Comparing Yammer external participants, groups and networks

Yammer is often unfairly compared to being an “internal Facebook”. This can bring with it several negative connotations such as it being for internal use only, or a place to post cat pictures and items for sale.

This post is not so much to extoll the values of enterprise social networking, but more so to compare how Yammer allows you to collaborate with external people and organisations – within the confines of the social network.

They all have some level of overlap, so which is right for your need?

External Participants

This is effectively like adding someone to the CC line in a group email thread. You can add and remove them just like in an email, and the context of the participation is restricted to that message thread only. External participants cannot see anything else in the Yammer network.

The most use of an external participant is when you require the involvement of someone external (eg. client, partner, supplier/vendor) in a specific discussion and nothing further.

This article explains how to add and work with external participants:

In a business context this is somewhat limiting when engaging regularly with the same external people, and in those cases external groups or networks may be more suitable. The great thing with this particular feature is that external participants don’t need to be Yammer users – they can just engage in email as if they were replying to a group message.

External Groups

While still on the roadmap and soon to be released, external groups I believe pose the most value for organisations. There are two flavours of external groups: public and private. This article explains more how to work with this coming functionality:

The benefit of this is that you can create working groups with external participants and interact with multiple threads and conversations within that group. A perfect example would be a project you are working on with a client. Simply create an external group and invite the relevant people in – and then message away! A function this would replace would be a Distribution List (DL) of internal & external recipients – effectively providing the same central method of messaging except that all threads work better in the Yammer world instead of via email and the joys of Reply All.

External Networks

Having been available for a number of years the external network capability has left many of us with potentially a sour taste as it was initially the only way to engage with external participants and as such has resulted in the creation of ghost networks – where the communication has died off.

External networks allow you to invite whoever you want, but the issue is that it is a completely separate network. This is suitable for potentially joint ventures or close alliances where two or more organisations may have multiple groups and parties involved. In that case there is a common goal or theme and you don’t want to be restricted to a single group.

The issue with this is that it requires users to switch networks which can become frustrating – especially if there are multiple networks involved. For example I’m a member of about 15 external networks – imagine if that included other networks for every single client I work with!

This functionality does also require that people are signed up with Yammer and so can pose a problem in terms of adoption as not everyone is there yet.

For me I can’t wait for the release of External Groups – I think that will be a game changer in how organisations adopt Yammer.

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