In part 1 of this series we started off with an introduction. In part 2, we are going to look at the exciting world of Yammer. In this series of posts, I’ll be looking at the enterprise social features of Office 365, and how they fit together.
Yammer is an Enterprise Social Networking product that was launched in 2008 by a former PayPal executive, and acquired by Microsoft is 2012. Since being acquired by Microsoft, Yammer’s development has been moved into Office 365. All of the other Enterprise Social features of Office 365 we will talk about in this series are smaller features of some other product. Yammer is currently a standalone product that was developed independently of any of the other Office 365 products. It is, of course, Microsoft’s stated goal to tie Yammer into all the other Office 365 products.
When signing up for Yammer, you are asked to use your email address as the basis of your Yammer identity.
This system is bit of an issue for me. Most people I know change jobs fairly frequently these days. Since the plural of anecdote is not data, I figured I’d see if I could find any more official information on the subject. Turns out the average in America is…
Three to five years with jobs held between the ages of 18 and 38 having the shortest duration (source America's Dynamic workforce: 2006; U.S. Department of Labor)
So younger members of the workforce (I imagine those are the people much more likely to use something like Yammer in the first place), are going to be completely changing their Yammer identities fairly frequently. This would be fine if Yammer was intended to be used exclusively for organization specific information, but it’s not. Microsoft very much wants you to join public Yammer networks like the Office 365 network.
Personally I use email@example.com as the email address associated with my main Yammer identity. I am an MVP, and have access to a number of MVP specific Yammer networks where Microsoft publishes information that is of great interest to me. I do not want to lose access to these networks when I change jobs, so I use my personal email. This means that to use company specific Yammer resources, I have to open a second web browser in private mode so I can log into Yammer with a second account.
Yammer is completely web based. I guess the closest thing I can compare Yammer to is a message board. Yammer is divided into networks and these networks are divided into groups. The default message option is a conversation. A conversation posted to a group is available to be read by all members of that group. Other group members can reply to a conversation inline. In addition to posting text, your conversations can include; attached files, polls, links, notes, and praise. In addition to conversations, Yammer supports direct one to one IMs.
The interface for Yammer is a web site that is formatted much like a message board. The newest conversation is posted to the top, with older conversations listed in order below.
Pictured above we can see the Office 365 network. With 64 thousand plus members, you can imagine that new posts will scroll past fairly quickly. To better organize conversations, networks are divided into groups. Not to be confused with Office 365 Universal Groups, Yammer groups are divisions of larger networks. Groups can be designated as public or private, allowing members of a network the option to join groups freely or by invitation.
The interface for choosing groups has recently changed. It now lives on the left hand side of the screen.
Above you can see the list of groups I have joined within the Office 365 network. These groups make it easier to find relevant posts within very large networks. If you were to search the Office 365 network, you’d see hundreds of different groups. That listing of groups seems to reorder itself based on how often you use each group (though I am not sure about that). Before taking that screen shot I removed and re-added a bunch of groups to test this, and it seemed to hold true.
The controls across the top are self-explanatory. Conversations, Info, Files, and Notes all give you exactly the information you would expect.
Your conversations can take the form of an update, poll or praise. Again, these controls do what you would expect.
Searching for information also works pretty well. You can search by keyword, by date, by poster, or any combination of the three. Searching within a specific group is more likely to get you to the information you are looking for, assuming posters use groups in the way intended.
Email notifications for Yammer
The best way, in my opinion, to stay up to date on a Yammer group you are interested in is to setup email notifications of new posts to that group.
If you go to Settings > Settings > Notifications and then expand the relevant network, you’ll see the below menu for email notifications settings.
The simple check boxes are pretty easy to understand. They allow pretty good control over when you receive what notifications. As you can see, I am following 7 groups within the Office 365 network but only receive notifications for new posts from one of those groups. It will likely take you a bit of tuning to get to a notification level that suits you, but I think it’s worth the effort if you are going to use Yammer.
The Problem with Yammer
One of the first things I heard about Yammer when I was introduced to it was that it is intended to be a replacement for email. I’ve heard several Yammer evangelists say things like “We don’t even use email internally anymore.” This is, is my somewhat less than humble opinion, ridiculous. Yammer is absolutely not a replacement for email, and it never will be. I am pretty strongly of the opinion that trying to make Yammer into an email competitor is harmful to Yammer much more so that it is to email.
I would say it’s prudent to avoid a situation where a perfectly functional tool like email is replaced by a poor substitute. Yammer is not email, and trying to treat it as email does a disservice to Yammer. Yammer can be a viable enterprise social tool, but not if people try to jam it into a place it does not belong.
Here is how Yammer stack up in our ratings system
I was a little unsure how to score Yammer on discoverability. The search function works well enough if you know what you’re looking for. Finding information if you don’t know what you’re looking for is a bit more cumbersome, especially in large networks.
Access Control: average
Networks and groups can be public allowing anyone to join, or private requiring approval to join.
Ease of use: excellent
Yammer is pretty easy to use now. I don’t think it was true when Microsoft originally acquired it, but they have some pretty improvements since that, for me at least, have greatly improved the usability.
Yammer is not a terribly flexible tool in my opinion, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. If you use it for very specific things, I think it’s actually pretty decent. Those who try to make Yammer into a replacement for email are, at least in my opinion, likely to be disappointed.
Targeted audience: excellent
Yammer networks and group provide all the tools you need to target your conversations at the appropriate audience. Of course it’s up to use and your organization to ensure that conversations stay on topic and end up in the proper group.
Time sensitivity: average
I don't really think Yammer is the place for trying to get someone's attention, or posing a question for which you need an immediate answer.
Hybrid functionality: non-existent
Yammer is a browser based tool, and that is it.
There are no compliance tools in Yammer, unless you consider sending email notifications of all Yammer conversations a compliance tool.
Historically I have not been a big fan of Yammer. Like it or not, as an MVP I am pretty much forced to use Yammer these days.
In writing this article, I have learned a bit more about Yammer and how to use it. Now I think I understand it well enough that I will use it fairly regularly without too much pain. I know that is not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I will say that my opinion of Yammer has been moving toward the positive as of late.
Continue this series in Part 3