Social Learning is more than just Yammer

“I’ve added a Yammer group for our course. And no-one is talking in it!” 

James Tyer ran Kellogg’s Yammer network.

I’ve heard this so many times. The Learning and Development team run an in-person course, bolt on a Yammer group for the attendees to talk to each other about the courseand wonder why no-one does so. Quite often they blame Yammer. It’s the wrong recipient of blame. 

The problem arises because most learning and development departments are focused on training, rather than learning. For them, training is a formal event, in a classroom or online learning environment. It stems from our mistaken cultural beliefs that all learning happens formally. Many still have a mindset where learning means classroom. Some executives and HR leaders have the same mindset – train to change. But this is shortsighted and costly (after all, social learning is cheaper than formal courses). 


c. Mark Britz, 2019  

Driving new skills and behavior change through Yammer is relatively easy and effective. 

One example: at Kellogg’s, where I launched and ran the organisation’s Yammer network, the field sales teams were disengaged and the quality of their delivery was variable. We created a strategic set of Yammer groups to where sales reps took photos of their displays in grocery stores around the globe and shared the photos on Yammer 

Unless you went to a supermarket, most employees and leaders never really thought about products on shelves. Next, we asked (game) senior leader(s) to start liking their work. Quickly, employee engagement shot up.  

Then we asked leaders and managers to start making connections between reps and also ask questions to improve consistency in deliverysuch as; “how did you manage to get an endcap display in that store!?” or “Great job [rep], but it’s missing a few of our required products. Can you tell us if you weren’t able to get them on the shelf?”. And more like this – open questions, targeted questions, all learning questions. And what happened? Engagement and quality improved. 

After a short time, some of the regional team leads created groups to run their teams through. The success was obvious and these teams no longer needed support (just checking in occasionally). The behaviors were already in play. 

Can you imagine the alternative – flying all field sales reps to the various HQs for more formal classroom training? Or forcing them to take general quality and sales E-learning modules? Or sending large docs of text to their managers to tell the information to their team? It wouldn’t have been as effective. 

Workplace Performance Strategist, Mark Britz.

This is not to say that no formal learning is necessary. Of course, some of it needs to happen formally. But for most employees the need for formal training decreases as their career progresses. For the Kellogg’s field sales reps, they already had formal Kellogg’s sales training (and it was excellent). But as Workplace performance strategist Mark Britz likes to say: “No one goes to work to learn.” And he’s right. We go to work, not learn. Learning is a byproduct of working. The key for organisations is to find ways to support people learning in their job – not apart from it. 

This is where social learning comes in. And Yammer is a great tool for scaling social learning support. 

Three key takeaways from the many Yammer learning experiences I have supported is: 

  1. Go where people’s attention is. Some of the field sales reps were happy to use Yammer to connect and share. With network effects, the more that was shared, the more others joined too. Why then send them to a Learning Management System (LMS) when their attention is someplace else? 
  2. Reduce friction to connection. In this instance, it means taking away the barriers to connection between different levels of the org. It took quite some cajoling, but after coaching a few senior leadersthey took to Yammer. There was no hierarchical friction between them and their departments. If a field sales rep needed support, they got it from all levels. How can you reduce friction in your company? 
  3. Enjoy the process and have empathy. If you don’t enjoy the process of working out how to support social learning/do learning differently, and just focus on the end results, then it will usually take you to the wrong answer. You need to enjoy the process to see what works and doesn’t work. You’re not offering a solution in its entirety. And have empathy for those you are working with – this is new, and they need support. 

And remember, just having Yammer is not “doing” social learning. If people don’t share on Yammer, if execs don’t engage, if people aren’t talking to each other – the problem is with people, not the technology. But Yammer can facilitate the social learning support at scale across large organisations.  

Measuring with SWOOP 

With SWOOP Analytics, you could easily measure the impact from the Kellogg’s example I gave above.  

SWOOP’s Most Influential People widget shows the people best positioned to influence others through their interactions.

For example, once I’d set up a sales group, I could find the most popular posts in that group that involve displays with the Most Engaging Posts widget. We could see which regions from different parts of North America were most engaged in the discussions (and which were not) using the Business Unit widget. Obviously, we’d also hope that sales reps from across North America started talking beyond their specific region. The Cross-Team Collaboration Matrix is a useful way of demonstrating the impact there.  

More importantly, we could quantify the effect of having leaders on board, first recognising and then asking questions of the field sales teams. We could look at group size and interactivity before and after leaders starts liking posts. We could then take it a step further and look at the same numbers once a leader starts doing more than just liking – asking questions and making comments. We could even break down the effect of each leader and compare their activity to see who drives more engagement (and reverse engineer why?). And over time, we’d hope the activity required of leaders to drive certain outcomes lessens, and the group becomes more self-sustaining without them being front and center. We could use the Influential People widget to see others begin to take the lead role in driving group activity and learning.  

But is actual learning taking place? Well, there’s a simple and complex answer.  

SWOOP’s Curiosity Index widget shows the proportion of posts asking questions.

The simple answer is we can see the impact of asking questions in the group. Do questions generate more responses? (We know that based on the dataset in SWOOP’s benchmarking report, yes – two to three times more responses). In theory, a good percentage of posts in this group should be questions over time. And if the Response Rate is high (70-100%), it means these questions are likely getting answered.  

With SWOOP’s sentiment feature, you could also check on morale and what is exciting people. What are the emotive subjects people are talking about? What is the impact on an individual thread even of a leader engaging on that subject? SWOOP can tell you all of this.  

The complex answer is: we need to match to other data. Are behaviours changing? Is employee engagement increasing? Are various sales metrics improving? Is retention improving? Map these to some of the metrics listed above and you will have a comprehensive overview of the impact of a social learning in your organisation – all scaled through Yammer.  

James Tyer designs and delivers SWOOP’s Microsoft Acceleration Programs for Yammer and Teams. Contact SWOOP to learn more about how you can measure your Yammer network.



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