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Published on Tuesday, April 14, 2015

SharePoint vs Yammer. What’s the difference?

SharePoint vs Yammer. What’s the difference?

SharePoint vs Yammer. What’s the difference?

How does Yammer compare to SharePoint? Does it fit into an organization that is using SharePoint 2013?

SharePoint 2010’s social features were pretty rudimentary. Organizations that really embraced social had to turn to third-party vendors or Yammer. SharePoint 2013’s social features are miles ahead of what was available in SharePoint 2010.

Personally, I don’t understand why an organization would adopt both SharePoint 2013 and Yammer. I would leverage the social tools within SharePoint 2013 as they are fully integrated within an organization’s employee portal. The mobile apps for SharePoint (both Windows Phone and iOS) will also help complete the social story. That said, if a client wanted to stay on SharePoint 2010, Yammer might be a good fit.

While Yammer and SharePoint 2013 share similar social capabilities (discussions, feeds, ratings, individual profiles, etc.), the difference is that Yammer’s social features have been utilized for years and the Yammer team appears to be evolving the social experience more rapidly than the SharePoint team. It is much easier to setup and use Yammer, so fostering collaboration can happen much more quickly. Yammer employees may also tell you that the service was built around people, whereas SharePoint was built around documents.

Yammer spoke about their intended SharePoint integration scenarios at the SharePoint Conference and highlighted concepts such as a Yammer Web Part, embeddable feeds, document and list integration, profile synchronization, and federated search. At this point, I’m only seeing talk about Yammer integrating with SharePoint Online, not the on-premise version, but that could be coming. I could see organizations using both SharePoint and Yammer when the business case or appetite for social is not yet clear and there would be benefits in piloting Yammer. Agreed though, it would be weird to have a Yammer and SharePoint 2013 mixed social experience.

SharePoint 2013 has expanded social features allowing you to create community sites, post micro-blogs, use hash tags, and mention colleagues and communities; but it’s still a light social feature set compared to Yammer, and a host of other social products on the market. SharePoint is still the extensible platform that is playing catch-up in the social computing space. That said, I think a lot of organizations will find SharePoint 2013’s out-of-the-box social features sufficient, at least as a first step into this space.

Yammer is completely about conversations in the open. It’s for sharing, collecting company knowledge (especially tacit knowledge), and creating opportunities for connections around work, interests or specializations. Yammer is a social web community experience. We heard over and over again, it exposes the opportunity for serendipitous discovery, and it does this a lot better than SharePoint 2013.

Right now, there isn’t a clear story about an integrated Yammer and SharePoint 2013 experience. For organizations just looking to dip their toes into social, SharePoint 2013 will probably suffice. For organizations looking for rich, social computing capabilities, they will need to look at other options. As for running Yammer and SharePoint 2013 simultaneously, it could be hairy to sync these two experiences for users. It will require a lot of work on the community/portal management side to do the manual integration that is required at this point. With the future of Yammer and SharePoint being so unclear at this point, I think it is going to make any decision regarding which social computing product to purchase very difficult.

I’m really impressed with the improvements Microsoft has made to the social story in SharePoint 2013, there was nowhere to go but up from SharePoint 2010. I would agree that Yammer has a more polished social experience, but SharePoint 2013 is definitely closing the gap.

One of the biggest things I was hoping to get out this year was a better understanding of how Microsoft plans to integrate Yammer into SharePoint and what that unification will actually look like for users, and I have to say I was pretty disappointed. It feels like a question that Microsoft doesn’t yet know the answer to, or they just aren’t ready to share it yet, but either way we’re left wondering. Until we have more clarity it will be hard to develop an enterprise social strategy around these technologies, which is disappointing for organizations who have already invested in SharePoint and Yammer, or had been considering them for the future. In the meantime, I think the new social features in SharePoint 2013 are a great starting point for organizations that are looking to introduce social functionality into their portal environment.

Why did Microsoft buy Yammer?

In my opinion, Microsoft acquired Yammer for three main reasons:

  1. Leapfrog perceived social capabilities: Regardless of how good SharePoint 2013’s social capabilities are (and I think they are great), Microsoft would constantly be battling a perception of being one step behind in the enterprise social space (as they have been). Acquiring Yammer gives Microsoft the instant perception of being a serious contender in the enterprise social space and signifies to the market that they are willing to take bold steps to get there.
  2. If you can’t beat them, buy them: By buying Yammer, Microsoft takes out a key competitor and arguably the most established brand in enterprise social. This turns them from a threat to strength.
  3. Shake things up and accelerate innovation culture: It’s clearly not business as usual for the social team in Redmond. The acquisition of some relative rock stars in the enterprise social space means that the thought leadership and opinions for SharePoint social are now coming from entirely different directions. That includes a shift in focus to rapid innovation development cycles (90 days or less) and a Silicon Valley start-up culture.

I suspect Microsoft sees Yammer as a core pillar of their cloud strategy to help customers move to the cloud and break down barriers IT may present. The Free-mium model of Yammer reminds me of Windows SharePoint Service (WSS), where collaboration was given away for free in SharePoint, and as a result was lit up like crazy in North America. Based on the valuation, you have to imagine that a big part of Yammer’s value proposition was modeled around the future potential of cloud-based subscription revenue in the current Microsoft Enterprise Agreements.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer was a smart move. Yammer has been adopted in many organizations and brings a wealth of experience around enterprise social. Social functionality was almost non-existent in SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft bringing Yammer into the fold will boost their impact and presence in a space where they desperately needed to make big advances. With over five million corporate users, Yammer is an invaluable addition to Microsoft’s portfolio.

I think the acquisition was similar to that of Skype. Microsoft saw a best-of-breed technology for an area that was strategically important (and they were under-performing in) and decided to acquire.

It’s interesting because both of these tools don’t look or feel Microsoft-y. I wonder if that will change over time or if they will keep their own identity. It will be an interesting time over the next few years for organizations that are standardized on the Microsoft stack as Microsoft determines how these social tools will all work together (or won’t).

What is the future of social with respect to SharePoint vs. Yammer?

This is the million dollar question! Right now, I think it’s anyone’s guess. The Yammer group and the SharePoint team were adamant at the conference that Yammer will never be an on-premise solution; it will always exist in the cloud. Microsoft and SharePoint are pushing hard for the cloud, but there are many clients that will be on premise for the foreseeable future.

Given this reality, I can see Yammer, Office 365, and SharePoint Online integrating really well and becoming a dynamic collaborative, social online environment. For clients using on-premise installations of SharePoint, they will either end up with some half-baked Yammer integration paired with out-of-the-box (OOTB) SharePoint social features, or OOTB SharePoint social features on their own. For organizations that have yet to dip into any significant enterprise social technologies, SharePoint 2013 OOTB will likely be sufficient as they wade into the social enterprise space.

There’s no way Microsoft can continue to offer such vastly different and competing social directions going forward — they need to communicate a clear and cohesive integration story soon. Microsoft took a fair bit of criticism post conference for not presenting a well thought out vision of integration and left customers in a fairly awkward position when approaching enterprise social on the Microsoft platform. With no explicit integration road map, the vibe at the conference was one of a shift in direction to following Yammer’s new way of doing things. Therefore I would suspect future changes to SharePoint social will be heavily dominated by Yammer capabilities, with the bulk of the thought leadership and influence coming directly from that team.

At the end of the day, I want to see a highly usable set of social features and capabilities that are tightly integrated into SharePoint. The big issues right now with SharePoint and Yammer are the confusion between where one ends and the other begins, and why an organization might use one over the other (or how they could use both). I’m not sure how this will play out for on-premise installations vs. organizations who are leveraging Microsoft’s cloud offerings, but my hope for the future is a seamless and exceptional social experience in SharePoint.

Where would Yammer be a good fit? Are there risks to be aware of or things to consider?

I think the answer is easy. If an organization has an older version of SharePoint (such as SharePoint 2007) or a similar legacy platform and is interested in exploring the benefits of social collaboration in a low-cost, efficient way I’d suggest Yammer! If the organization is on SharePoint 2010 and has already developed a very strong collaboration model or perhaps has had success with some of the social concepts, I’d recommend SharePoint and not complicate the user experience. Setting up an Office 365 trial would be the fastest and easiest way to test-drive the new social capabilities in SharePoint.

Biggest risk point to consider? If your current employee portal has a rich set of social capabilities, I would be careful extending an isolated Yammer solution. The risk is that employees could become confused about what the organizational standard is for managing information, collaborating, and communicating across teams. For years, organizations have tried to simplify the personal information management strategies that employees have to deal with, and adding Yammer without the right change management and communication could make matters worse!

If an organization were likely to move to SharePoint 2013 in the near term, I would recommend adopting the native SharePoint social features, as they are excellent and likely capable enough for most organizations. SharePoint’s social capabilities have finally been extended beyond the My Site and have been blended throughout the platform in a fairly seamless fashion.

If clients were running SharePoint 2010 or a prior version with no immediate plans to upgrade and have a limited enterprise social footprint, then I would certainly take a good look at what Yammer has to offer. While the story has changed recently, earlier versions of SharePoint including 2010 can’t really claim to have competitive enterprise social features with Yammer.

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Author: Ayaz Ahmed

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