Microblogging, a system of communication in which people communicate through posts of no more than 140 characters, has been very popular in the past couple of years. Sites like Twitter and Jaiku have certainly led the charge as two of the most well-known providers of this technology. So much so that the act of posting a microblog entry has become known as “tweeting.” You can “tweet” yourself as well as “follow” others on your Twitter or Jaiku home page. Tweets can also be received through texting, e-mail, or instant messaging. This has been expanded by sites like Pownce to things like file sharing and event invitations.
Although it has been popular among the youth and high tech crowd, I have been rather skeptical of its practical uses, especially in business. It always seemed to me to be the height of conceit to think that other people really need (or are interested in reading) short, periodic updates on what you are doing at any particular moment (on the way to work, eating lunch, reading a book, etc.) The content of these tweets should be of some importance or interest, as Sam Glover notes on his Lawyerist blog. I certainly agree. Sam also noted in another post about Jon Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing publishing a paper on Twitter for Business. However, it was not until I heard about the September 8 roll-out of a service called Yammer that I started to see the potential for microblogging in the small firm (see reviews and comments on Yammer here and here).
What Yammer does is create a closed system microblogging network for businesses. A company sets up an account under its domain name, and employees with legitimate e-mail addresses with that domain can then create accounts based on “Invitations” from the person who created the account. A custom web home page is then created with the company’s domain name at the top. Users can create profiles (including photos), and the Yammer network can set up an organizational chart showing for each user the e-mail address of his/her supervisor, subordinate, assistant, etc. Messages can be sent or received using applications for the iPhone or BlackBerry (so it is useful for the mobile lawyer), e-mail, instant messaging, or SMS texting. You can see all of the updates on your home page, just those sent or received, or those that you are Following based on the person or Tag assigned to the message. Yammer also provides a tour that showcases features.
There are many uses for this application in the small firm. An attorney handling a large matter involving several staff and associate attorneys can be kept informed of what the status is in real time. Partners can supervise associates more easily, as the latter Tweet to their bosses on what they are doing. Administrative communication in general can also be much improved. It is often more flexible than e-mail, but users must bear in mind that updates are broadcast to everyone, so a targeted message would be better off in an e-mail. Much has been said about micro-blogging as a marketing tool. However, I think that Yammer works much better as an inter-firm communications tool. Check it out; it’s free.