15 Hacks and Tricks to Customize Your Yammer Network

"Yammer says we can't customize our network."

I hear this concern often, and this week's KMworld conference was no exception. I conducted a workshop with Catherine Shinners about how to launch an enterprise social network, and a gentleman from a large financial services firm expressed frustration that his company wouldn't be able to make a Yammer network look and feel official. "It's always going to be called 'Yammer,' he grimaced.

He's right. You cannot really "customize" Yammer, or any other SaaS solution for that matter. When you deploy a Yammer network, you're receiving the economies of scale of a SaaS solution. This means that your company, alongside thousands of other companies, are getting the exact same product delivered on-demand. This is why Yammer and other SaaS tools are relatively inexpensive compared to truly customizable solutions like Jive or Tibbr. You're paying (or not, depending on your license) for a simple, scalable solution that can be easily updated and maintained by the vendor who is coding, fixing bugs and sending you fresh updates all the time. What you lack in customization, you make up for in quick updates and not having to deal with the overhead of custom code. With Yammer, you're paying for simplicity.

MORE: How to make the switch from Jive to Yammer

What you CAN DO is "personalize" your Yammer network. Yammer offers many tools inside the product that give you the ability to make it look and feel like your own company's product. No, it will not be absent of the term "Yammer," but that is just how solutions in the cloud tend to work.

The Technology is NOT the Problem - or the Solution

More importantly, the concern that Yammer networks can't be customized touches on another point regarding enterprise social networks: technology alone will not cause or solve your communication problems. Yammer, as a piece of software, is not the solution to anything. Yammer is a type of technology through which you can create change and and empower employees using the people and their knowledge inside the company. Yammer is a conduit and your people are the creators of change. It's time for companies to stop focusing on technology features (and limitations) and realize that the human component is the most important part of a successful social initiative. What does this mean? It means that to customize the Yammer experience, you're going to have to work at it and create people-centric approaches to brand your network as the company dialogue hub.

15 Ways To Customize Yammer:

Here's the List, Divided Into 3 Key Sections

Product Customization Capabilities: Shape the look and feel of your network by incorporating corporate visual elements and data 

By utilizing the following administrative features to modify the network's appearance, you can make Yammer (nearly) look and feel like your other corporate tools.

  1. Custom Masthead Design - upload your company logo, imagery, or choose colors that match your branding to visually signal that your Yammer network is "official."
  2. Upload Company Logo for Yammer Emails - make sure that your company's logo is on every email notification, invitation and alert that Yammer sends. Even though emails will still reference "Yammer," your logo will indicate official communication to employees.
  3. Company Resources and Official Content - add important links and documents to the Company Resources area of Yammer, giving employees a one-stop-shop to find official data (like the 401k plan) or the intranet homepage.
  4. Directory Sync and SSO - create a seamless onboarding experience for new users by synchronizing access and passwords through your corporate directory and/or single sign on system. 
  5. Custom Usage Policy - Upload your very own social media policy to the network, showing employees that legal and HR are involved in the deployment.
  6. Extra Credit: Use the API to Build Custom Mobile Applications - One downside of Yammer, or any cloud-based solution, is that their mobile apps are all branded by the vendor name in the app store. This cannot be changed. For the large enterprise where mobile usage is key, consider building your own mobile application using Yammer's REST API. The result will be a fully customized and company-branded mobile app that reduces the visual and textual references to the vendor.

Learn more about Yammer's administrative features that allow for these customizations in their product guide for administrators here

Visual and Contextual Hacks: Personalization of Photos and Text to Signal Formality

Community managers can employ these easy-to-accomplish customization hacks by packing as much visual and textual company relevancy into the stream as possible. These combine out of the box Yammer features with some pre-work by community managers.

  1. Branded Profile Photos - early adopters, community managers and others who help guide user adoption should upload a profile photo that includes the company's logo in the bottom right corner (use a simple photo editing tool to do this). This brands the network and the leaders as "official" in some capacity, and the company logo signals formality.
  2. Official Groups - prior to rollout, community managers should create official groups that are seeded with real company content, official imagery, and dialogue about company issues and plans. 
  3. Announcements - a high level leader should create one or more announcements that every employee will see when he or she logs in; the availability of leadership messages (especially if the leader has a photo) helps employees visually absorb the presence of key people (thus driving adoption).
  4. New member greeters - employ a handful of official greeters to welcome each employee to the community on behalf of the company. Use visuals (like a branded profile photo or a special "welcome to AcmeCorp!" image to again visually create the company's look and feel.

Identity: Create Life and Establish Programming

Effectively customizing your Yammer network requires some creativity, but the tips below are highly effective to create a life and persona for your new community. None of these have anything to do with the Yammer technology itself; rather, the responsibility falls to community managers and marketers to bring the community out of the digital world and into the everyday employee experience.

  1. Name It - Don't call it Yammer. Give it a creative name that ties into the overall goal of the community. There are many Sparks, Hubs, Connects, and Jams out there already - which work great. Don't fear more creativity though - give the community a name that will stick and eventually become part of the company language.
  2. Create a Mascot - Nationwide (whose Yammer network is called Spot) has a mysterious caped-wearing blue man who dresses up to promote the community. Humana (who uses another product, Socialcast) has Buzz, and community manager Jeff Ross dresses up like a bee. Goofy? Sure. But also highly effective.
  3. Create branded marketing items - Tshirts, keychains, and laptop stickers with the network's name and logo make their way into the workplace, branding the network in the physical world. Don't forget marketing posters around the office!
  4. Custom URL - your community's URL is going to be something like bigcompany.yammer.com. You can't change that since it's just how multi-tenant SaaS solutions work. What you CAN do is purchase a custom URL, like AcmeHealthBuzz.com and direct users there to log in instead. That URL can redirect to your Yammer or SSO login page. The goal of this tactic is to make it easy for users to find the community, and when they do, their first experience visually is that of your branding, not Yammer's.
  5. Intranet banner - make sure your employees can log into Yammer from your intranet or the first page that opens up when they open a web browser. Create a highly visible box, button, or visual where clicking takes them to the community via corporate imagery.

These are all effective techniques that work well and truly give your community an identity of its own - as much as possible. What are some other ways that you have customized your Yammer community?