SharePoint Social Versus Yammer: What Makes Sense For You?

In my second Social 101 session presented this week at the Worldwide Partner Conference (#WPC13, www.digitalwpc.com) in Houston, I tried to shed some light on the confusion between social features in SharePoint 2013 and Yammer. My session directly followed that of the Yammer team, who stood by throughout my session (I suspect to ensure that I didn’t say anything crazy).

VP4E_5It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked as I travel the world talking about SharePoint and general collaboration topics. Social collaboration has certainly become one of the hottest topics in the past year (and my company Axceler has even expanded into the social governance space, with our new ViewPoint offering, to the right), especially since Microsoft’s $1.2B acquisition of Yammer one year ago. But within the SharePoint space, my take on things is that this has less to do with genuine interest in social as it does with frustration over the complexity of SharePoint – and the failures of many organizations to properly design and implement the platform in a way that end users want and need. Now, right there I am going to earn some hate mail from the social kool aid drinkers, but hear me out.

One of the problems with SharePoint has always been that the marketing enthusiasm has outpaced the deployment reality. SharePoint is a powerful platform, and it can be very complex. With power tends to come complexity. In an effort to “keep things simple,” many organizations would simply roll it out, and flip every switch with an “I hope it works out” attitude. The ‘Hail Mary’ collaboration strategy, if you will. And then when people had a difficult time figuring out how to incorporate the more advanced features into their work-lives (whether due to education issues, or because of the lack of alignment between platform and business objectives), adoption was not there, and the platform was blamed. There are technical issues with every technology platform, but most real SharePoint issues have more to do with implementation shortcomings than technology.

Then came social collaboration, with a simple message and easy implementation, and better yet – a quick uptick in end user adoption and engagement. Add to that the acquisition and Microsoft’s tremendous marketing machine, and suddenly organizations believe that Yammer can solve all of their user adoption ills. Maybe it can, or maybe it can’t. My message is that if your SharePoint implementation failed due to a lack of business alignment, then so will Yammer. It’s a larger topic than I intended to cover here, but an important one.

Within this presentation, I tried to keep my message simple: social within SharePoint 2013 is about structured collaboration, while Yammer is about unstructured collaboration. The use cases are generally different – it’s an apples versus oranges comparison, in many cases.

If your collaboration is structured – meaning, if your collaboration is around content that is managed within team sites that are secure, have workflow and forms associated with it, are process-intensive, tied closely to a detailed taxonomy, and where you need to comply with strict auditing and compliance governance rules – then social collaboration within SharePoint is probably the correct direction for you. If your collaboration is unstructured – meaning, if your collaboration is not necessarily tied to content or process, and your interactions are more ad hoc and flexibility and speed are paramount – then Yammer is the correct direction for you.

My slides are below, and provide a quick snapshot comparison of the features of SharePoint vs Yammer:

When you look at them side-by-side, it is a fairly even comparison. However, there are some fundamental differences:

  • Yammer is only online. There is not, nor will there ever be, an on-premises version.
  • The Yammer newsfeed is not (currently, or in the foreseeable roadmap) integrated to the follow/share/tag capabilities within SharePoint on prem or SharePoint online. If you want the rich social collaboration features tied to your activities within SharePoint, you need to use the SharePoint native newsfeed.
  • SharePoint will release new social features at a much slower pace than Yammer. Yammer provides updates as quickly as weekly, which is only possible through their online delivery model. So if always having the latest/greatest version of the product is critical to you, then Yammer is the right choice.
  • Yammer governance is limited. Security is at two levels (in the paid version): who can access a network, and who can access a private group. The platform was designed intentionally as an “open” platform, which is part of what makes it so powerful. But for more managed environments, this may be seen as a risk.

As a SharePoint MVP, I am a huge fan of SharePoint, of course, but I have also become an avid Yammer user. I am currently a member of 9 separate networks, and use 5 of them actively throughout the day. It has simply become the way in which I work, and as a remote worker, has greatly improved my ability to gain visibility, and give visibility, with the rest of my company.

Microsoft is working hard to provide a more clear marketing message on the differences between the two platforms, and offers some options for integration – such as a Yammer web part that you can drop into a team site, allowing you to see a Yammer Group newsfeed side-by-side with your SharePoint newsfeed. But if you’re just not sure how to move forward, I encourage you to go and try Yammer for free, test it out with your team, and figure out how best to fit social collaboration into your organization (I recommend joining the open group SPYam, with thousands of SharePoint experts sharing their expertise). Part of what has made Yammer so successful has been their rapid innovation and testing model – and you need to do the same. try it, test it, talk about it with your end users, adjust and test some more, and then build out your social strategy based on an understanding of what will work best for your own culture and collaboration needs.

Christian Buckley

Christian is the Brand Alliance Director for AvePoint Inc., and a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He hosts the AvePoint Office 365 Hours (#O365hours) and #P2Pnow series, the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) live stream. He is based in Lehi, Utah (Silicon Slopes).

10 Responses

  1. I am a big fan of having options. Not every tool or methodology will fit all companies. That’s why its so important to understand your company culture, and do what works best for your teams.

  2. Amos, not sure where you’re getting your data, but email is not gone on the civilian side in any definition of the word. While the number of emails we send and receive each day has decreased, it is still a system-critical platform for almost every organization. The pure social communicators are, at this point, an exception.
    Its easy for a company to abolish email by removing the platform from the system. So did Salesforce organically move away from email, or was it by management decree? I’ll put my money on the latter.
    And then how many of those employees go online to check their Hotmail or Gmail accounts during lunch? A good number, I’d also wager.

  3. Amos Ahola says:

    “I am (n)ot one of those people who see Yammer and other social platforms “replacing” email, but I do see them dramatically decreasing email usage.”
    Microsoft sees the matter same way as you do, which is unfortunate, because of this the development of Sharepoint social is not progressing to the correct direction. In practice MS is creating an additional layer of communication (= additional layer of work), instead of replacing an existing one.
    In the civilian side, email is already long gone, and no-one even questions this fact.
    According to Salesforce reps, they have managed to abolish internal email in within Salesforce. If this is indeed true, they are most likely the first corporation to succeed in that – and because of this, they are far ahead MS in the mindset when developing Chatter.
    MS of course has a lot of email related products which they do not wish to cannibalize, just as Kodak chose not to do when they invented digital camera.

  4. Mark_kruger says:

    Great points Christian. I’ve advised folks to use Yammer in more of a workgroup setting where information gathering and brainstorming is more unstructured. When you are talking about governance and structured content, on-premise always makes more sense. Newsgator provides some great options from a 3rd party perspective but many forget SharePoint itself is a platform to leverage and customize to meet the needs of the business.

  5. I am ot one of those people who see Yammer and other social platforms “replacing” email, but I do see them dramatically decreasing email usage. And there are many vendors out there, such as Harmon.ie, who are bridging the gap between social and email to unlock this massive corporate data silo.
    But I do think you are right about needing to have the ability to attach an email to a collaboration thread, transforming it into a readable/trackable/shareable artifact (document) within a social conversation, just like you can push a document or link from SharePoint into Yammer. Two-way sharing becomes more complex, but at least paving the way to move email communication over to social would be a great start.
    And now I’m sure we’ll hear from a handful of vendors who enable just that…

  6. Completely agree. Having participated in the Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston last month, I was pleased to hear from Microsoft leadership some recognition that some percentage of SharePoint customers will *never* move to the cloud, for real or perceived issues. MS seems to have adopted Gartner’s numbers from earlier this year, stating that 35% of current on prem customers will never move. For those customers, the SP2013 social features — or tools through vendors like NewsGator — will provide more than enough of the features they’re looking for.
    Of course, moving forward, I do think we’ll see an increase in the adoption of cloud solutions, and specifically cloud-based social platforms, but companies who had previously thought they would not, could not use them. But time will tell.

  7. Amos Ahola says:

    The biggest obstacle of enterprise collaboration (and even beyound that, cross-enterprise collaboration) is the e-email protocol, which remains the dominant medium of communication and task management in nearly all corporations.
    The main problems of the e-mail protocol are as follows:
    E-mails cannot be linked to objects (for example groups or pages in many social media, in corporate environment these would be projects, organizations and so forth), and hence cannot be accessed through these objects.
    E-mails are by default private, hence they cannot be searched
    E-mails are not (indefinetily) stored centrally, hence they cannot be searched
    I would be technically fairly simple to replace all internal email in a corporation with a more open communication system like Yammer, but the change resistance is just too high. To mitigate that, the single most important action that Microsoft should do is to make Outlook as the main client for accessing Yammer & Sharepoint social features.
    In the speed of operation, Outlook surpasses any browser based application, and if most white collar employees spend 30%+ of their worktime with email, we just cant afford a 50% drop in productivity for the sake of collaboration & knowledge sharing.

  8. For many companies Yammer is an issue for as long as it remains an “online only” version.
    – If you’re in a highly regulated industry you may be limited in your hosting choices. Our security teams required us to use an internally hosted solution.
    – If you’re in Europe data sharing regulations mean that any hosting of data by a US company is problematic due to a conflict with the US FISA and Patriot Act legislation – which Microsoft/Yammer would have to comply with.
    That plus the “One of the problems with SharePoint has always been that the marketing enthusiasm has outpaced the deployment reality” mean that Newsgator (and similar tools) on top of SP will remain a solid choice for large companies.

  9. Daniel, great point. My focus was SharePoint and Yammer, but you’re right — NewsGator provides an even more robust and integrated solution for on prem deployments. I think the Yammer story will become more compelling over time as Microsoft adds more integration, and expands their social footprint across other tools and systems, but for most structured collaboration systems, SharePoint social features (and tools like NewsGator) continue to be the better fit for their immediate needs for all of the reasons I outline above. And where organizations do NOT have structured collaboration requirements (that is, auditing, compliance, and regulatory requirements) then Yammer probably makes the most sense.

  10. Daniel says:

    Completely agree with the structured vs unstructured argument. However with Sharepoint you have the opportunity to add unstructured social with a tool like NewsGator. SharePoint and Yammer which results in two data sources is always going to pose data governance and management challenges so trying to keep it all in SharePoint makes sense to me. This will of course be influenced by whether you are onprem or Office365.

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