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Is Yammer the best way to enhance social in SharePoint?

This article appears in the issue June 2015 [Volume 24, Issue 6]
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On the downside, there are no ratings for answers and the original questioner cannot declare an authoritative answer. In addition, search is not really ideal, so as answers build, they become harder to leverage, especially given the scarcity of curation services. In other words, Yammer works less for knowledge management and more for really simple, quick responses to simple questions.

Now let’s take a look at another key social application: communities of practice. Yammer offers “groups” functionality, but access control is coarse-grained. Groups are either public or private. Likewise there’s a paucity of all-important community management services like you would find in Jive, Connections or Sitrion.

Complicating things still further, you might also have separate groups in Exchange and SharePoint (via Delve), as well as Communities in SharePoint. Redmond has promised Yammer groups integration here for more than a year, but the exact timeline remains unclear. In the meantime, your colleagues may belong to three different sets of Microsoft groups that don’t talk to each other.

Integration (in the cloud)

This brings us to the discussion of Yammer-SharePoint systems integration. At a systems level, there is now single sign-on with Office 365—very welcome and no small accomplishment.

However, the story with groups integration seems to repeat itself elsewhere. In the 30+ months since the Yammer acquisition, Redmond has talked a lot more about service integration than it has actually done.

The most prominent areas of integration have been surfacing activity streams from Yammer in SharePoint sites (though you still need a separate SharePoint service for some activities), connecting specific Office 365 documents to Yammer discussion threads and surfacing Yammer conversations in Delve.

Going forward, Redmond is focusing almost exclusively on Office 365 integration for Yammer. From its standpoint, that makes sense, but at a time when the vast majority of SharePoint customers still work via on-premise estates, the value of the integration overall remains quite limited.

What should you do?

In my experience, larger enterprises find Yammer better suited as a supplement to formal collaboration and social networking efforts rather than as the center. Its simplistic handling of files and limited search facilities limit Yammer’s ability to serve as much more than a simple microblogging service.

This mismatch between promise and delivery has affected customer satisfaction. Yammer scored comparatively poorly in Real Story Group’s 2014 Customer Survey on questions of product and vendor satisfaction. In written comments, some customers expressed a wish for Yammer to spend less energy trying to be cool, and spend more resources on core engineering for platform innovation and SharePoint integration.

If you are looking for pure microblogging services to communicate across your enterprise and are not looking for ready-to-use applications tailored for specific goals and processes, Yammer offers an obvious alternative to consider—especially for those whose SharePoint plans rest primarily on the Office 365 edition.

The nice part about Yammer is that you can try before you buy, and avail yourself of the kind of broad ecosystem around the system that Redmond always excels in building.

However, if you have made a significant investment in SharePoint, you should also examine whether other tools could offer more business-friendly applications or tighter integration.

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