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In-house social media struggles in local government

Yammer stammers in Australia, as staff resist extra comms channel

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Two Australian local government organisations have found that adding an internal social media tool creates one communications tool too many, and have abandoned trials of enterprise social network Yammer as a result of their experiences.

Amanda Callbutt, formerly of the IT support office at the Local Government Association (LGA) of South Australia, says the organisation trialled Yammer after being introduced to the tool by Deloittes, which has evangelised the software.

“The people that were using it initially were tech savvy and strong users of social media already,” Callbutt says. “They wanted it to succeed.”

But beyond that tech-savvy group, users were not enthusiastic.

“It just wasn’t taken up or appreciated and users feedback suggest it was yet another place they need to check and keep up to date.” The tool therefore fell by the wayside and Callbutt feels it may not be suited to a single office setting in which everyone knows all their colleagues and can interact with them without a computer or smartphone by simply walking over to their desk to strike up a conversation.

"We could see each other in the tea room," Callbutt said.

Andy Carnahan, Information Services Manager at Wingecarribee Shire Council, has a similar story to tell.

“We looked at Yammer because our General Manager went to a presentation where a presenter from Deloittes said they use it and spruiked its capabilities.” The General Manager urged the IT team to implement a trial, which Carnahan and team found simple to implement.

“We put it in on limited release with people we thought would be interested, such as the community relations team, the General Manager and the executives.”

“Usage was really sporadic. There would be a flurry when a new person would come in, but it did not gain  traction or critical mass,” and Yammer did not make it into production.

Carnahan wasn't entirely unhappy to see it go.

“My concern is that an inward social media tool dilutes and increases rather than replaces existing communications channels,” he said. “A really significant issue for all public facing government agencies is that all the new technology has not replaced existed methods of communications.”

“Maybe we’re getting fewer letters, but email is still going through the roof. “

“I am not sure that Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and the others will replace email. When we get additional channels there is a danger we will talk but not be able to act. For example, we are finding our very small Facebook presence is at risk of being monopolised by someone who feels they have a personal channel into Council.”

Carnahan says he is, nonetheless, open to Yammer or similar products if users show they want them.

One tool that users did express great enthusiasm for is the iPhone.

“The iPhone got traction because it gave you really easy access to Outlook on the move,” Carnahan says. “That meant you could manage crises more effectively. I would rather get interrupted on my days off to stop a small crisis becoming a critical crisis and most at council feel the same way.” ®

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