The growth of work chat tools such as Microsoft Teams and Slack alongside Yammer as a social tool can be perplexing to the average user. After all, both types of tool have superficial similarities: people post a comment, another person answers, there are reactions, likes, and different groups to be part of. But just as a dessert spoon and a soup spoon are optimised for their purpose, so there are reasons to keep these tools distinct.
Many responses to the apparent overlap between tools involve a ‘what to use when’ type guides, but I want to avoid that here. These guides often become large comparison tables with complex symbols and footnotes. It’s like stopping to ask for directions and feeling even more lost once you get the answer.
Instead I started thinking about the design side: what is it that makes Yammer optimised for its social network role? Why is a soup spoon rounded and a dessert spoon pointed? (enough of the analogy, I’m getting hungry).
There are many subtle elements in Yammer that nudge people towards chance discovery in a way that chat tools don’t.
The main one is that groups are open by default, making it easy to explore and discover results from outside your regular circles when you search. This also powers the ‘Suggested groups’ element, by bringing down barriers to participation.
Another is that the first feed you see when you fire up Yammer is ‘Discovery’. What this gives you is an overall sense of what is trending across the network, so there is less of a sense of diving straight into a particular silo.
Compare this to Teams, where the start point is usually your personal notifications, and these are ordered only by time rather than relevance too, so it’s harder for themes to bubble up.
The more open conversation style of Yammer means that sometimes a network administrator will need to step in. In a team-sized group, all participants will likely know each other, so there is less of a need for a third party to intervene. In a large Yammer group, the ability to moderate can be a useful tool to appease managers who worry that something untoward may be said, even if it is never used (see also ““They Said What!?!”: Handling Inappropriate Comments on Yammer ”). Announcements too, give a layer of control over and above a chronological feed.
A network of individuals
The last thing that makes Yammer unique is that you can follow individuals. This means that everyone’s “Following” feed is personal to them and their individual network. Chat-based tools tend to be based on team membership, so in many cases people will all be part of the same three to four teams.
We’re so used to the follow feature in the social networks we use in our private lives that it seems banal. However, choosing the right people to follow is exactly what can open us up to things going on outside our immediate world. It is ambient awareness for the digital age.
By the way, I asked my network: it’s much harder to dig into a Mississippi mud pie with a soup spoon, that’s why it’s pointed.
Sam Marshall is the owner of ClearBox Consulting and has specialised in intranets and the digital workplace for over 19 years, working with companies such as GSK, Vodafone, TUI Travel, Sony and Unilever. His current activities focus on intranet and digital workplace strategy, and the business side of Office 365. Sam is a regular keynote speaker at international conferences and has been named a ‘Contributor of the year’ for his CMSWire column four years in a row. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or @sammarshall