Croakey is always interested to learn how people in the health sector – especially public health – are engaging with new media.

In WA, a micro-blogging tool called Yammer is proving useful for internal communications within the public health workforce and more broadly, report Lizanne Sivapalan and Tarun Weeramanthri, from the WA Health Department.

Lizanne Sivapalan and Tarun Weeramanthri write:

Staff in large organisations often express a desire to be more engaged through proactive and targeted internal communications.

LS was an avid user of social media, and could see no reason why virtual relationships and increased ability to engage with friends, colleagues and family could not transfer into a professional setting. TW had read of a micro-blogging site called Yammer, and wanted to try something new.

So we found out more (through web searches and conversations with early adopters in Australia such as Deloitte), and commenced a trial with 240 staff in the WA Health Public Health Division in May 2010.

The central question Yammer asks users is ‘What are you working on?’ We have used the tool primarily for work purposes, not social networking. Guidelines, FAQs and training materials have been created and customised with this emphasis. The onus is on staff to behave responsibly on Yammer as they do in all other aspects of their work life, and with other technologies (email, telephone etc), and they have.

Security is a key feature of Yammer. Staff with the same work email domain can join, providing a private environment in which to collaborate.  Yammer also promotes ‘follow-ship’, made famous by Twitter whereby staff are encouraged to ‘follow’ the posts, updates and messages of colleagues and managers.

The site is easy to use, and within a few months, we reached almost 700 members, signalling that many outside the Public Health Division, but within WA Health had been invited and joined. The site connects workers across different sites and branches, and also allows managers to engage staff in a different and thought provoking manner.

There have been some hiccups, with Yammer emails sometimes being treated as spam, and not all managers have been enthusiastic or seen its potential.

The plan for 2011 is to expand short technical training for those unfamiliar with using such tools, and to better fit Yammer usage within a broader Divisional communications strategy. We will continue to monitor usage, develop a more formal evaluation framework, and consider the need for a moderator.

We sometimes forget that our staff are a microcosm of the public.

It is said that over 45% of the public now prefer dealing with the government via the internet (Australian Government information Management Office (AGIMO) December 2009).

Public health in particular, and health services generally will inevitably reorient themselves to the new technologies, but first we need to understand how they are being used. Using a micro-blogging tool for staff communication is a good place to start.

For more information on the WA Department of Health’s trial with Yammer, contact or

Update: Meanwhile, here is the link to last night’s discussion of the #hcsmanz group