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Is Yammer the best way to enhance social in SharePoint?

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Enterprise social network vendor Yammer was a large and fast-growing player when Microsoft acquired it in late 2012, and the service has continued to expand still further under Redmond’s umbrella. Yammer boasts users in more than 150 countries, and the interface is localized into more than 20 languages.

At its core, Yammer is a microblogging service for employees to provide short status updates. Whereas Twitter asks, “What’s happening?” Yammer asks, “What are you working on?”

Over the years, Yammer’s functional services have expanded a bit to include the ability to express praise for co-workers, create polls, share documents and provision smaller discussion groups. In practice, however, some of those supplementary services aren’t as rich or well-integrated into SharePoint as you might find in competing products.

And you can find a lot of competing products: from collaboration suites that offer tightly integrated social networking services to supplemental “social layer” offerings that compete directly with Yammer. For more details, see Real Story Group’s vendor list.

Savvy SharePoint licensees, therefore, ask themselves: Is Yammer truly the best social layer for my enterprise?

When Microsoft bought Yammer

When Microsoft acquired Yammer shortly before releasing SharePoint 2013, the deal sent shockwaves through the marketplace. Redmond gave many reasons for the acquisition, most notably to absorb some new “DNA” on rapid application development in a SaaS environment—a key capability if Microsoft is to fulfill its ambitious promises around Office 365.

Perhaps more importantly, it also signaled that Microsoft was not very confident of its social networking enhancements in the SP 2013 version.

If Redmond harbored those suspicions, they were well founded, because the native social and community services in SP 2013 were only a modest improvement from those in SP 2010. Soon Microsoft started recommending that you hide SharePoint’s native social services in SharePoint and use Yammer instead.

Microsoft now promotes Yammer as a social layer over all your Microsoft systems, especially Office 365. For greenfield environments, that isn’t terrible advice, but for longtime SharePoint customers, Yammer may not always present the right fit, for any number of reasons:

  • The dearth of polished applications leaves Yammer functionally thin and reduces long-term adoption.
  • Yammer is not tightly integrated into SharePoint.
  • You might not trust Yammer’s SaaS-only model.
  • You might not want to migrate completely to SharePoint Online in the near term to get access to advanced Yammer features only available in that environment.

Sophomore slumps, growing ecosystem

Yammer usage can explode within an enterprise that heretofore offered no microblogging services, let alone any enterprise social network. People happily check in and often find new or long-lost colleagues in the first few days and weeks.

It’s been our experience, though, that most large enterprises will experience a “sophomore slump,” where smaller departments use Yammer to stay in touch, but enterprisewide conversations typically wither. Usage also drops off when employees struggle to place the service within the regular flow of their daily work. Yammer becomes yet another place you have to go, rather than a service you exploit as part of your regular workflow.

That disconnect becomes even worse in a mobile environment, where Yammer and SharePoint usage entails at least two separate native clients. (To be fair, Salesforce.com’s “Chatter” social networking service suffers from the same context switching problem in mobile settings.)

On the plus side, you are not alone with the challenges, because unlike most competing offerings, Yammer boasts a huge customer community. Customers get access to the quite sizable Yammer Community Network, where licensees share their successes, problems, questions and tips with the community as a whole.

A small but growing apps marketplace rounds out the picture of a vibrant ecosystem around Yammer.

Feature-rich, application-poor

That ecosystem may come in quite handy for you, since, like its older sibling SharePoint, Yammer largely avoids shaping its base features into the kind of polished applications that provide business stickiness.

Yammer does take a run at one key application: social questions and answers, although that application is not as well elaborated as competitor offerings like Sitrion’s.

On the plus side, when a user starts to type a question, Yammer uses a real-time search to auto-suggest already asked questions. That’s useful and helps avert the kind of duplications that haunt larger implementations.


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