Teams Introduces Tagging for Targeted Communications

Tag Your Colleagues

Last November, Microsoft announced their intention to deploy tags for Teams starting in early 2020 with the intention of completing worldwide deployment by the end of March. After a slow start, things seem to be ramping up, and Microsoft highlighted tagging in their “what’s new in Teams” post for February. Tagging might be available in your tenant by the time you read this article. Let’s look at the implementation in Teams.

Targeted Communications

Microsoft calls tagging “targeted communications” because tags allow team members to address specific people within team memberships. Tags serve a different purpose to hashtags: tags refer to people, hashtags refer to topics or themes.

People sometimes complain about the burden of an overflowing email inbox. The Teams activity feed can become as chaotic and cluttered due to notifications from busy channels. Properly used, tagging reduces the number of channel and team notifications in the activity feed.

Tagging Basics

Each tag defines a chosen subset of members within a team. For example, org-wide teams can have up to 5,000 members and messages sent with @channel or @team mentions create notifications for probably more people than need to see it in their activity feed. Creating tags like Executives, Managers, or Individual Contributors allow team members to address subsets within the larger team. I like defining a Guests tag for teams with guest members as a convenient way to communicate with members who come from outside the organization.

When you use a tag in a message, everyone in the team sees the message posted in the channel but only the members of the tag or tags @ mentioned in the post receive the notification in their activity feed.

Tagging Enabled by Default

Tagging is managed in the Org-wide settings section of the Teams Admin Center. By default, tagging is enabled for team owners, which means that only team owners can use create tags. The org-wide policy can be changed to allow team owners and members to create tags or to disable tags completely. You can also give team owners the right to override the org-wide setting and stop members adding tags. Owners control who can define tags in a team through the Manage team option (select Settings, then Tags).

Tenant administrators can also create a set of default tags that appear in every team. For example, if you allow guest users to join teams, you might want to have a default tag called Guests. The presence of a default tag is useless unless some members are assigned to the tag. To make the default Guests tag useful, a team owner would have to assign the tag to all the guests in the team.

Managing Tags

To manage the set of tags for a team, select Manage tags from the team […] menu (Figure 1). You can then create new tags, edit existing tags to change the name or assign members to the tag, or remove a tag from a team.

Manage tags option
Figure 1: The Manage tags option (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Another way of managing tags is through Manage team . Here you see the full set of team owners and members together with the tags assigned to each person (Figure 2). It’s sometimes easier to assign tags to people in this manner because you can scroll through the membership to see what tags are assigned to members and who should be assigned a tag. If necessary, you can create a new tag and assign it to members.

Managing the tags assigned to team members
Figure 2: Managing the tags assigned to team members (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Tag Characteristics

A team can have up to 100 tags and the name assigned to a tag can be up to 25 characters long. It’s best to keep things simple, at least at the start, and define a small set of tags with obvious names like those shown in Figure 3. Later, when users are more accustomed to using tags, you can expand the available set.

Set of tags in a team
Figure 3: The set of tags in a team (image credit: Tony Redmond)

After creating a tag, you must assign at least one team member to the new tag. An individual member can be assigned to up to 100 tags within a team and a tag can have up to 100 members. Dynamic tagging (applying a tag using a filter applied to the team membership) is not available and PowerShell cmdlets can’t be used to manage tags or tag membership. You must assign the tag members individually.

How Tags Work

When a team is accessed, Teams builds a list of the team members and channel names in memory to know how to resolve personal and channel @ mentions. Tags are also added to the list, which means that you can address the members of a tag by prefixing the tag name with an @. For instance, taking the example set shown in Figure 4, entering @Editors will address two members while @Writers addresses seven. Teams tells you how many people are addressed by a tag when you use the tag in a message.

Using a tag
Figure 4: Using a tag to @mention people in a Teams message (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Except for the default tags defined for the tenant, a tag is specific to a team and you cannot use a tag created for one team to address people in another team. Tags are not currently supported in private channels. In addition, you cannot use tags for cross-channel posts or in group, personal, and meeting chats. You can use tag names to search for messages, but you cannot apply a filter to find messages sent to a specific tag.

Tag Management

Apart from the deciding to enable tags to be used in Teams and to defining some default tags for the organization, there isn’t much to do to manage tags. Tagging people in messages is like using any other address, so Teams does not gather data about how often each tag is used. You never know if a tag is ever used or how popular one tag is over another. To discover what tags are defined for a team, you must access the team and check.

Incremental Rather Than Radical Change

Tagging is not a huge new feature for Teams. Instead, it is an incremental and useful change to the Teams addressing mechanism that will be especially valued in Office 365 tenants with large teams. Tenants with smaller teams can also get some value, but I suspect that this feature will be of most interest to the larger enterprise, like Microsoft’s internal implementation of Teams.