Migrating Yammer to Native Mode internally at Microsoft brings automation and familiarity

Jan 25, 2021   |  

After years of organic growth and incremental adjustments, Microsoft’s internal Yammer communities have gotten a bit of a trim and a major upgrade. Like a healthy garden, the social network has been pruned to cut away abandoned groups and improve the strength of its flourishing communities.

All of this was part of a greater effort to transition Yammer to Native Mode, a significant undertaking that gives a Yammer network a modern interface and controls, all thanks to integration with Microsoft 365.

Now with every Yammer community fully connected, employees within Microsoft can schedule live events, create familiar guest invitations, share files easily, and search for content in one place. IT administrators appreciate the Microsoft 365 alignment, compliance, and security features.

“There’s been a long request for Yammer to have access to the same level of security and compliance as the rest of the Microsoft suite,” says Adam Peretz, a product manager in the engineering organization that builds Yammer. “In order to give users these features, we had to align the backend of Yammer to the rest of the suite through Native Mode.”

Microsoft Digital, the group that develops the products, processes, and services at Microsoft, can now manage all Yammer guests in Microsoft Azure Active Directory and all files in Microsoft SharePoint online. To get there, a lot of preparations had to be made.

[Read about the entire Yammer transition to Native Mode, including best practices and lessons learned. Discover how Microsoft uses Yammer to improve the employee workplace experience. Learn more about Yammer Native Mode.]

We wanted to make it easier for people to connect across the organization, even when some participants don’t have accounts in the company’s Microsoft 365 tenant.

– Frank Delia, senior program manager, Microsoft Digital

Time for a change

To help Microsoft employees be productive, Microsoft Digital is continuously looking for opportunities to simplify experiences.

“We wanted to make it easier for people to connect across the organization, even when some participants don’t have accounts in the company’s Microsoft 365 tenant,” says Frank Delia, senior program manager with Microsoft Digital.

In addition to making it easier for users and guests to connect to Yammer, Microsoft Digital saw an opportunity to reduce the burden on support teams.

“Yammer was a third-party acquisition product,” Peretz says. “It didn’t fully fit into the existing infrastructure of Microsoft products. It had its own idea of identity, groups, and files. It was a complete third-party product that was slowly integrated with the rest of the suite.”

Native Mode fully integrates Yammer into Microsoft 365, giving users a predictable environment while also unlocking key compliance features such as automated governance. Previously, Yammer lacked this level of control, which had forced Microsoft to create additional processes to maintain compliance in its communities.

But the size and age of Microsoft’s internal Yammer network made Microsoft’s migration unique, requiring a team effort to implement Native Mode.

“It’s mostly due to scale,” Peretz says of the challenge. “The volume of information in Microsoft’s network is significantly more than anywhere else. But once it’s done, we’ll never have to do this again.”

Readying for Native Mode

Delia soon recognized that while the concept of Native Mode is simple, the team needed a range of participants to pull off the migration with minimal disruption. Service engineers, project managers, and communications professionals all needed to understand and shape the plan.

“Native Mode is a process,” Delia says. “We had to inform users and guests that things would be changing. We had to prepare everything before we could orchestrate and launch.”

Microsoft Digital set out to determine specifics about Microsoft’s Yammer communities, including identifying which groups and users would be impacted, which meant carefully evaluating the network.

Microsoft’s large population of guest users, especially those who regularly contribute to the communities, immediately stood out.

“We didn’t want to lose Yammer’s external collaboration functionality,” Peretz says. “Azure B2B allowed us to secure guest access in Native Mode while staying compliant.”

In addition to resolving guest access, Peretz and Delia had to sort through other items that might change or disappear during the shift to Native Mode.

“One of the things you’re actually doing from the start is cleaning house,” Delia says. “Removing any abandoned groups, for example. You’re actually doing it the entire time, and the more you clean up the less you have to manage once you’re migrating to Native Mode.”

According to Delia, 16,000 groups would require special attention during the migration. Around 12,000 of those were at risk of being deleted simply because they were unused or didn’t meet Microsoft’s standards for group ownership.

“We gave everyone the ability to see a filtered list of groups they owned,” Delia says. “From there they could select whether it’s ready to migrate or not, ask for help, and if they were okay with it being deleted we made sure the group was removed.”

Communication, early and often

Delia leaned on team members to fine tune the strategy for readying Microsoft’s communities. This involved clear and direct messaging with users and group owners.

“We had to create a process for groups,” Delia says. “If you don’t need it, just delete it. We also had to know that users heard the message.”

Eva Etchells, a senior content publisher with Microsoft Digital and an influential Yammer network admin crafted emails, blogs, and Yammer posts to get users ready for the transition.

“A lot of our communication was to give users an action and a consequence,” Etchells says. “We didn’t want anyone to lose anything, so we covered our bases.”

Sometimes all it took is a simple nudge.

It’s about communicating the right info to the right people. Lots of preparation steps aren’t relevant or of use to general employees, so we tried to avoid broad emails. If a user owns ten groups, we didn’t want to send them the same message ten times.

– Eva Etchells, senior content publisher, Microsoft Digital

“People who are listed as owners might not know it,” Delia says. “Some are owners by default.”

Additionally, Etchells leveraged group owners to help communicate important migration milestones and events to their respective communities.

“It’s about communicating the right info to the right people,” Etchells says. “Lots of preparation steps aren’t relevant or of use to general employees, so we tried to avoid broad emails. If a user owns ten groups, we didn’t want to send them the same message ten times.”

For all other users, Etchells and Delia relied on broad communications across popular sites and communities to deliver general information.

More than just flipping a switch

From a process side, Peretz tried to make things as painless as possible.

“There are major benefits to being in Native Mode,” Peretz says. “And new features will make it easier to get through this migration.”

Most of the prep work involves understanding the process, the network environment, and engaging with users, but there were surprises along the way.

“Maybe two groups have the same name,” says Delia regarding the obstacles encountered migrating Yammer communities to Microsoft 365-based groups. “We needed to be strategic before hitting the Native Mode button.”

It took some time for Microsoft Digital to complete the process, but having targeted communications and a strong implementation plan minimized disruptions.

Even with regular messaging, some users were still startled by the changes.

“Both gradual and sudden cleanup caught people off-guard,” Delia says. “They saw fewer groups, but also fewer members. Most of these groups were inactive and the membership numbers were for inactive accounts with a pending status, so you weren’t losing active members. Some people won’t be aware of the migration, so you need to have an empathetic plan for those cases.”

Having proper escalation and resolution practices in place reduced the burden on migration.

Giving communities the best Yammer experience

Now that the migration is complete, the employees and partners who rely on Yammer for collaboration can reap the benefits of being integrated with Microsoft 365. This includes automated management for groups, live events hosted in Yammer, and the ability to search and discover files and posts.

A diagram of Yammer integrated in Microsoft 365, highlighting speciifc benefits to four personas--administrators, compliance, owners, and the community--and demonstrating how those benefits extend to everyone in the network.
By integrating Yammer with Microsoft 365, Microsoft Digital is able to realize benefits for specific personas and elevate the experience for all users. Click the image to view a larger version.

“You can now find files stored in SharePoint. You don’t have to dig around Azure,” Peretz says. “Yammer no longer has its own tools and workflows. It’s a much more predictable and consistent experience.”

Peretz and the Yammer engineering team have now supported over 2,400 networks shifting to Native Mode. Among those, about 15 have received additional hands-on support similar to Microsoft’s migration.

Microsoft Digital was able to access these benefits without sacrificing the traits that made

“Vendors and third parties need to be able to collaborate with our employees,” Delia says. “Now Yammer can work with other Microsoft products, like Teams, to further enhance that partnership.”

With the ability to set automated policies and manage Yammer with the same tools as other products, like Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Teams, tenant administrators are free to focus on bigger tasks.

“Everything becomes more aligned,” Etchells says of Native Mode’s integration with Microsoft 365.

All of this translates to a healthier Yammer experience for users. The successful migration allows eight years of organic growth and collaboration to safely continue for another generation.

“We have made the most fundamental changes that allow us to create groups in Yammer based in Microsoft 365,” Delia says. “Now, instead of code that was Yammer-unique and specific, we’re using the same code that has been running on Teams and SharePoint for years.”

Learn more about Yammer Native Mode.

Read about the entire Yammer transition to Native Mode, including best practices and lessons learned.

Discover how Microsoft uses Yammer to improve the employee workplace experience.

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