Choosing between SharePoint and Yammer

Since acquiring Yammer in 2012, Microsoft has been clear. When it comes to social networking tools, use Yammer not SharePoint. But…

A caveat before we start: This post is referring to the current release of SharePoint – SharePoint 2013. If you are using SharePoint 2010 or older versions and want to introduce enterprise social networking (ESN) tools, your decision is more straightforward. Use Yammer or an equivalent product such as Jive or Newsgator, or do without until you upgrade.

Here’s the summary:

For organisations already using SharePoint 2013 for content management who want to leverage social networking features…

Use Yammer when: Use SharePoint when:
  • You want to use the superior social networking technology
  • You want a social network spreading beyond your organisation
  • There isn’t a good reason not to
  • You want to avoid confusing users with multiple user interfaces
  • You want to minimise identity management overheads
  • You have compliance needs that SharePoint meets but Yammer does not
  • You want an ‘on-premise only’ solution (and don’t want to use additional products)

Read on for the long version:

Do we have to use Yammer now instead of SharePoint for social activities and news feeds?

It’s a question I have been asked by many clients and event attendees who have invested in using SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 since the beginning of the year. The confusion has been caused by Microsoft seeming to be more in love with Yammer than SharePoint of late:

“In my customer meetings over the last few months, people have often asked, “What should I use for social? Yammer or the SharePoint newsfeed?” My answer has been clear: Go Yammer!”
– Jared Spataro, Director, Microsoft SharePoint Product Group1

“OneNote, Yammer, SkyDrive are growth drivers for Office”
– Kurt Delbene, President, Microsoft Office Division2

So the advice from Microsoft is pretty clear. If at all possible, choose Yammer.

There is also a specific reason for choosing Yammer over SharePoint:

  • You want to invite people into the network who are not licensed SharePoint/Office 365 users.

i.e. you want your social network to spread beyond the organisation. You can invite external users to participate in content within SharePoint, but they don’t get a profile or any level of personalisation features. They just get access to the content. Yammer gives every participant a profile and personalisation such as an activity stream of who and what you are following.

But there are reasons to not use Yammer, at least for now if you are using Office 365:

  • Do not want the overhead of maintaining an additional set of users accounts
  • Want enterprise search and Office integration
  • Regulatory issues with using the service

Whilst Yammer is included for free within an Office 365 Enterprise plan subscription, it still has its own separate user identities. There is integration thanks to federated sign-on: logging in to one will also log you in to the other. But it’s still two separate identities to maintain which adds to IT overheads. This is due to be resolved in the Autumn.

The social features within SharePoint are fully integrated with search and Office. This means you can view people and conversations in search results, and can co-author documents direct within the browser using Office Web Apps. None of this is currently possible with content stored within Yammer. Office integration is slated for Spring 2014.

The final key blocker for now is regulatory issues. Office 365 has higher security credentials than Yammer. It goes beyond the basic EU Safe Harbor Agreement to also support EU model clauses which covers additional EU member state data protection legislation. In the UK, that means IL2 accreditation for UK government bodies. At the time of writing, there’s still no comment as to if or when Yammer will be IL2 accredited.

There’s a reason to not use Yammer specifically for on-premise deployments of SharePoint 2013, and that’s simply that Yammer is cloud only, it’s an online service. If you want social networking content restricted to on-premise services, then stick with SharePoint 2013 or use an alternative on-premise enterprise social networking tool.

And finally, there’s another reason to not use Yammer for now. And that’s the ‘keep it simple’ principle. If the preference is to keep the choice of technologies as simple and consistent as possible for users, and you are already using SharePoint sites for content management, then stick with SharePoint unless you have a compelling reason to use Yammer that SharePoint cannot satisfy. Running two solutions that look similar, with some overlapping features but also some fundamental differences, can be confusing and may increase training/support overheads.

Is Yammer the future? Microsoft seems to think so and given they spent quite a lot of money to buy it, you have to assume they are serious. Integration with the other Office 365 services – Exchange, Lync and SkyDrive – is on the cards, along with integration with the Dynamics range including CRM. But enterprise social networking tools are still immature and who knows what the future may hold. I’m surprised the likes of LinkedIn haven’t started to encroach on this space. For now, use the tool that offers the most value for your organisation today. Vendors will say what’s in their interests. That’s not always as in alignment with what organisations need.


Related blog post on Joining Dots

Putting technologies to one side, a look at the strategic pros and cons:

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