Yammer – Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty?

Is Yammer Microsoft's Cinderella product

New improvements to Yammer suggest that the old lady of social networks is not being written out of the Microsoft storyline – yet…

Once upon a time, when Yammer was new and cool, we were told that adoption was so easy and intuitive that the platform spread virally and made the business case for itself. But the fairy-tale died as business after business reported uneven take-up and an ability to convert instant conversation into enduring new methods of working. Yammer got swallowed up by big bad beast Microsoft, which never bothered to connect it properly with its other digital transformation tools.

Then along came the new Prince Charming in the form of Workplace by Facebook. This makes just the same alluring promises, plus the sexy user experience that comes from the world’s largest consumer social network.

So, for a couple of years now, Yammer has felt like Office 365’s Cinderella, useful but unloved. It’s become the part of the O365 offering that covers off the requirements for a business to have an enterprise social network, but it was never integrated properly into the wider Microsoft suite. As more and more Office features for social collaboration appeared – Groups and Teams among the latest – so Yammer, starved of investment and even of customer service teams who could help businesses make sense of it, looked more and more forlorn.

With the noisy emergence of Workplace as the new kid of the ESN block, Yammer has been ever more stuck in a time-warp – like Sleeping Beauty. It lost its cool, few businesses bothered to understand how it could ever change the way they worked; and even Microsoft seemed more interested in talking up the rest of the Office suite and just putting in Yammer by default.

No wonder that the feeling grew that Yammer would soon be axed.

But reports of its death – like that of Mark Twain – turn out to be exaggerated, and the sleeping Yammer began to stir once more. In May this year Microsoft announced several new features that address some of the worst aspects of its awkward fit with the rest of the Office suite.

First and crucially, new desktop apps have been developed for Windows, Mac and iPad, with better group functionality and search, and an experience closer to that of the browser.

Conversation, is, of course, what Yammer has always been good for. What it hasn’t done so well is collaboration – it’s not been good for sharing or talking about working documents, for accessing a library of documents or even for co-creation. For all this you often have had to switch out to SharePoint or other programmes. Office Groups were supposed to help, by presenting everything for a team in one place, but now we can go a step further so that SharePoint documents appear far more richly within Yammer, and a Yammer group conversation can be embedded right into SharePoint.

Equally useful, content from dozens of third party apps like Trello or Twitter can now be surfaced directly in your Yammer groups, using O365 Connectors. This improved integration with SharePoint and the apps your teams use everyday means that – at last –  Yammer groups can become the place where teams find everything they need to do their work – and Yammer can claim to be a modern digital workplace platform, not just a conversation tool.

For this to truly work, you must have confidence that group membership is up-to-date: that new joiners are enroller and leavers are expired. This capability, which already existed within Office Groups, is now available to Yammer groups, so membership is kept up to date automatically based on rules within Active Directory.

Seeing good-quality video in your activity stream is increasingly vital, whether for communications, training or information exchange, and now a business no longer needs to rely on Vimeo or YouTube to store this material. Content from Office 365 Video and Microsoft Stream can appear seamlessly and the numbers of view, comments and likes can be included in the analytics. In addition, videos can be used to comment on other videos.

All this is on top of other improvements, announced earlier in the year, such as making it far easier to invite externals into the company space, so trusted partners, customers or volunteers in the case of a charity, can easily be brought into the conversation.

Probably the key argument for choosing Yammer as your ESN platform is that a business investing on O365 effectively gets it for free. Its competing  platforms need to work hard to prove they can really offer more usability, or gain more traction, than the Microsoft warhorse.

Then at Microsoft’s Ignite conference at the end of September Yammer was given a few more shots in the arm. Connie Woo, from Microsoft’s Tech Community outlined a clearer role for Yammer.  It is all about your inner and outer loops:

“Yammer has always served to help organizations around the globe connect people and information, to make better decisions faster. As an open space to connect and engage across your organization, Yammer is the best tool for driving teamwork in what we call your “outer loop.” While your “inner loop” of collaborators work with you to rapidly deliver against important projects and deliverables, it is your outer loop connections that drive diversity of thought and organizational change.”

The “inner loop” is served by Teams, Microsoft’s answer to Slack. Teams is where you are supposed to collaborate and get work done. As part of a simplification process (and boy do we need that in the world of O365) Teams will take over Skype for Business so you will have one channel where you can message everyone in your separate work groups and switch seamlessly to audio and video conference mode thanks to a little green light showing you that Joe in R&D is open to talking with you at that moment.

So Yammer becomes the channel for shooting the breeze about issues – from the serious like your gender pay gap to the frivolous such as the lack of smashed avocado in the staff canteen, while Teams is where day-to-day work gets done. While it remains to be seen whether the enterprise workplace needs two loops, Microsoft are trying to make Yammer more part of the O365 family and less the embarrassing elder stepchild.  A new mobile-ready web-part for integrating your Yammer conversations into SharePoint sites will be available in October. You can now see presence, as well as launch voice and video calls, straight from Yammer.

And Connie Woo promises that soon you will have better dashboards to find out what is going on in your Yammer groups.

“Built with extensive feedback, group insights will allow group owners and members to have a comprehensive view of engagement including posts, reads and likes.

Group insights give you a view of people and content activity trends for group members and non-members across 7-day, 28-day and 12-month periods. This data will also be available for you to export directly from Yammer so you can create reports and make decisions with ease.

Yammer group data will be integrated into the Microsoft Graph reporting APIs, so that you can customize your own reports, analysis and scorecards of your IT services in one unified place.”

The problem is one of perception. Many organisations just can’t promote Yammer because it was poorly launched a few years back and has become a poisoned brand among the workforce. However, Yammer is starting to close the perception gap. So it’s probably time for anyone with O365 in their business should take another look at Yammer, and to ask themselves whether they really need the complexity and expense of a third-party social platform, when they’ve already got a reasonably fit-for-purpose platform right there in the O365 hamburger.

Maybe Cinderella will finally make it to the ball.

by Peter Furtado

Microsoft will be at smilelondon on Nov 20th to talk about Teams and Yammer.

Microsoft hits the reset button