Before Yammer debuted at Northeastern University, social media was an external facet of student engagement and interaction. Sure, there are Twitter accounts to follow or Facebook groups to join or Reddit communities to turn to for answers, but those very public forums were not specific to the university community, and they were not guaranteed to be secure, safe spaces to form connections.
In 2020, global challenges touched the Northeastern community and impacted the way it lived and learned. And in May 2020, Yammer was quietly turned on in Northeastern’s Office 365 suite offered to students, staff, and faculty.
At a time when the pandemic had forced everyone online, Yammer provided a way for the Northeastern community to stay in touch in a secure, university-specific space. It required a university account, a password, and two-factor authentication. Only members of the Northeastern community could interact on the Yammer platform or create Yammer communities. It became a safe place for student connections and information dissemination.
According to Christina Alch, associate director of residential education and community engagement, Yammer was a solution to community-building during COVID restrictions. “Within our residence halls during 2020 and 2021, rules were really strict, so students could really only come in[and] go to their room … our lounges were all closed down. Dining wasn’t really what it was [before]. We wanted to make sure we were replicating some sense of that physical community in the virtual space.” In addition, “It really was a way for us to advertise events and promote opportunities.”
With the COVID restrictions, resident assistants couldn’t host events to connect with students the way they normally would. There would have been no way to build a community or to foster social connections among students living in the same building, on the same floor, or in the same community without some sort of social network. “Prior to this we were [using] mostly just email and flyers,” said Alch. “Five or six years ago, we did do community Facebook pages, but then those kind of fizzled out as students stopped using Facebook as much. So, we did have a little bit of time where we didn’t really have some sort of space where students could go for a virtual community.” Before the implementation of Yammer, RAs turned to group chats through GroupMe, Discord, and other platforms to connect with students.
When it was rolled out, the need for Yammer was great for the residence halls, and the residence hall staff embraced the new technology. According to Alch, “We started out with a [Yammer] community for every single residence hall community and every single floor.” With students needing a way to build their communities and connect with each other, Yammer replaced informal programming. “It was really sort of a replacement for community-building just knowing that we couldn’t do that in the traditional sense that we had before.”
Alch said that communities led by RAs “were probably some of our more active communities when RAs were a little bit more structured with what they were doing with questions of the week or fun memes they would post on there to get some laughs.” Also, residence hall staff would also post at least once a month to prompt student engagement.
A lot of the success of community building through Yammer was based on how active the residence director and resident assistant were in posting and how regularly it happened. It turned out that the staff-derived content prompted student engagement. Alch said, “The Yammer communities that have been most successful for us in Residential Life have been the ones with a little bit more structure, whether that’s a weekly post that students can look forward to or some sort of introductory post that then encourages them to introduce themselves. I think some sort of prompting has been really helpful for us.”
Most likely, the staff activity helped to establish those running the Yammer communities as reliable sources of information. It is also likely that the structured approach to community-building on Yammer prompted students to feel more comfortable on the new platform. “Oftentimes when students were posting, it was because they had some sort of need or question. … Almost how they utilize Reddit, posting some sort of issue and trying to get community support or community answers.”
In the 2021-2022 academic year, the residence halls’ approach to Yammer was less structured. The approach was to create a Yammer community for every residence hall community and every Living-Learning community, centered around a theme or academic area for first-years.
As pandemic restrictions eased, students on campus seemed more interested in connecting with each other in person. Despite this, Alch believes that Yammer is definitely a tool that her office can use to promote student engagement. She sees Yammer as an opportunity for achieving a lot of what staff members want to do as part of Residence Life, but the platform is still relatively new, and her team is still navigating the best way to utilize the resource. “I think this coming year we’re going to go back to a little bit more structured approach for our strategies, to start things off with questions, to get students on there to actually answer and engage, and hopefully from there they’ll start to do some of that engagement themselves. We’ve tried a couple of different [approaches]; we’ll see which one finally ends up sticking for success.”
As the university expands its global reach, Yammer is one of the digital solutions that can foster connections between Northeastern students and communities that may not otherwise interact with each other, or deepen connections within communities that do already exist. The application has helped Residence Life to achieve its goals of community-building; this example is a good model for other campus communities across the organization to develop online connections between students, faculty, and staff.
- Finding and Creating Community at Northeastern
- What is Yammer at Northeastern?
- Yammer | Northeastern’s Social Network
- ITS Communications Consultation Request Form
Additional Trainings and Resources:
- Use Yammer every day
- Set up Yammer on your mobile device
- Learn how to create a group in Yammer
- Learn how to join an existing group in Yammer
- Learn how to join the conversation in Yammer