Social Business,SharePoint Social vs. Yammer - With User Interfaces, Looks Can Kill
One year on from their acquisition of Yammer, Microsoft have proudly announced that over 85% of Fortune 500 companies have now deployed both SharePoint and Yammer. Other figures, including a user base growth of 55 percent and a paid network growth of over 200 percent have also been publicized.

But these figures do not tell the full story, as these two platforms are still far from being “the most complete solution in the marketplace.”

SharePoint/Yammer Roadmap: Cloudy with Waves of Integration

SharePoint 2013 brought many advances in native social features, most notably the introduction of micro-blogging and community forums. This has caused a significant overlap in the purpose and functionality of both platforms. Customers are currently faced with the decision to go with one or the other, or both. This will not always be the case.

Microsoft has made clear that the products are destined for total integration. In the mean time, for those planning to run the products side-by-side, there is a roadmap made up of waves of integration:

  • Basic Integration: Replace “Newsfeed” link on Office 365 global navigation with a link to Yammer.com. Yammer App to embed a Group feed, Home feed or Comment feed into SharePoint -- released
  • Deeper Connections: Single Sign-On (SSO), Yammer integrated into Office 365 interface -- due Fall 2013
  • Connected Experiences: “… incremental enhancements will combine social, collaboration, email, instant messaging, voice, video, and line of business applications …” -- due 2014 onwards.

What is Microsoft’s advice to customers? “Go Yammer! Yammer is our big bet for enterprise social, and we’re committed to making it the underlying social layer for all of our products.”

Easier said than done …

Unfortunately for customers, Microsoft’s advice is not accompanied by any substantial guidelines on how to actually run the platforms side-by-side. As a result, a number of industry experts have stepped up to offer their opinions and guide customers.

Generally these posts weigh up SharePoint’s current social feature set with Yammer’s so that customers can make a more informed decision of what they should do. There are two notable contributions.

In “Yammer versus SharePoint 2013 social platforms,” Jeremy Thake compares specific areas of functionality (micro-blogging, notifications, profiles, etc.) and discusses the implications of not being able to easily "switch off" SharePoint’s social features and Yammer’s cloud-only stance.

In “SharePoint Social Versus Yammer: What Makes Sense For You?”, Christian Buckley compares specific features and benefits, concluding that your decision should be based on where you need structured collaboration (site permissions, forms and workflow, managed metadata) or unstructured collaboration (ad hoc, where flexibility and speed are paramount).

Both posts provide a detailed comparison and suggest what factors might influence your decision. However, neither of them address an area that I believe should be pivotal in this decision making process -- the platform’s user interfaces.

Why User Interface Matters

A poor user interface can hold back the adoption of any enterprise platform, and user adoption is key to achieving a return on investment.

As a result of the Consumerisation of IT, employees’ expectations from user interfaces are increasing rapidly. According to research by IDG Enterprise, as many as 56% of enterprise deployments are now products with consumer-like interfaces.

Social collaboration tools are particularly at risk of disappointing users as functionally their so closely resembles familiar networking sites with great interfaces.

Speaking specifically on social collaboration tools, IDC Analyst Michael Fauscette explains,

you need to have a user experience that’s comfortable for employees and that feels very similar to the social tools they’re already using …Tools need to be focused on giving the user the right kind of simplified user experience, with the complexity moving behind the scenes.”

But a good user interface doesn't just get employees onto the platform, it enhances the way they use it, increasing productivity and employee satisfaction. IBM estimates that every dollar invested in ease of use can return between US$ 10 and US$ 100.

So how does SharePoint and Yammer fare when it comes to user interfaces?

SharePoint and Yammer, Beauty and the Beast?

Yammer

Yammer make a big deal about the way they build. Co-Founder & CTO Adam Pisoni, describes how the team adopts a development style “which borrows a lot from the consumer development methodologies.”

consumer development methodologies.png

They have done a great job keeping up-to-date with the Consumerisation of IT; a cloud-only delivery model, accessibility across all major mobile platforms, and a forward-looking user interface, noticeably inspired by Facebook.

As a result, Yammer has enjoyed "voluntary adoption" in many organizations.

Tyco, a case study client, describes their success with end-users:  

We set a goal for ourselves of reaching 10,000 employees on Yammer in the first year. Well we had 10,000 employees in the first 30 days.”

SharePoint

SharePoint on the other hand has enjoyed anything but "voluntary adoption."  According to a survey conducted by Global 360 (now part of OpenText), only 24% of users consider SharePoint’s out-of-the-box user experience as adequate for their needs.

Results from AIIM research put resistance from users as the biggest ongoing business issue with SharePoint systems, behind lack of expertise and strategic plans.

Although the SharePoint interface has had some serious improvement since 2010, it still lags behind consumer technology.

Conclusion

With full integration still a while away, organizations need to think long and hard about their strategies for SharePoint and Yammer. Whilst feature comparisons are a great starting point, it is also important to consider how likely either platform is to gain traction with end users.

As we have seen, user interface plays an important part of the wider adoption picture. Although SharePoint’s interface has been improved in the 2013 release, it is still leagues behind Yammer’s in terms of familiarity and usability.

This doesn't mean that SharePoint is a write-off for social, but that organizations going down this route should probably consider branding as a way to bring the interface in line with employee expectations.

Title image courtesy of ra2studio (Shutterstock) 

Editor's Note: For another take on the SharePoint and Yammer question, read Jeremy Thake's Planning for SharePoint 2013? Make Sure You've Got Yammer on the Brain