What does Yammer’s Question and Answer feature tell us about purpose?

October 15, 2019

The original article is published on the Microsoft Tech Community Yammer Blog.

How do you know what Yammer “does”? How would you complete this sentence?

Yammer is a platform that …

How might we even go about answering that question, perhaps about some software we’ve never used to its full extent before?

Start with Design

One way that we unconsciously evaluate the usefulness of software is to look at its user interface and start making assumptions. Lots and lots of assumptions.

Does it have my picture in the top right corner? What is the most prominent box or button on the screen? What are the menu items? Which are top-level menu items, and which do I have to navigate through a labyrinth to get to?

We unconsciously assume good design in the products that we use. Or at least, we assume that the choice of user interface elements is deliberate and well thought-through. If a setting requires a lot of clicking to find and change, in theory it’s something that I shouldn’t be playing with very often.

We all make these assumptions without realising and tend to get very annoyed if products don’t work in the way we conceive of them. We might not be able to express why the design is problematic, but we almost certainly have an opinion about bad design and might even have some constructive suggestions on how to fix it (but not always, sometimes it’s just a rant!)

Enter Question and Answer

What then can we conclude from Yammer’s recent Question and Answer feature? Let me just point out that, before Q&A, there was nothing stopping you from asking a question on Yammer.

On the surface, it cements what a number of well-informed people have been shouting for many years. Ask questions because that engages your audience and that’s the way to build your personal brand and receive value from a network-scale effect. Ask questions because you’re probably not the only person who wants to know the answer.

But let’s dig a little bit deeper, perhaps reading between the lines. If a product were well-designed, and its interface consistent with its purpose, then what can we learn from the release of Q&A?

Inviting a Response

Adding a Q&A ‘version’ of a message allows it to be clearly perceived as a request for assistance. Whether it’s an awkward attempt to provide extensive background to a problem or a deliberate ploy to make a statement, sometimes the actual question gets lost in a message. To quote a well-known Australian media personality “I’ll take that as a comment”.

Question and answer primes us for understanding that the thing we’re about to read is specifically inviting a response.

Humanizing the Discovery Experience

Imagine you had a question about your leave policy. Would you expect to find a Yammer message summarising the leave policy, without any apparent “news” or reason for that information to be posted? To me, that type of post raises alarm bells. What happened to cause them to randomly broadcast that information?

A much more comfortable discovery scenario is finding that someone had a question about the leave policy and the relevant information provided in a reply, perhaps with a link to find more information. There is something to be said for creating empathy (for someone else who’s got the same issue) as part of a search journey, not just efficiently rocketing you to ‘the answer’.

The Roadmap

Most significantly, Q&A cements what we have long suspected – one of the top use cases (read: I can get real work done by using it this way) for Yammer is crowdsourcing. The network effect results in highly efficient discovery of information even when that information is unstructured, distributed, and generally ‘messy’. 

More broadly in Office 365 it positions Yammer as the place to engage with expert, human opinion. For all those times when a bot, however artificially intelligent it might be, just doesn’t cut it.

Back to Purpose

What does Yammer do?

Yammer is a platform that lets you find answers.

How do I know this? It has Q&A.

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Benjamin Elias (@Benjamin Elias ) is a Senior Adoption Consultant at Adopt & Embrace. He loves Yammer because of its philosophy of empowering everyone with the same capability. His association with Yammer stretches back many years, originally using it to break down silos, offer regular leadership insight, and assist others with their Excel challenges. He then went on to create an innovation integration for Yammer, and has developed several Yammer Apps. He now focuses on collaboration more broadly across Microsoft 365, but Yammer will always occupy a special place. He is an MVP for Office Apps and Services, and in his spare time enjoys writing parody blogs and websites.

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