Is Microsoft Teams the Yammer Killer?

Thanks for falling for my catchy headline… welcome to my blog.

Seeing as this is a hot topic at the moment I thought I’d write a few words about it, to chuck my keys into the bowl of ever growing arguments conversations happening on Twitter and blogs across the land.

Some background – With last-year’s Microsoft Ignite Conference announcing that Teams was being positioned to replace Skype for Business Online, it sparked an uprising of change-resistant folk, scoffing and laughing saying “that it’ll never happen, it’s more likely to replace Yammer with the whole Channels and Threaded-post thing, than to take away our beloved flagship UC product!”.

This quote came to mind…

When I first said I wanted to be a comedian, everybody laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now are they!

Bob Monkhouse (Comedian)

But the opposite is exactly what we saw, as Teams grew stronger and stronger, with probably the most talked-about malapropism of ‘parity’, to rise up against Skype for Business Online to be in a position where many would argue (and some even concede) that Teams is now a capable chat, calling, and meetings platform.

So at Ignite this year, many who had previously lost big-time on the whole UCaaS bet, confidently pushed their chips firmly on top of the next apparent victim in Teams’ unstoppable path.

And then it soon became obvious they were wrong yet again. At Ignite 2018, Murali Sitaram, the General Manager of Yammer, talked about the vision and roadmap of Yammer, and said at the moment, Yammer has the most investment from Microsoft in-terms of people working on the product than ever before.

So, what is Yammer, and what is it used for?

Yammer

It’s a ‘social network’ (like Facebook) that allows people to have open interactions across the company, at all levels – ‘Enterprise Social’ is probably the best term to describe what Yammer provides. But what does that even mean? Another way of putting it is to say Yammer can be used to ‘Inform an Engage’ people across the organisation, often cross-functional collaboration can bring about the best idea from a fresh pair of eyes, perhaps somebody outside your group with a different perspective.

Which tool, and when?

A rose by any other name, is still as annoying as the Inner Loop vs Outer Loop diagram that represents this heading.

The Inner Loop vs Outer Loop diagram has been used, and abused, to win many arguments since it first showed up. I only have two issue with the diagram, the first is that it places specific applications against each loop, the second issue is that it only depicts one loop in three segments. Although I agree that understanding how individuals interact with others inside and outside your organisation is important, especially when more and more tools arrive and overlap in form and function. But is it all black and white now?

If Outlook isn’t Inner or Outer, then what is it? It seems to have come to be known as the ‘External Loop’ (not sure who coined this phrase).

Suddenly you weren’t allowed to use Yammer to work collaboratively on projects because Yammer is for your ‘Outer Loop’, not for your co-workers. You also weren’t allowed to send emails to your co-workers, because Outlook is for the ‘External Loop’, and not for your colleagues.

But that’s ok, because suddenly everything makes sense, the taxonomy of your fellow humans is complete – they all have labels and boxes to exist in, and each has a unique application where to have your conversations based on their classification.

Huh? You fell for that? No, of course not, I was being sarcastic.

I will make a bet with you; that regardless of how strongly you preached the Inner and Outer Loop approach to win an argument with a colleague, or as a sales-pitch to your clients, that you would have still sent emails to your close colleagues, because you know better, there were times where contacting those individuals using Outlook ‘just made sense’.

So if you can happily bend the rules for Outlook, why is Teams vs Yammer causing such a clan-war?

Because it’s getting crowded in the loop… Teams has barged it’s way into the circle and brought significant overlap with it, where previously it was easy – Outlook did it’s thing, and Yammer did it’s thing, but they were different things. (Also Skype for Business did a thing, but that’s not even in the loop, go away Skype for Business! Nobody wants to talk about you any more!).

Now you force people to choose between different-yet-capable applications for how they want to communicate, before they communicate. I can hear the cacophony of responses mockingly saying “I thought UC was supposed to be unified”.

Where there’s a choice; there’s confusion. That’s where this Loop-analogy comes in to answer the age old User Adoption question of “Which tool, and when?”. You can just imagine what happened… great-minds were sought out and brought together, research was commissioned, scientists were consulted – the result was to give everybody a handy reference chart to refer to each time they want to talk to somebody. Follow these steps! It felt like a great way to help educate users, right? But all that ended up happening was to add more ‘gates’ or ‘decision points’ to a process that is already confusing for swathes of people that ‘just want a phone to make calls with, and use Outlook to write messages’.

But Teams does kind of unify this additional modality of ‘enterprise social communication’ into a single application, doesn’t it? So that’s good, isn’t it?

Early Demise of Yammer?

This is the usage activity of Yammer at work…

What do you think that this chart shows?

  • People are using Yammer less than they were 6 months ago?
  • People are starting to use Teams more to engage with others?
  • People are reverting back to using Outlook to inform others?

Well all of those could be true, and some of them could be false. What it doesn’t show is any reason behind those statistics. It doesn’t mean that Teams has been stealing people away, or does it?

Here is the usage activity for ‘Teams channel messages’ over the same period…

So, no.. Teams hasn’t increased at the same rate Yammer has decreased.

What I could pull from this is the ‘which tool’ question isn’t causing this. If it was, you’d see a correlation between the usage of the two systems, as Yammer goes down Teams goes up.

What could be happening is the availability of two solutions that do the same thing is causing disengagement and apathy – “Why should I use Yammer if I’m not reaching everybody, why should I post twice and double the effort by having two separate conversations – I’ll just not bother, and I’ll call Ben, because Ben knows everything”.

And that’s how you fail at engaging and informing users. By giving them too much choice, or guidance that differs between individual purposes or approaches.

What are you trying to achieve?

A question I find myself repeating often, I even try to ask myself this as much as possible.

Teams is on a huge hype-drive at the moment, use Teams or miss out on untold productivity, happiness, success, wealth, and all the cookies you can fit in your mouth.

If you’re just trying to ‘use teams for everything because Teams is cool and hip and will make me popular’ then you’re not answering my question properly… take a look at this slide.

Tell me if that was from a Yammer session or a Teams session? Those points could equally apply to both applications. Making a technology choice is not a use-case.

So how about these use-cases…

  • Inform everybody of company wide activities (i.e. Internal Comms)
  • Promote working-out-loud for serendipitous discovery
  • Provide access to cross-function engagement

Yammer was built for all of those things. Teams can also be used for all of those things. Outlook could do all of those things, but some it will do really badly.

Conclusion?

If you’ve read this far, and you’re really just looking for a de facto answer, then I’m sorry to disappoint. There is no single ‘right answer’ for this question. But I’ll give you some questions to start considering…

What size is your organisation?

This isn’t just for checking the supportability and scale limits (i.e. Currently Teams only allows up to 1,000 accounts in an ‘org-wide’ Team), but this question is also to help gauge the amount of activity you might expect. Why does this matter? Well Yammer has slightly more features to tune the notifications you’ll get from other people’s activity. But a smaller organisation, say ~300 people, probably wouldn’t reach the levels of noise where it becomes a problem in Teams, but at 1000 users, despite being supported, noise is very likely going to be an issue. If you’re in an organisation above 300 or even maybe 500 (depending on your employee engagement levels) – then I wouldn’t suggest looking at Teams to fill that gap. Taking that further, if you’re in an organisation larger 1000 then Teams just doesn’t work full-stop. So if either of those last two apply to you – please go right ahead and refer back to your Inner Loop vs Outer Loop diagram and take comfort in the fact you made the right decision with Yammer.

Specific use-cases?

Teams does have the upper-hand with formatting posts, you get all the headings / paragraphs / code-blocks / quotes / colours / bold / italic / highlights / lists and inline images you’ll ever need. One of our use-cases we have internally is for Consulting and Support to reach out into the void for answers to problems, these often include longer posts, log snippets, multiple screenshots, PowerShell excerpts, and so on.

Hold on though, you may think about hiding this away in a Consultant and Support ‘Team’ would be a good idea – and that may work for you – but as a small technical company, we have lots of people from across the organisation who have valuable input. We have developers, also Projects Managers that used to be Infrastructure Managers at their previous job, Pre-Sales Consultants running their own personal labs, and Account Directors for example that could answer a question relating to device feature compatibility.

How to deal with unwanted noise?

Attention is fleeting, distractions are everywhere. Yammer has the benefit of being a separate application, you can pick and choose when to be social, it’s much more of an opt-in experience where you can dip-in and out as you have the time. Yammer also helps guide you around by highlighting recent or popular posts, suggesting new people to follow, suggesting groups to join, and sending you daily digests via email for stuff that may take your fancy. You can also unsubscribe from a specific threads after you’ve commented (for those who want to appear to care, but really just want to say their piece and vanish).

Yammer also has the ability to curate the activity from across Yammer, showing you popular items in a Discovery Feed, then if you want to explore, you can.

This is where the size of your organisation plays a big part, you have quite comprehensive alert settings in Teams, for example;

  • You can favourite or unfavourite Teams and individual channels
  • You can follow or unfollow specific channels.
  • Owners can restrict the ability for Members to @mention the whole Team or Channel (or to show a reminder that everybody will see your post if you do).
  • Owners can restrict the ability for members to post or reply in the General Channel of the Team.

But Teams just gives you everything you signed up for, the activity feed shows all activity. You’ll get interrupted instantly the moment somebody @mentions the channel or Team.

You do have the ability to set different notifications options based on the mention type, the message type, or other.

The trick is finding a balance between overload and missing out. Overload is less of an issue for small companies.

If you’re still thinking Teams is right for you, also try to limit the number of org-wide Teams to as few as possible. Try 1 for example. Perhaps it makes sense for you to think of a Team as a Yammer Network, and a Channel as a Yammer Group.

Promote Engagement?

For smaller organisations Teams helps promote engagement by being a single client, because with smaller organisations more of what happens is likely to be relevant to you, and Teams puts it all within reach, e.g. it allows for ‘watercooler conversations’ to be overheard. Smaller companies with lots of remote working leads to feeling isolated, especially professional services where it may only be one or two people working on a project together for a length of time.

For larger organisations Yammer helps promote engagement by doing the exact opposite, as mentioned in the section above, by filtering out what isn’t likely to be of any interest to you, but the rests is still there if you decide to go looking for it.

Acceptable Use Policy?

This applies to all the platforms, it’s not just a Teams problem. Don’t turn an org-wide team or Yammer into a clean-up rota for the communal kitchen, or daily notification on which parking spaces are reserved for visitors, or posting photos of your cat each time it does something cute. Not everybody is into cats (although dog photos are fine).

Luckily office-wide emails for Pizza Day are mostly consigned to the past.

And finally,

If the shoe fits…

As a person who knows through first hand experience, if something or someone suggests ‘one-size-fits-all’, it most certainly doesn’t.

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