Enterprise Social: Should I use Yammer? When should I use SharePoint?

by Richard Harbridge on September 29, 2014

There are many conversations we all have around enterprise social. Some of the most challenging conversations aren’t on the value of enterprise social, but in how should we go about implementing and delivering social enterprise services in our own organizations. While this subject deserves many posts I thought I would start with a topic I am very frequently asked about: when should I use SharePoint and when should I use Yammer?  In this post I will highlight key considerations around SharePoint and Yammer for Microsoft led social enterprise scenarios and try and highlight meaningful and real reasons some organizations have been cautious around adopting social enterprise technologies like Yammer.

Let’s start with an observation that organizations today are still providing differing guidance on when and how to use social technologies. There has been great community and organizational sharing around this topic and, at the end of the day, many implementations of social technology involve multiple technologies that have some overlapping capabilities. There is no ‘perfect’ answer to how you should implement social enterprise services in your organization without understanding where and how you have invested in technology, and what the needs of your organization and users are. What I can say from experience is that it is better to have overlapping capabilities if that empowers your users and organization compared to not having those capabilities, or not having meaningful adoption of those capabilities.

When to use what…

That being said one of the first point of confusion that comes up is “when to use what”. There are many different thoughts and articles on this subject (and all of them are fantastic) but typically they focus on a few things – how urgent is the communication/need – and how private or public is the communication/need? Once you have identified those two things you can normally make a decision as an individual user as to what technologies may be applicable – and which one seems like the best one to use in that circumstance.

When to use Yammer

Let me be clear – sharing and communicating is a good thing – and what we want to ensure first and foremost is that it IS communicated – regardless of where it is communicated. So we need to ensure the culture of sharing and communicating is alive and healthy in the organization. Once your users value sharing/communicating – then what people need to learn is how the technology works (without understanding you won’t get commitment) and how they can share/communicate better. This is where SharePoint, Yammer and Office 365 Groups provide more value than 1:1 and 1:few methods of communication like traditional email and instant messages (or phone calls and Lync [web conference] meetings).

SharePoint & Yammer: What Should We Use?

For today’s discussion let’s assume that you currently have rolled out SharePoint within your organization in some capacity or you are interested in furthering those investments. If that’s true then the topic of when to use Yammer over SharePoint will be very relevant to you. Also note that I am discussing Enterprise Social Network elements like the newsfeed here and not outlining the extensive knowledge management features SharePoint possesses that compliment an enterprise social service.

Microsoft’s guidance has been clear and consistent: Use Yammer whenever possible over SharePoint (Pick your enterprise social network: Yammer or Newsfeed). Additionally use Office 365 where possible over traditional on premises variations of the technology.

While Microsoft will release another on-premises version of SharePoint Server (SharePoint 2015) and will maintain its social capabilities – Microsoft has stated that they will not be adding new investments in SharePoint’s social capabilities where they are met by Yammer. Microsoft recognizes that some organizations just don’t feel comfortable with multi-tenant cloud services or aren’t yet ready for the cloud in their own enterprise organizations. For these customers, our guidance is to use the SharePoint newsfeed until the cloud meets their needs, or they are ready to embrace the cloud service. Please be aware of Microsoft’s investments in SharePoint 2013 SP1 which will allow on-premises SharePoint users to easily integrate their Yammer network.

Author’s note: I wish I had more time to write out explanations for why you should treat social like a service in your organization – or how continual innovation and access across devices anywhere at anytime should significantly encourage customers to adopt SaaS based social enterprise tools like Yammer – but I would no doubt digress and dilute the focus of this post. So let’s just say that for now that I have a bias towards any XaaS (SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS) offerings you subscribe/consume over traditional assets (on prem) technologies you might purchase and upgrade every few years. So in my own words – embrace the cloud where possible. This applies to everyone. If you are a consultant and provider of services, or if you are a customer/organization looking to improve the business with technology. Social is a great case for adopting at a hybrid model for Yammer, SharePoint Online and One Drive for Business – and may be a good way to adopt a more services oriented approach versus historic asset management and implementation.

There are legitimate reasons an organization might hesitate to leverage Yammer instead of SharePoint newsfeeds. In my experience most reasons tend to be from lack of understanding – but there are a few that are legitimate and deserve to be discussed here.

If an organization has active usage and engagement on SharePoint newsfeeds and considers certain SharePoint features to be critical it may be necessary to provide workarounds or wait for an equivalent feature (or critical feature) to be available in Yammer before they move. To help keep you informed two of the reasons SharePoint newsfeed loving organizations are concerned with moving to Yammer are listed here:

  • Site Based Security Inheritance – When using the SharePoint newsfeed from a site, posts to that newsfeed are automatically placed in that team site. No one can see the posts of a site where he/she does not have access to. Because the security is integrated with SharePoint, the people who can view posts of a site are the same as the people who can access the site.

    When using Yammer things are different. Because Yammer is not completely tied to SharePoint an organization would have to make a group in Yammer private if we want to prevent everyone in the network (whole company) see posts to certain groups. Private groups in Yammer will not by default have the members of those groups be the same as the members of the site (in SharePoint). To keep them in sync organizations will have to update the private group in Yammer after a member change is made to the site (or vis-a-versa).

    So this can be a major reason to hesitate using Yammer instead of SharePoint newsfeeds – but as we roll out things like unified groups (http://blogs.office.com/2014/09/25/delivering-first-chapter-groups-office-365/) or other updates this will improve the integration between SharePoint sites and Yammer groups (not to mention Outlook, Exchange, Lync and Office 365). Additionally we should think of making most groups available to everyone (public groups) where possible if we want to have an open sharing culture. If people don’t want the whole company see their conversation they can use a private group, a discussion board in SharePoint or use the private message capability in Yammer, email or Lync for this.

  • Provisioning Of Yammer Groups & SharePoint Sites – While this is a minor inconvenience when performing automated site provisioning or using a request based site provisioning process by default creating a site in SharePoint will not create a group in Yammer for that site. For SharePoint Online or On Premises an extra step is needed when provisioning a site if a Yammer group feed experience is desired for that site. Keep in mind that SharePoint Community sites do not have Yammer group feeds included by default. Note that improvements to site provisioning, scripting, and unified groups (referenced above) could mitigate this over time.

So I highlighted some legitimate points where organizations are cautious… but let me be clear – even for these organizations the benefits yammer provides out weigh the additional overhead that comes with it.

Benefits to leveraging Yammer

There are many significant benefits an organization leveraging Yammer for their newsfeed has over those who are using the SharePoint newsfeed. If an organization is just starting with SharePoint newsfeeds it should be an obvious choice to move, transition or leverage Yammer over SharePoint newsfeeds going forward.

Awesome! Hopefully we are all a bit more onboard with Yammer than when we started – or at least more informed.

What are the other issues that aren’t as significant?

Now comes the next question that I expect in the comments section or from fellow colleagues out there… if those two were the legitimate reasons (in my opinion) then what are the other reasons people give and why aren’t they as concerning?

  • Duplicate functionality:
    This is always a concern, but most of the duplication deals with newsfeeds in SharePoint which have clear directions/guidance for how to disable and replace with Yammer. At the beginning of this post I highlighted that it is better to have some duplication if it means greater adoption or more targeted capabilities so I am hard pressed in my experiences with customers, partners and Microsoft to think of a scenario where this is really a show stopper or that hasn’t been addressed in roadmaps and the duplication isn’t based on some legacy. (Let me know if you think otherwise.)
  • Cost:
    The only reason this could be a concern is if the costs of setting up a hybrid model to consume Office 365 services like Yammer were considered cost prohibitive for the business. A transition to the cloud has cost benefits (due to how the cloud is priced) so it’s only when doing a mixed environment that I see this brought up as a concern. At the same time I think there are few things that are a better investment than finding a path to the cloud and better cloud integration with your on premises technology investments. As a result I don’t see this as being an issue – especially with the funding programs Microsoft has, the competitive pricing of services that support this (as it’s very common nowadays with great guidance published), investments in onboarding that Microsoft has been making, and the fact that organizations realize value almost immediately upon completing the hybrid work (once you start using – you immediately start to receive value in SaaS solutions).
  • Search:
    One of my favorite subjects and something that is brought up often. There are hybrid search investments for SharePoint Online and SharePoint On-premises that make it possible to create search experiences that enable users to search across each or both collections. In addition to this it is very easy to perform a search in Yammer and you can always add link to search yammer directly from any SharePoint search page. Delve (http://blogs.office.com/2014/09/08/milestone-office-delve/) also will search across Office 365 (including Lync and Exchange as well as Yammer and SharePoint). Directionally I feel that this is less of an issue – but is something that should be planned for and considered when you plan your enterprise search strategy. Certainly understanding what the experience will be like – and how long you will be in a hybrid mode between on prem and online would be important to note. The two search experiences (Yammer and SharePoint Online) being different is mitigated with Delve and other investments but is something that organizations live with. It technically provides some benefit in that each experience is ‘more targeted’ in each platform. Since Yammer searches based on ‘date’ relevancy – Yammer content tends to be more relevant for a certain time period versus the way SharePoint searches more extensively with greater filtering options more in line with an enterprise search service for knowledge management scenarios. Though I will be the first to say I wish we had a more comprehensive search and discovery experience across both technologies (and Delve is a great step in that direction).
  • Security:
    Highlighted the only real concern above. This can be managed manually and is managed that way at many organizations today without issue. I personally haven’t seen this be an issue as organizations only have this come up often when doing significant integration with SharePoint and are bringing Yammer groups up into SharePoint sites or to support processes/workflows that live in SharePoint. In these circumstances solutions and workarounds are developed (sometimes just manual ones) that are worth the benefits Yammer provides over SharePoint newsfeeds and they don’t occur with significant frequency. Still worth considering (as highlighted above).
  • Following:
    So there is a notion of ‘following’ in Yammer where people you connect and follow with have specific Yammer posts that you might be interested in keeping up to date on. In SharePoint you can also follow documents (for bookmarking purposes) and Sites (for bookmarking purposes). These are all still valid. Microsoft made improvements to following sites with Site Folders in Office 365 (http://blog.onedrive.com/onedrive-for-business-updates-web-user-experience/). So the issue here is normally that following A) doesn’t really work across SharePoint environments in a Hybrid configuration (SharePoint Online and SharePoint On Prem) to which you should have the social and primary place be SharePoint Online and SharePoint on prem should really be for heavily customized environments or very specialized needs – or the issue is B) that following content provided additional notifications in the newsfeed service in SharePoint. B) is mitigated by the fact that we have features like Alerting in SharePoint, or other methods for ‘staying on top of’ key events. Additionally Yammer is pretty easy to leverage from an API/Open Graph perspective and you can add in not just notification/posts from specific SharePoint workflows or processes, but you can also extend that to any other system/service you are leveraging.
  • On Prem Only:
    In these circumstances if you can’t adopt the cloud’s capabilities then using SharePoint’s capabilities or some of the third party providers is the way for you to go (though caution should be suggested for heavily customizing or heavily customized add on products). Even if you go this route you should have a plan for when and how you will eventually consume cloud based services (or know exactly what is stopping you to monitor in case that reason changes or becomes a non issue). My thoughts on this have been pretty clear here. Cloud first and XaaS investments are better in majority of circumstances than asset/on prem investments (when equivalent functionality and offerings are available).
  • Profile Complexity:
    The ability to add user profile properties and fields in SharePoint online exists today and this can be useful for a variety of situations. People search in SharePoint also can be useful as can searching for people in Yammer to see what conversations and other things they have been up to. Additionally Yammer has a profile for each user and today those are not the same profile as the one used in SharePoint. Users are still using a consistent password, username and authenticating – earlier this year Microsoft made this easier (http://blogs.office.com/2014/02/18/simplified-login-to-yammer-from-office-365/) and there is a publically disclosed item on the roadmap around simplifying the logon experience with Yammer further. So the issue is really users may need to fill out more than one profile and that for different reasons you may want to visit their profile in SharePoint or in Yammer. This is fairly common in the public space (linkedin, facebook, Skype etc) so users are actually familiar with this. If someone is interested in using Yammer and is a Yammer contributor expect that you will run into no issues getting them to fill out their profile – and since the biggest benefit it provides is improving discovery of that individuals contributions (meaning they are participating actively on Yammer) – this doesn’t result in an issue. Keeping in mind that directionally we should see consolidation based on Azure AD/Office 365 on things like this over time.
  • What about OneNote, Wikis, Blogs, and more?
    Most of the other issues I hear revolve around blogs, wikis, team OneNote documents versus notes or conversations in Yammer. These each serve different purposes and are complimentary. I struggle to find real issues here beyond just having many options – perhaps too many – for users. That’s where governance, guidance, coaching, and leadership can drive better direction and support for when to use what… and I struggle to find something really significant as an issue that an organization has run into here – especially as the Office 365 services continue to mature.

Did I miss anything? Let me know and I would love to share a response or thoughts around it.

Hope this helps,
Richard Harbridge

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gord September 29, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Hi Richard – one of the main challenges for many organizations we speak with is the duplicate Document Management aspect of yammer. People want to use SharePoint to store, surface and sophisticatedly manage documents (then you get all the work flow, taxonomic, search, content type goodness of SP) – yammer allows document upload, and that is very problematic and not just because of data sovereignty but security, search and a myriad of other reasons that ECM initiatives get compromised….


2 Richard Harbridge January 18, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Absolutely. Most of these concerns are dealt with when an organization is leveraging Office 365, but if they are using SharePoint on prem for some of the reasons you indicate it can complicate the adoption of a cloud based service like Yammer. I also think it’s a good point to highlight document management practices – but most organizations already have multiple places where people share documents that are fit to purpose. From email, to file sharing services. There are multiple ways to secure content in these circumstances so that it doesn’t matter what platform it is on (think Rights Management Services which protects the content itself).

The search and content management challenges are being addressed in a variety of ways with ‘universal’ concepts like groups, or more ubiquitous search experiences like Delve. However in the interim we have to help ‘connect’ Yammer with structured SharePoint sites to ensure that where it makes sense organizations and users are able to leverage SharePoint’s more sophisticated document management capabilities…

Love the feedback Gord!


3 Vijaya October 10, 2014 at 5:33 am

I had lot of my questions answered, thanks for the post.
Even if we levearge best of all the worlds, SharePoint Online, On-premise and Yammer, there is still possibility that we will need some features beyond that is offered out of box.
It will be helpful to know in terms of customization, which Social media provides better framework ?


4 Richard Harbridge January 18, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Both! Overtime you can customize and extend Office 365 with it’s graph as well as that of Yammer’s (which will eventually be part of 365 development patterns). 🙂


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: