When Is Social Networking Kosher In The Office?

A woman types on a keyboard in a workplace. A tool like Twitter may be kosher in the workplace. i

A tool similar to Twitter may be acceptable in the workplace: Yammer. Dmitriy Shironosov/iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption Dmitriy Shironosov/iStockphoto.com
A woman types on a keyboard in a workplace. A tool like Twitter may be kosher in the workplace.

A tool similar to Twitter may be acceptable in the workplace: Yammer.

Dmitriy Shironosov/iStockphoto.com

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Social networking Web sites like MySpace and Facebook may provide a good way to keep in touch with friends, family or colleagues. But they can also be a huge waste of time, especially if you're busy updating your profile at work. But some people are convinced there's a place for social networking in the office.

Millions of people use Twitter to post short updates about what they're doing, what they're reading, whom they're talking to. Now there's a new tool similar to Twitter that can help keep work e-mail inboxes clean.

Let's say you have a question, and somebody in your department knows the answer, but you're not sure who. If you send an e-mail to everyone in your department, you'll really clutter up their inboxes.

Yammer is a company that takes the basic idea behind Twitter and moves it to the workplace.

"Essentially, what it's allowed us to do is have a lot more conversations without necessarily having meetings," says David Sacks, CEO of Yammer. "And you want to reserve e-mail for communications where you really do require a response. But if you just want to have a free-form discussion, Yammer really excels in that."

Communicating With Team Members

One company that is starting to adopt Yammer is Portico Systems, a software provider in suburban Philadelphia that develops technology for health care payers.

Portico co-founder Scott Fraser and development manager Bill Gallagher say they've grown to hate e-mail. Fraser says it works for sending one-on-one messages, but it's less efficient for group communication.

"The first thing you have to do when you send out the e-mail is decide who you're sending it to. It's such a speed bump sometimes. 'OK, who do I send this to?' 'Oh shoot, I didn't remember to include this person,' " Fraser says.

"Or even the order in the 'to' list — people are very sensitive to that," Gallagher adds.

Fraser says he's a big fan of Twitter, and he's been using it to keep in touch with people in his personal life for almost two years. He wanted to use it for work.

"But the problem was, there are certain things related to Portico that I wouldn't share. I wouldn't want our competitors to know what we're thinking about internally, what our team's focused on in terms of our next release," Fraser says.

Yammer solved that problem for Fraser. He can send and receive updates — and only his co-workers can read them. So whether he wants to share a link to a news article to prompt a discussion, or talk about the top secret software the company is developing, Yammer lets him do that.

Gallagher says that at first he was hesitant to use Yammer because he'd heard horror stories about employees spending all day engrossed in Twitter conversations instead of getting work done. But he's come to see Yammer as a good way to keep in touch with his team members.

"We're a distributed company; we're all over the world," Gallagher says. "We work 24-7. We all have different schedules. People are in and out of the office. If I have something to share, I've found Yammer a great way to do that."

Too Much Personal Information?

Gallagher admits that some of the messages he gets on Yammer are frivolous notes about co-workers doing their laundry, or describing what they're eating. But, pulling out his BlackBerry, he says he can also keep up-to-date on more important conversations.

"Scott, 47 minutes ago, said, 'Hey, come over to my office and do this interview.' And Matt, 53 minutes ago, was working on some performance information for one of our customers," Gallagher says. "So [I] pretty much know who's working on what and when they were working on it, if I choose to do that," Gallagher says.

More than 70,000 people have already signed up for Yammer accounts. And while not all the companies using the service are paying subscribers, Yammer is growing fast. The company only launched its service in September.

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