child climbing up a slide to go down again

Yammer and Viva Engage: Moving Backwards to Go Forwards

November 16, 2022 Collaboration and Productivity
Laurence Lock Lee
By Laurence Lock Lee

As the world moves forward from three years of COVID-19-induced restrictions, it is worth reflecting on the changes we are seeing through the lens of the enterprise social network user.

Yammer launched in 2008 — one year after Twitter's launch and three years after Facebook. At the time, it was the pioneer that introduced social media and networking into the enterprise. Its acquisition by Microsoft in 2012 further cemented its place in the enterprise.

We're now reaching a crossroads in Yammer's history, with its full incorporation into the Microsoft Workplace infrastructure imminent as it gets folded in to the Viva Employee Experience suite. This has been a gradual process. Yammer’s incorporation into the Office suite in 2014, and access through Microsoft Teams and Outlook in 2021, was aimed at boosting its adoption beyond its niche usage.

Our eighth — and likely last — Yammer annual global benchmarking report was released in this context. The title of the report, SWOOP Analytics’ 2022/23 Yammer and Viva Engage Benchmarking, provides a hint towards why it is likely our last Yammer report, although Microsoft has yet to formally acknowledge a rebranding.

What Major New Trends Are We Seeing in Yammer Usage?

The three years of pandemic disruption has been a defining moment for Yammer. Prior to 2020, it would be fair to say Yammer had struggled to achieve universal acceptance within the enterprise. That changed in March 2020 when leaders were instantly challenged with finding a channel to engage with their now remotely located workforces. Yammer became the channel of choice. Our 2021 report identified a significant rise in Yammer usage. Our sentiment analysis surprisingly also identified an initial rise in positivity despite the major disruption to employees’ work lives.

Our 2021 annual study saw the beginnings of growth in Yammer readership, aided by changes to Outlook and Microsoft Teams which enabled direct access to Yammer posts. We found average readership reached the 80% to 85% level. However, more than 50% were passive participants (i.e., readers only). We also saw the rise of “purpose driven” communities supporting issues like same-sex marriage, black lives matter and sustainability.

Our current study has seen a continued the trend of passive use, resulting for the first time in a drop in the majority of SWOOP engagement measures, which are largely centered on active participation and relationship building.

trend passive use

While this could be seen as a negative trend, we're interpreting it as the need to “go backwards to move forwards” with a larger cohort of users. Pre-2020 we saw year-on-year progress driven by a small but growing cohort of energetic community managers. The pandemic brought many new eyes to Yammer posts, but not active ones, hence the drop in proportional performance measures. The challenge now is to bring this larger cohort on the Yammer maturity journey to deliver the complex problem solving and radical innovations we have selectively seen in the past, but now at scale.

maturity level

Related Article: Whatever Happened to Yammer?

From Employee Engagement to Employee Thriving

For this year’s study we enhanced our community performance measure with sentiment and growth to identify what we believed were the most thriving communities. This new community measure surfaced larger, more active and more inclusive communities.

A good proportion of these communities were purpose driven: LGBTQIA+ support, sustainability issues, vaccinations and inclusive of the full range of enterprise participants. Yammer as “the voice of the employee” is being seen in the enterprises’ most thriving communities. While moving discussions of societal issues into the enterprise might be causing some stress for internal communication staff, it presents executive leaders with the ideal opportunity to demonstrate inclusiveness by exposing their personal ethics and morals. The importance of this cannot be understated.

A healthy number of non-work social groups could also be found on the most thriving list: Dad Jokes, Dungeons and Dragons, Pets, etc. While in the past these types of communities may have been frowned upon, to quote one of our clients: “They come to Yammer for the cats and dogs, then stay for the work.” And we are seeing many examples of exactly this.

Other notable thriving communities occurred when an organization was able to connect to its frontline workers. We found an example of a community in the Philippines which was formally established to provide technical support for remote working staff. The community leader was passionate about sustainability, so as well as providing technical advice (her formal role), she used the community to facilitate discussions on growing your own food and even giving away plants for free.

We identified one organization’s “ask me anything” community as its most thriving community. How good is it to have a place to post your work-related questions, with a good chance of getting the answer?

Thriving communities are proving to be the life-blood of Yammer networks, providing the sense of belonging that likely suffered during the pandemic.

Related Article: Is Your Voice of the Employee Program Fit for the Remote Workforce?

What Will the Post-Pandemic Leader Look Like?

In this year’s study we moved beyond Yammer to explore what an effective post-pandemic leader might look like. The productivity paranoia reflected in the significant difference in manager/employee perceptions identified in the recent Microsoft Trends report was one trigger. The Microsoft study infers some 85% of leaders will need to change the way they work. Raghu Krishnamoorthy’s Harvard Business Review article on "What Great Remote Managers Do Differently" provides a number of hints as to what some of these traits might be.

Our analytics approach looked to identify individuals who sustained high levels of two-way relationships on Yammer (their network); Microsoft Teams (their work teams) and SharePoint usage (their shared content). The sample was relatively small (1,100 staff across four organizations) but surfaced some interesting results.

knowledge sharing leadership

One identified leader had just been voted by their organization as the “most valuable employee.” Two others were company co-founders, one of whom had shared his practices on YouTube. These results are encouragement enough to broaden our research on this topic.

While this may be our last Yammer labelled report, it will not be the end of our benchmarking and research on enterprise social initiatives. Indeed, it’s an exciting time to see how this post-pandemic, flexible and hybrid workplace evolves.

About the Author

Laurence Lock Lee is the co-founder and chief scientist at Swoop Analytics, a firm specializing in online social networking analytics. He previously held senior positions in research, management and technology consulting at BHP Billiton, Computer Sciences Corporation and Optimice.

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