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It's been a while since my last post, mainly down to working on a couple of projects that have completely taken over. I was prompted to write this one, though, when the guys from Packt Publishing asked if I would review their latest book on Yammer.
Packt Publishing have achieved a great reputation for putting out books just at the point when they are going to be needed by more than just the early adopters of a particular technology.
That is true of this book, Yammer Starter. Yammer, the enterprise social network tool now owned by Microsoft is starting to go mainstream, alongside its competitors like Socialcast and Salesforce Chatter. As well as the bottom-up, slightly subversive, activities which have driven their adoption to date, we are now seeing senior managers, even at Board level, pushing for their use.
Partly this is a matter of "keeping up with the Joneses", but there are real business benefits to be had from social networking tools like these. Primarily, they are fantastic at breaking down internal, organisational silos, and allowing information to flow between them. I've, personally, seen this happen in a sales context with questions and answers about products and clients moving between sales teams that wouldn't have taken place in any other way.
But, to the book...
Before reading it, I had certain expectations about what would be included in a book like this. Back in 2010, I wrote my own Yammer Best Practice Guide, and Yammer have also created an array of support materials in their Yammer Success Center.
I was looking for things like:
- What Yammer can bring to an organisation
- Ideas on how to roll out Yammer organisation-wide
- A explanation of what Yammer can bring to an individual (the "what's in it for me" question)
- Guidelines on "best practice" in using the system
- How to pre-empt, and subsequently deal with, the occasional lapses in netiquette that will occur
- The role of the community facilitator
Given the rapid rate of change of any SaaS tool like Yammer, I would not expect detail descriptions of functionality or step-by-step instructions. These would only be current and accurate for a very short time, and therefore not appropriate to put into a book format.
The book itself is very short, and only available in eBook format (PDF, PacktLib, ePub and Mobi). At £3.39 or thereabouts, it's not going to break the bank, but then it's also not going to have much detail.
It has all the basic functionality you'd expect from an eBook; table of contents etc. So, no problems there.
Things do go a bit awry on the first page though...
Remember that Yammer is a web-based system. You get to it using your browser. There's nothing to install or download (unless you use the mobile/desktop apps - which are just useful extras, not essential). So I really don't understand why the author starts the book with a section on how to download and install Yammer? I may just be being picky, but using language like this right at the start doesn't bode well for the rest of the book. I would have much preferred this section be called "Setting up" rather than "Installation"...
Apart from that, the rest of the book contains a lot of information, useful to someone who is entirely new to Yammer (although it would help to have a little bit of a background in Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to understand some of the references).
There are a few too many screenshots and lists of instructions for me to be comfortable with the longevity of the book. It will need updating the next time Yammer makes a change to their interface. But, I suppose that's just part of the business model for this sort of publication.
The author does use a lot of examples to give context to the generic practice he's discussing. This is useful, as without such illustrations it can be hard to visualise what a tool like Yammer can offer.
He has organised the book around Yammer's functions, which is a common practice in such publications. It would have been nice to see it organised around business problems, such as "How can we organise information in Yammer?" or "How do I find out who X works for?" which then lead onto discussions of functionality.
The reasons for using each piece of functionality are mentioned briefly, but I don't feel there's enough in the book that addresses the "What's in it for me?" question, nor is there any consideration of Best Practices. The author is majoring on what can be done with the tool, rather than why it should be done or whether it should be done at all...
There is also no discussion of how to roll out Yammer into an organisation, and how to move from a bottom-up Yammer implementation (where a bunch of enthusiasts start using it for free) to an officially-sanctioned part of the organisation's communication toolkit.
To be honest, there's not much in this book that you cannot get from either Yammer's comprehensive Help Center or from their Success Center (which is full of ideas and materials to get your Yammer network off to a flying start).
However, if you want something that you can read offline, perhaps whilst travelling, then (apart from the installation issue mentioned earlier) this eBook would be an ideal starter guide. Use it as an overview of what's possible and then go back to your network to try it out.
Just remember that Yammer, like all social networks, cannot be controlled. People need to be persuaded and excited rather than instructed. As soon as you try to lock it down, or dictate how it should be used, your people will either choose not to use it, or simply bypass your rules. None of this is mentioned in the book, so you will need to read it in conjunction with Yammer's "Essentials for Success" too.
I have not received any payment for making this review, nor have Packt seen, or asked to see, the review before it was posted.
I did, however, receive a free copy of the eBook version for the purpose of writing the review.