The SharePoint Social vs. Yammer Battle – Do We Care?

2 minute read

I’m driven to write this post after reading one by  over the weekend called Gartner: Yammer or SharePoint? The choice is still unclear.

The choice indeed may still seem unclear, but I think that the statement addresses the wrong questions.

In my opinion (I’m the only one here – you talkin’ to me?), we should stop talking about the “social” thing as a thing. Christian Buckley (@buckleyplanet) beat me to the punch in his comment on the post:

Part of the problem here is that we are still dealing with a serious learning curve on what social is, exactly, and how it fits into an organization’s culture and business needs. Microsoft needs to both education and evangelize a vision+roadmap that has not yet been articulated. That’s a tough row to hoe.

Rather than saying we should use SharePoint or Yammer for “social”, we should instead be talking about the specific things that we want people in a given population to be doing (or at least capable of doing – getting them to do it is a different challenge).

Once we understand what that might look like – and the goals will vary greatly by organization – we can start to make intelligent decisions about the right technologies for that particular case. Saying we need “social” means basically nothing. Or anything. Or something in between.

The slide that James showed from the Gartner webinar which prompted *his* post (and no, I did not see the webinar) starts to get at that set of questions, but I would say that it is still from the reverse angle. It’s useful, but it isn’t the point.


This sort of tool-driven analysis almost always leads to disappointment in my experience. It’s an easy way out for those who don’t want to do the harder work of understanding what the organization actually needs – and maybe even wants – by saying that this tool or that tool is the better one without clearly understanding the underlying problems in the first place.

Technologies can only support the kind of things that people are lumping under the social sobriquet to a certain degree. The concept of being social covers many things, but note that none of them mention SharePoint or Yammer:

so·cial [soh-shuhl] adjective (from
1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.
2. seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.
3. of, pertaining to, connected with, or suited to polite or fashionable society: a social event.
4. living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation: People are social beings.
5. of or pertaining to human society, especially as a body divided into classes according to status: social rank

I’ve already stopped saying “social” as much as I can – which isn’t easy – opting instead to push people to tell me what they want to accomplish. It makes most of them uncomfortable (or they say “You know, *social*), but in the long run these artificial packaging exercises are the wrong way to go.

Decide what you want to do, then decide which tool is the best match to solve that set of problems.



  1. Agreed. Putting the technology first is the bass ackwards way of approaching a solution. The Gartner mindset and graphic also show a problem here that is one of the root causes with the entire Yammer/SharePoint fiasco. There’s too much overlap. SharePoint has team sites, is a primary start page (for most intranets) and in 2013 offers the notion of “Communities”. Mixed in with the overlap is ambiguity. What the heck is a “Social network site” and what value is it to any organization? Is it Facebook for the Enterprise? Is it an in-house Twitter? Or something completely different. SharePoint already had it’s issues trying to answer “social networking” questions and Yammer just muddies the water. At the heart of the matter is the primary provider for the tools and they’re not making it any better.

    • Is it this? Is it that? Those questions are fine for us pundits to kick around. However, when someone in an organization wants to “do social”, there has to be a clear understanding of what they really want. Community tagging of content? Organization-wide blogs? Threaded discussions?

      As I said somewhere in a different thread about this, vendors always seem to try to “bundle to the buzz words”. When it’s all wrpped up in “social”, it’s meaningless, just as hackneyed terms like CRM and ERP have become somewhat amorphous and meaningless. We know generally what those initialisms mean, but any particular organization’s needs are going to vary drastically from others’ (unless they are truly copycats).


  2. I see MicroWorking as a payoff from these social improvements. Its not just about socialization, but about doing some task in previously unproductive time. Using the social features of Yammer and/or SharePoint can I allow an IW worker to review a document, delegate a task to someone, answer a question, and approve an invoice all from their smart phone in the grocery checkout line? Sure, and we won’t have to spend tons of $ developing custom mobile applications for it either.

  3. To avoid the “leading with the tool” thing I have been asking folks to identify naturally occuring conversations in the organization. Or better, what conversations need to happen but are not happening because of geographic or organizational barriers. This seems to be a decent way of getting to an interaction model for knowledge and information sharing and can become the basis figuring out what natually occuring communites are out there and what social tools are indicated for those communities.

    • Craig:

      That certainly makes more sense to me that saying “we need social”. “Facebook for the enterprise” makes little sense if you think about it, unless you’re in the LOL Catz business.


    • Now if we can only figure out what a “workload” really is. Sometimes I think they manufacture more acronyms, initializations, and non-sensical terms than they do software out in Redmond.



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