Yammer at Penn State

About one year ago I started negotiating with Yammer to bring the enterprise edition to Penn State. In the past year we have had a Yammer implementation team working to make that a reality. I met with the project manager, Heather Huntsinger, this morning in our monthly update meeting and we had a very interesting discussion. One of the things she asked was now that we are winding down on the implementation phase, how do we move this into the “product” phase … essentially closing out one project and starting another one that looks at Yammer as a product/service going forward. A great question and one that made me step back and look at the service in general … are people adopting the platform? Who is using it? How are they using it? Are things trending in the right direction? Having access to both the Yammer analytics and our own Data Warehouse allowed us to get a sense of where all this is heading.

The first thing I will mention is that Yammer has significantly changed my workflow and communication approaches. Within TLT, we make very heavy use of Yammer for ongoing discussion. In the past year we have moved nearly all of our organizational conversations to a series of private and open Yammer groups. TLT is made up of several units, each with its own proviate Yammer group so those local units can have conversations. There is a larger TLT private group for larger conversation and we have a TLT Leadership Team private group for ongoing strategy and operational conversations. I even have private groups that are just for my direct reports. In the end I have eliminated hundreds of daily emails for myself and am able to stay on top of so much more in a much more streamlined way.

But this is more about who is using Yammer at Penn State — I was shocked at what the team was able to discover. The data is about a week or two old, so the numbers are a bit lower than the total user count as of today, 4,695. People use their Penn State user ID to log in, so we can look at various attributes by mashing that data against what we know of people via data warehouse … based on what we pulled, there are 4420 user IDs in the Yammer user list. Taking out 62 unknown users, we retrieved information of 4358 users from Penn State Data Warehouse. Among these users, 481 of them (11%) are faculty members, 1948 of them (45%) are staff members and 1929 of them (44%) are student members. What blew my mind was the student number … I expected staff to be another 2,000 and have students be about 500, but that is not the case.

Yammer Users

It gets more interesting as you look across the Penn State system — remember we have 24 campuses across the state of Pennsylvania. There are 2970 users from what many people used to refer to as our main campus, University Park. Among them, 325 users (11%) are faculty members, 1687 of them (57%) are staff members and 958 of them (32%) are students. There are 1386 users from other campuses. Among them, 156 users (11%) are faculty members, 259 of them (19%) are staff members and 971 of them (70%) are students. For example, there are 271 student users from World Campus.

UP Users

Other Campuses

What is striking to me is how differently the user base is at University Park and the Campuses. At campuses, about 70% of the users are students versus 32% at University Park. And the difference in staff use is staggering to me. The next set of questions need to address what are driving these differences and what is going on differently here at UP versus across the Commonwealth.

New Forms of Communications?

I have been trying some new communication tools for the last several months.  Two in particular that I am finding a great deal of value with are Yammer and Diigo.  While both of these tools are social tools and are very similar to other platforms I take advantage of, they seem to be supporting slightly different kinds of work for me.  This is not a call to arms per se, but it is an attempt to introduce them to a wider audience and to see if having more people in the mix drives more utility for me (and us).

This is really about trying to stay better connected in my new position with those in and around TLT at Penn State.  Not that I am not using these tools with people outside TLT, because I am, it is that I do think there area handful of affordances with these spaces that need to be better understood and explored.  Both of these tools are also things I have been working with my peers at PSU to adopt in our senior leadership team for very similar reasons, but the key reasons are to help our group stay more easily and efficiently connected and aware of daily activity.  I’ll try to share a bit about why I am interested in exploring these spaces and would ask for your feedback about how and why you might want or not want to participate.


I have had a Yammer account for a couple of years, really from right after they hit the scene. As a very early twitter and facebook adopter the idea of a social stream application made sense to me.  When I first started using yammer what didn’t make sense was the need for yet another social network — a closed one at that.  I just didn’t see the value.  My job allowed me to freely write, podcast, broadcast, etc really anything I felt like so hiding updates in a closed network provided zero value.  Since starting in my new position that need has changed for a few reasons.

The first is that I oversee staff in lots of places across PSU — here at University Park and at various campus locations throughout the Commonwealth. This poses an amplified challenge for me in that I am collocated with less than a third of the staff that makes up TLT.  Whereas when I was director of ETS I could almost yell down the hall and connect with about 85% of the staff, that just isn’t in the cards now.  The other, and perhaps bigger reason, is my own temporary need to be more guarded with blog posts about organizational discussions.  This has nothing to do with hiding my thinking out of fear, it has almost everything to do with simply not yet fully understanding the boundaries of my new position.  As it did with ETS, the level of understanding will emerge with time.  Clearly I am still blogging (as this post proves), I am just doing it far less and with less open organizational thinking. Yammer may prove a safe place to test my voice.

At any rate I am giving Yammer a fresh try.  I have created two new private groups — one for TLT and one for the ITS SLT.  As one might expect with such a new endeavor, I am seeing uneven participation in each but am very encouraged by how it is connecting some important dots for me (especially in the SLT context).  Those that are participating are helping me see the bigger picture each day — and I have to admit that seeing what they are up to and up against is somehow both very interesting and encouraging.  I get to see short bursts of information throughout the day that helps inform me and keep me pressing towards our shared vision of what our organization is all about.  What I am hoping to arrive at is the right mix of tools that can drive towards a more collaborative and engaged TLT organization over time.  I would love to have everyone in TLT join the PSU TLT group in yammer so we can explore if that goal is attainable in part by taking advantage of this shared online space.

Screen shot 2011 05 24 at 1 51 07 PM


I started taking Diigo seriously back in November or December when the much hyped demise of Delicious was leaked across the web.  Again, Diigo was something I have had an account at for years but didn’t find enough interest in the environment because it didn’t offer anything compelling over the large, connected network that delicious did.  That changed when I invited members of the SLT into a private group and started to see posts show up regularly from my boss.  This allowed me to gain some critical insight into the kinds of things that captures his attention, and with diigo’s advanced annotation tools I could see the exact pieces of the articles that he found interesting.

Like yammer I then created a TLT group that I have watched grow in both membership and posts.  What has blown me away has been the depth and substantive nature of conversations that have emerged with diigo itself.  In a lot of ways it has become an active sub-community where we share content, thinking, and ideas related to the things we are collectively exploring.  I like that quite a bit.  Again, what I would love to see are more people asking to join from across TLT so we can open the conversation up to more activity.  I honestly want to know what it looks like when I can stay current with what people across TLT are finding both interesting and relevant enough to annotate, save, and share with their colleagues.


I remain convinced that the easier and more efficient we make it to stay connected and share the stronger an overall organization we can become.  I have been amazed with the collective intelligence of TLT whenever I have a chance to be in a room with members of our group — the problem is that the realities of time and location keep us from assembling like that very often.  Using both yammer and diigo have given me a new chance to stay engaged, albeit in different ways as before, with people across the University.  It has also allowed me to share things and generate new forms of conversations. It is all very interesting and exciting to me.  Anyone else feel like joining in?

This originally appeared in my PSU Blog space. Sorry for any multiple alerts to its publication

Twitter Intranet Style

I have been a long time user of Twitter for mass community connectedness. I started using it quite some time ago and while my use of the tool seems to ebb and flow, I do find it very useful on all sorts of levels. When I first started using it I was instantly struck by the power the tool could have to help my own work unit stay connected. So far it has served that purpose and a host of others — binding the PSU community, helping me stay connected to distant colleagues, and more. The one thing that always bothered me was the tool’s inability to let me focus Tweets to a group of people in a simple and native way.

Tonight as I was catching up on feeds I came across a new tool from the TechCrunch50 conference going on, Yammer. Yammer is a Twitter knock off with a few new twists. The first, and most important to me, is the notion that it is a private network open only to those in your organization with a valid @yourdomain.edu(com, biz, tv, etc) email address. What that means is that when you sign up you are signing up to participate in a network only made up of those within your organization. Along with it are a handful of enterprise-like features that make this an amazing little Intranet addition with the power of Twitter. I know people will jump at me and say this is a closed and walled garden, but take a little bit of time to investigate the product and then think about how powerful Twitter would be as part of an organizational email replacement strategy, dynamic directory, and a collaborative toolset that only you and your co-workers could access. I think there is potential.

Yammer. Intranet Style Twitter.

Yammer. Intranet Style Twitter.

I’d urge you to take a look at it by signing up or watching the quick overview video. There are features here that could be very useful. I actually invited a few people from ETS who I thought might like it (or hate it) … I’d just like some people to hang out with in there for a bit to learn more. Going in, I think it will be tough to make it work at PSU as there are a ton of people with @psu.edu email address, but who knows. I think it may be worth a look. Let me also say I don’t see this as a Twitter killer for me … my Twitter network has huge upside, I just see this as another way to get on top of constant organizational information needs. Take a peek and let me know what you think!