Yammer's Integration Into Viva Engage Is a Story of Evolution, Not Extinction
Last week, Microsoft 365 general manager Seth Patton announced that the company would be folding Yammer into Viva Engage and permanently retiring the Yammer brand.
Anyone who has followed the evolution of Yammer since its 2012 acquisition for $1.2 billion — an astounding sum at the time — shouldn't be surprised by the announcement. But while some are reading this as the end of the road for the enterprise social network, others see it as a natural evolution for a brand that had long struggled to find its place in the Microsoft ecosystem.
Microsoft's Decision Ends Years of Confusion
Yammer's place in the Microsoft workplace tool portfolio had been unclear since its acquisition, but its position became even murkier following the launch of Microsoft Teams in 2017. The lack of clarity trickled down to Microsoft customers, who at times struggled to clarify for employees which tool to use when, a prospect which became even murkier with the launch of Viva Engage at the 2022 Inspire conference.
The messaging around Yammer only added to the confusion over the years, said digital workplace strategist and Engaged Organizations founder Rachel Happe. "Their messaging is and has been quite confusing for a long time, and they don't seem to care or want to invest in it or customer success because they have a lock on most customers who want to consolidate the [communications] mess," she said.
She pointed to a major update of Yammer Microsoft conducted just a few years ago as a case in point. While the result was a modernized interface, the related messaging around it appeared to prioritize its use as a communications tool. "[This is something] I didn't understand because executives can do broadcast town halls in a lot of different ways,” she said. "It just set Yammer up for being yet another option, versus investing in the peer-to-peer and open community aspect, which other channels don't do.”
In a statement about the decision, Patton wrote: “We’ve heard your feedback on this initial step and in the coming year, all of Yammer will become Viva Engage, retiring the Yammer brand. In addition, we’ll continue to enhance Viva Engage with new capabilities that spur leadership engagement, authentic expression, events, and knowledge discovery, including new experiences rolling out today.”
A Sign of the Times: Yammer Then vs. How We Work Now
Teams didn't exist when Microsoft acquired Yammer over a decade ago. The only way to chat with colleagues was via Skype.
Yammer filled the void by giving people the chance to converse with leadership, digitally connect with colleagues in a group setting and build social relationships at work for the first time, explained Carrie Basham Marshall, principal and CEO of Mill Valley, Calif.-based Talk Social to Me.
The release of Teams came five years later. At the time it was positioned as the core hub to access one-on-one chat, team-based conversations, meetings and workflows. As a result, Teams slowly cannibalized some of Yammer's value proposition, said Marshall, which made it harder to justify Yammer as a standalone app given the significant overlap in functionality. It was only a matter of time before Microsoft had to slim down its individual tools and bring them all together in the name of adoption.
But Marshall cautioned against reading the absorption of Yammer into Engage as the death of enterprise social networks. Rather, she said, it's the obvious evolution as our behavior and technology have both morphed over time.
She pointed out that while standalone ESNs were innovative a decade ago, disparate apps that don't fit into our other work patterns (chat, meetings, document collaboration) no longer serve employees' needs.
Yammer was excellent in facilitating leadership Q&A, structured conversations, global campaigns and knowledge seeking. Microsoft has now distilled Yammer down into just these modular, fit-for-purpose components of Viva Engage that sit alongside other critical work tools.
“Stripping Yammer of its standalone status is Microsoft's way of maintaining the most valuable use cases for social communities while reducing confusion and clutter,” Marshall said.
She explained that Viva Engage marries together key functionality while reducing digital overwhelm for users. As an analogy she points to how GPS is integrated directly into cars, and dozens of cooking functions like baking, slow-cooking and dehydrating are built into portable air-fryers.
“The highest and best use cases of Yammer are now built right into the Teams interface in a natural evolution of technological function,” she added.
Related Article: The End of the Social Collaboration Experiment: The Technology Is the Problem
It's Really Just a Yammer Rebrand
In fact, Laurence Lock Lee, co-founder and chief scientist at Sydney-based Swoop Analytics, argues that Yammer's departure is substantially a re-branding rather than anything else. Yammer code, he noted, is still the engine for Viva Engage. The Viva employee experience brand is all-encompassing, so we will likely see other legacy acquisition brand names subsumed under its umbrella: Ally.io is Viva Goals, Glint may also change.
"I don’t believe Microsoft is abandoning ESN at all," he told Reworked. "In fact Viva Engage, which is still largely Yammer, is impacting its main ESN competition, notably Workplace by Meta. We are seeing a number of customers migrate to Viva Engage."
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He noted the initial perception of Teams was as a “Slack Killer,” but it grew from there to be touted as a work hub for many Microsoft products, including Yammer. "Teams (and Outlook) are becoming the main front doors to Yammer, now Viva Engage."
Lock Lee noted the confusion around the two products following Teams' launch drove some organizations to not use Yammer (or more recently Communities/Viva Engage) in favor of Teams and Teams Channels. While this tactic might work for smaller organizations, he said it isn't advisable for larger organizations. The main reason being that Teams are by default closed, while Viva Engage communities are open. For large teams using a number of channels to mimic an open community, the notifications alone become problematic. He said some of his clients have gone back to Viva Engage simply because it wasn’t working for them in Teams.
Lock Lee sees Microsoft 365 as the umbrella for two main workplace themes. The more intense collaboration needs are serviced by Teams (Microsoft has called this the "inner loop"). The more communications-centered needs are serviced by the Viva suite and SharePoint, including Viva Engage, Topics, Learning (Outer Loop). Viva Insights though appears to be more collaboration focussed.
Yammer had plateaued in terms of adoption after the large activity boost provided by the Teams and Outlook front door access in 2020, added Lock Lee. "Microsoft is clearly looking to generate new revenue streams from Viva premium features, including Viva Engage .... The former Yammer functions are still part of basic Microsoft 365, but a suite of 'leader' focussed functions like comms campaigns, Q&A, Leadership corner are all premium features which Microsoft will be selling hard.”
Related Article: Whatever Happened to Yammer?
A 'Positive' Move for Users in the Long Run
This is a positive move for Microsoft and Yammer users in the long run, said community strategist and author Carrie Melissa Jones, even if the integration period may produce some frustration. However, it will eventually make things clearer for the end user and Microsoft, she said.
Microsoft needs to realize that HR leaders (Viva's target audience) are not the only ones who manage internal communities/ESNs, and adjust its sales and marketing strategy accordingly, she continued.
Jones believes the move is a slow death branded as an integration, in much the same way it has happened across other community engagement platforms post-acquisition (Jive being the most obvious example).
“Microsoft will take what works from Yammer, incorporate it, and hopefully throw out the features that are no longer useful or modern,” she said.
This is a smart consolidation and simplification of its ESN offering, she added, and follows similar moves with other Microsoft products. Microsoft Viva, unlike Yammer, represents a major growth area for Microsoft. Now it can streamline the resources dedicated to two ESN projects into one.
“This mirrors their larger strategy of consolidating their SharePoint, OneDrive, Skype, and other offerings under the Teams umbrella,” she said.
Asked why this hadn’t happened sooner, she pointed out that the boom times of the last 10 years likely didn't create the urgency for this change. Instead, Microsoft diverted much of its energy toward modernizing its offerings under Teams instead of focusing on improving Yammer.
About the Author
David is a full-time journalist based in Ireland. A partisan of ‘green’ living and conservation, he is particularly interested in information management and how enterprise content management, analytics, big data and cloud computing impact on it.