Yammer Helps Those with Social Difficulties Become Social

Fresh off the Content Marketing World (CMW) Conference in Cleveland, full of new ideas and ways to connect our NEO Chapter’s social media theme for the year, pay homage to the National Day on Writing and include human interest stories—killing several birds with one stone—my mind turned to writing about a special person I am privileged to know and work with. Someone who has used social media to give him the confidence to have a voice in a world that he might normally not have the courage to speak in.National Writing Day Logo

One of the ideas presented at the CMW conference was the importance of being authentic in what you say when writing about your subject matter—it is paramount to gaining credibility. I cannot be any more authentic in what I write about Eric Ahnell, because Eric does not have an unauthentic or dishonest bone in his body.

E Ahnell 02-2013
Eric Ahnell


But let me take a step back for a moment.

Eric and I work at Rockwell Automation in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Rockwell Automation is an industrial automation company that produces programmable logic and automation controllers, drives, motors and components for the manufacturing industry. On the surface, it appears very technical, and maybe a little hard around the edges—steeped in the industrial manufacturing world and very engineering-focused. And it is.

But what it also is, is very people-centric; very concentrated on cultural diversity and diversity in another way—in the development of people who have special challenges and talents.

It is also a company that attempts, and very well, I might add, to stay ahead in the world of technology and social media.

About two years ago, the company decided to implement a new social media platform called Yammer, a Microsoft application. Formerly, Rockwell used an internal, online newsletter, and we still do have yammerinternal communications channels, but Yammer replaced one of those channels. Yammer has been likened to the Facebook of business, but it’s more than that. It is a private social network that helps employees collaborate across departments, locations and business applications. To join, employees simply have to have a company email address. Yammer sort of looks like Facebook and a little like a Twitter feed. It has a Ticker and users can use hashtags at the end of posts to enable quick searches of information. Yammer also allows file and information sharing among users. It allows users to get answers to problems from SMEs and employees in other areas of the company pretty quickly.

Particular teams within a company can use Yammer to collaboratively create privately secured group pages. It also offers apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows phones. Yammer claims that companies have been able to cut down emails by 40%. The company is also looking at integrating Office 365, SharePoint, Dynamics and Skype. To find out more, go to: https://products.office.com/en-US/yammer.

Yammer is also valuable in that it has given people a way to communicate outside of the norm. Like other forms of social media, it can feel safer than face-to-face communication. For those with social challenges, it can open up new ways of communication that can build confidence and relationships that can lead, eventually, to face-to-face communication being more in the realm of their comfort zones.

Let me emphasize the word “challenges,” here. Many of my co-workers have particular challenges and special needs and are literally light years ahead of me when it comes to intelligence. I am not an engineer, nor am I a software programmer. Eric is not an engineer, but he is definitely a software genius! He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer and Information Science from Cleveland State University. He has a unique problem-solving perspective that is unlike the typical brain and a remarkable ability to intensely concentrate, remember, and focus on areas such as computers, software and programming. He also has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and comes with particular social challenges. It is one of a distinct group of “complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior,” according to www.ninds.nih.gov. As with Eric, who is extremely high functioning, one of the main symptoms of AS is learning how to act in challenging social situations and communicating with the expected social cues.

Use of the Internet and virtual socializing has helped change the lives of those with this syndrome. It has enabled people with social anxiety or AS-types of disorders to make and maintain friendships, express themselves and share their knowledge in a non-threatening environment, eventually enabling them to better-handle real-world social situations and understand social cues.

Eric says, “Yammer keeps me informed of the latest news. Also, I enjoy helping others with their issues posted there. I can stay in touch with people around Rockwell Automation, regardless of where they are located.”

Eric has made great strides in casual social interaction. Yammer and other social media has helped him to branch out with regard to his communication skills within the company, allowing him to express his unique perspective and knowledge, which has helped him on both professional and personal levels. On any given day, you will see Eric’s name with comments and problem-solving advice on both of Rockwell Automation Yammer sites—we actually have two sites, one called CLammer for our Cleveland-based employees and our main all-company Yammer site. Eric also says that he uses Twitter and LinkedIn.

Eric Ahnell AF2014
Automation Fair Demonstration

Eric has worked at Rockwell Automation for 11 years and was originally part of the Cuyahoga East Vocational Education Consortium (CEVEC) program. This program specializes in vocational training and job placement for high school students with moderate to severe disabilities. During Eric’s training, his strong computer science knowledge was recognized as an asset and he was later hired permanently.

“My job title is Marketing Database Administrator. This role doesn’t involve traditional database work with Structured Query Language (SQL), but rather SharePoint site administration of the Available for Customer (AFC) Database, a tool that the product managers populate and the sales field uses to find out what’s coming, so they can train to sell it.” His job is integral to marketing communications and product marketing, and the database he administers is used on a constant basis.

Eric’s hobbies and passions include baseball and video game design. Did I mention B A S E B A L L??? Eric is quite a statistic expert. But again, let me highlight his favorite passion. Eric explains, “I develop open-source games as a hobby. Both the game source code and periodic releases are published to GitHub, which is both a place to publish source code and a way for me to collaborate with like-minded developers, should I do so in the future. I currently develop the games by myself.”

I wasn’t kidding when I said he was a software genius!

Eric continues making advances in his communication techniques. Last November, he joined our Integrated Architecture team at our annual tradeshow, Automation Fair, in Anaheim, CA. “I staffed the digital What’s New wall, and assisted at the Security wall,” he said. This job requires a lot of courage. For two days, Eric spoke to customers from around the world about Rockwell Automation’s new products. Eric even had the chance to meet Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch.

Eric and Pam Friedaur
Eric and Pam Friedauer – Autism Presentation
More than 80 employees attended

Eric has further surpassed communicating via social media to even giving a presentation about Asperger’s Syndrome this past June, which was attended by more than 80 fellow employees.

If you would like to learn more about Eric’s personal journey, you can contact him at eahnell@ra.rockwell.com.

If you have an inspiring human interest story that you would like to share, Lines & Letters would love to hear from you. Please contact us at: newsletter@neostc.org.

Sources: www.yammer.com, www.ninds.nih.gov, http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/tc/aspergers-syndrome-symptoms, CEVEC, Pam Friedauer and Carol Michal

By Lynn Nickels