start and manage a Discussion Board or Forum. But just in case, let me share my experiences as a warning!

Several years ago we implemented Blog/Forum functionality on the intranet. This was the first set of “democratic tools” available, long even before the terms “user-generated content” and “social media”  were glitters in a marketeer’s or communicator’s eye. From the start we had a few successful examples: there was a place where sales people could discuss competitor’s activities at their customers, we had one for questions and suggestions about the intranet, and we successfully “crowdsourced” our Mission Statement and Company Values.

Excitement.
You can imagine we were very thrilled to receive another request from the CEO’s desk, this time to help with collecting tips for cost reductions (and revenue increases) throughout the company. A global topic, of high relevance, and endorsed by the CEO; of course this was a wonderful opportunity to promote our functionality again. We worked with Communications to set it up in the desired form, trained them in managing and moderating, and created a nice place on the homepage to feature it.

Success.
The first few weeks saw lots of activities. People liked the topic and had many interesting ways to save money or to increase sales, whether it was by selecting cheaper flight routes when travelling, installing motion-activated office lighting to reduce energy costs, or preferring our customers’ restaurants for business and private dinners. There were also good discussions about other topics, like pros and cons of open source software. All in all, this forum was a great success!

But then…
First of all, there was no reaction from the CEO or anyone from Communications to the suggestions. Nobody was expecting exorbitant praise or prizes, but we had expected that some suggestions would be featured in news stories, promoted to the entire company as a good practice, or even made into new internal procedures. When we asked Communications if they needed a PMO Team Site for follow-up of the most promising suggestions, it turned out that any evaluation or follow-up of the suggestions was not part of the plan. When, after a few weeks, people started realizing nobody did anything with their suggestions, the enthusiasm appeared to decrease.

But the real Forum Killer was a remark from an employee in Europe who was losing his job as part of an outsourcing project. He questioned the motivation and cost effectiveness of outsourcing his role, and made a few vicious, but funny, remarks about the CEO. What no policy or corporate news item has ever achieved, happened now: the remark spread like wildfire and by the time our American colleagues came into the office, everyone in Europe had read it.
You would think this would be a good opportunity for the CEO to show compassion with the employee, and to explain the company strategy once more.
Even no reaction would have been understandable, since everyone understood that this employee wanted to vent his frustration at being made redundant, and that he overstepped the boundaries of responsible behaviour.
But nobody understood why the vicious remarks were removed from the comment (leaving some asterisks instead) without any further comments.

Failure.
From that day, the Forum fell silent. Even a new discussion started by the CEO generated no more comments.

Suggestions.
Are you in charge of, or advising someone with a Forum? Then these may be some suggestions:

  • Communicate a clear and transparent process about the Forum. What is the purpose of the Forum? What are you going to do with the generated content? How is the content being moderated? How fast can people expect a reaction (if relevant)?
    If you are not going to take action, or want to leave any actions to individuals, make it clear as well!
  • If you want to use the discussion as input for a programme, make sure you publish about it regularly. Keep the ideas coming by showing that they can make a difference.
  • See all remarks as opportunities for dialogue. I have seen Forums at other companies where people expressed their concerns for their jobs, and where management reacted promptly with a compassionate message showing they fully understood the problems of job insecurity.
  • Inform people about any appropriate behavioural guidelines, e.g. your Employee Guidelines, Business Practices or Internal Social Media Policy. Also, make it known how you will treat inappropriate comments. (Please note that most in-company Forums, which are generally not anonymous, rarely have inappropriate remarks)
  • Read more about moderating forums and other online media by Alex Manchester of StepTwoDesigns.
Recreation of the Forum, with the censored remarks.