Microsoft today turned on a new “external groups” collaboration feature in its Yammer enterprise social networking service.
The external groups feature permits Yammer collaboration with people outside an organization. It can be used today by those who have Yammer group creation privileges, according to Microsoft’s announcement. The creation of Yammer external groups requires approval by a group administrator.
Yammer Enterprise edition is needed to use the external groups feature. It doesn’t work with Yammer Basic.
Security controls are enabled through Exchange Transport Rules for configuring Exchange Online, according to an Office 365 support article. It doesn’t work for premises-based Exchange Transport Rules if an organization lacks an Office 365 tenant.
The Office 365 support article also warns that Yammer doesn’t support all Exchange Transport Rules (ETR) yet, and that can be a problem for external messaging:
Because Yammer does not read through the rules at this time, turning on ETRs for Yammer can result in disabling external messaging for your network if there are any rules enabled that are not on the Yammer ETR list.
These transport rules can prevent “sensitive company information from being shared” when using the external groups feature, according to Microsoft’s announcement. Possibly organizations may need data loss prevention capabilities turned on, too, although Microsoft didn’t indicate that in its announcement.
Verified administrators can remove any external participants, according to Microsoft’s external messaging FAQ. Admins can also see “which files and conversations are accessible to external users.”
For end users, the external groups capability shows up in the left-hand pane of a Yammer client. It’s a different feature than the forthcoming integration of Yammer into the Office 365 Groups service, which Microsoft announced in February. Back then, Microsoft had indicated that Yammer integration into Office 365 Groups would take place in the first half of this year, but that goal has slipped to the second half of 2016, according to Microsoft’s announcement today.
Microsoft isn’t planning to add the new external groups capability to its future Yammer-Office 365 Groups integration at the time of rollout. However, that idea is still up for future consideration, the company indicated.
There are some limitations to using Yammer external groups. This feature is governed by the same administration controls used for external messaging controls. “If you choose to opt out of one, you will not have access to the other,” Microsoft’s announcement explained.
Organizations wanting to add external users have to create a new external group. “It’s not possible to add external members to Yammer groups that were created prior to the external groups feature being made available,” Microsoft’s announcement explained.
Also, right now, external groups participants have to be part of “a home Yammer network, which requires a corporate domain.” However, Microsoft is planning to address that limitation.
Microsoft’s preferred way to block the Yammer external groups feature is just to use Exchange Transport Rules for the purpose. There are three other ways for organizations to disable the external groups feature, but Microsoft recommends contacting its support services to carry out those steps.
First, it’s possible to block users from creating external groups. Next, organizations can “block users from creating external groups in their network but still allow users to be invited to groups hosted in other networks,” the announcement explained. Lastly, organizations can setup a logical firewall to block external groups creation, but Microsoft doesn’t like that approach as it “limits engagement within Yammer.”