When Network World selected 9 technologies IT pros should master in 2009, two of them were microblogging platforms: Twitter and Yammer. While most people are familiar with Twitter, relatively few are acquainted with Yammer.

Yammer is an enterprise Twitter that allows co-workers to share what they are working on. Privacy to each company's Yammer network is assured by limiting access to those with a company email address. People at Cisco Systems, Xerox, and Hewlett Packard are using it. Should you make the jump?   

While it isn't as sexy as Twitter, Yammer will fundamentally improve your company in the following 8 ways.   

Enhance your corporate culture   

Forrester Research analyst Bruce Temkin pointed out that companies must invest in their corporate culture as a valuable asset. Nurturing a culture that motivates and empowers employees can greatly improve organizational productivity. The best way to develop such a culture is to encourage open and honest discussions about your company's identity.   

Microblogging's shorthand format forces people to get straight to the point. The usual pretensions and corporate jargons are reduced in favor of quick, honest ideas. People are more likely to share ideas since there's no pressure to be articulate or smart.   

The ease of adding to the conversation lures people into revealing more than they expected to, thus catching them in moments of unguarded vulnerability. While this kind of casual honesty may be a disaster on a public platform like Twitter, such honesty in internal communications can save your company from making terrible mistakes.   

Create user-generated knowledge base and decrease internal emails by 60% 

People are constantly emailing each other questions and solutions. Instead of locking that information in emails where only a few people have access to it, Yammer makes that knowledge available to the whole organization.   

"Yammer has increased my ability to manage email by decreasing inner-office email chatter by at least 60 percent," said Craigh Johnson of Matchstic. "It keeps everyone in the loop and allows them to ask and share questions that benefit the team as a whole."   

A robust user-generated knowledge base built on Yammer allows you to:

  • Empower your employees to help each other
  • Create documentation written in a language your employees can understand (their own)
  • Bypass information bottlenecks
  • Quickly identify trends and thought leaders in your company

Increase productivity   

Microblogging what I'm working on is my favorite way to use Yammer. These kinds of posts have many benefits. Writing down what I'm supposed to be doing helps me focus my attention on the task at hand. When I type in "updating analytics data", I feel compelled to finish that task before jumping to something else.   

Sharing what I'm working on Yammer keeps my team informed about my availability and prevents them from duplicating my efforts. I also like to add tags to these update posts. For example, I can tag a post with a client's name. This allows me to quickly generate a report of what I've done for this client at a later time. (I suspect this function is especially useful for lawyers, who bill clients using six-minute increments).     

Yammer as therapy   

Tiny records of productivity can also be very therapeutic, especially for people who work in IT. IT folks often toil in anonymity. They usually don't interact with other employees unless something is wrong, but when things are running smoothly, IT people get little recognition.  

It is very satisfying for the IT team to microblog their daily triumphs. While that "small" but incredibly frustrating bug fix won't impress the folks in sales, it is a reminder that a lot goes on behind the scenes to keep things working smoothly and lets the team celebrate lots of small wins.   

Replace wasted time with team bonding 

One of the biggest objections against enterprise microblogging is that employees will use it to waste time. Truth is, your employees are going to spend a certain amount of time socializing at work no matter what you do. They can either socialize with their own friends on Twitter or hang out with their co-workers on Yammer. At least on Yammer your employees' chatter is done on an internal system that builds camaraderie.    If you end up having to fire a few people because they are microblogging sports scores on Yammer all day long, that's actually a blessing in disguise. Those guys were probably big time wasters who have been flying under the radar long before they started using Yammer. Yammer simply gives them a chance to out themselves.   

Have conversations without meetings   

A meeting is a terrible way to have a conversation. It is difficult to get everyone together for a meeting, and when people do show up they resent the disruption to their schedules. Meetings also have a limited reach: If you weren't invited you can't contribute.   

Yammer offers a lot more flexibility. Instead of limiting the discussion to half-hour meetings where you're locked up in a lifeless conference room, Yammer allows you to have an ongoing conversation you can have with anyone in your company anywhere, anytime.

You can throw out questions to the whole company and get an immediate response.  Very often you'll get answers from unexpected sources.  Getting people from different departments to talk to each other will often lead to serendipitous discoveries.

Latest industry news you'll actually read

As we've seen in Mumbai shootings and the Hudson plane crash, microblogging distributes breaking news faster than any other channel. The short posting format also encourages users to distill information into miniscule packets.   

This makes Yammer the ideal way to keep up with industry news. Every morning I browse Yammer for link recommendations to the latest blog posts, white papers, and industry gossip. Not only am I getting news from people I trust, it is also a good way for me to keep track of who are the thought leaders in our company.   

Amplify the influence of positive role models   

One of the more popular Twitter mashups is ExecTweets, which curates and publishes the best tips from successful executives.  Following these tweets is a great way to learn from some very smart people.

You can duplicate ExecTweets' success in your organization with Yammer. Your entire organization can follow and benefit from the wisdom of your best performers. Not only is this a great way to create an unofficial mentoring channel, but you can also quickly identify who the real leaders are in your company by keeping track of who has the most followers.    More great articles about enterprise microblogging: