SharePoint 2013: Getting your users to be social

As we internally adopt SharePoint 2013 social functionality internally at AvePoint, we are learning a lot of important lessons on how powerful the platform is. We are also learning a lot of the key missing pieces that I have blogged about previously.

SharePoint vs Email vs Lync

One key question that keeps coming up is when should I be creating this social content? Well the first thing I encourage is that a lot of the discussion in e-mail and in Lync probably should be happening in SharePoint…because both of those silos are trapped between those involved in the discussion…unless it is purely intended that way.

Conversations on SharePoint immediately benefit through historical discovery in search and also in real-time through newsfeeds where people who maybe weren’t even thought to be included in the e-mail thread or Lync discussion suddenly contribute and provide value to the discussion.

Encouraging contribution

One big fear people have in the Organization is whether they should be posting status updates or not. Internally I’m encouraging people to share what they are doing, ask questions and share information they find online. But people are afraid that it is noise to a lot of people and not relevant to the whole company. I have to explain that if Users aren’t following you, whatever you post as a status update won’t be shown on their default Newsfeed page, but if you go to “Everyone” it will be there.

Communities

When we were using Yammer as our social platform we realized that there were typical questions being asked either about particular products or particular subject areas like SharePoint, Compliance, Governance etc. We did encourage the use of hash tags which made this more obvious in common topic areas, but all content was on the Everything Newsfeed which was causing “noise” that wasn’t relevant to everyone in the Organization. SO, we created Yammer Groups, and then when we moved to SharePoint we created Community sites for each topic area identified and encouraged people to post status updates and discussions here. The everyone feed was then encouraged only for key members of AvePoint to communicate broadly across the Organization. This is similar to the paradigm in LinkedIn Groups or Facebook Groups.

I tend to encourage the use of Community Discussions for:

  • asking questions knowing that a targeted set of people interested in that topic area will see it

Community Newsfeeds

By default Newsfeeds are not enabled in Communities, but when they are the Newsfeed page is available in the left hand quick launch. I’m not a big fan of this and immediately added the Newsfeed to the homepage of each community next to the discussion list so it is seen when Users hit the community homepage.

Community newsfeeds essentially allows a User to post a micro-blog status update and rather than selecting “everyone” they can change the choice to a particular community target. This is similar to the paradigm in Google+.

In their newsfeed in their About Me, it will show all status updates from Communities that they follow. This does reduce the noise level of people posting status updates to “Everyone” in the Organization.

I tend to encourage the use of Community Newsfeeds for:

  • sharing status updates to inform others in the community of activities you are doing
  • sharing hyperlinks to external content relevant to that area

Discovering Communities

I wasn’t that impressed with the Community Portal Site Collection Site Template that lists all of the Communities discovered by search and lists then in Popularity order as there was no ability to group these. For example, we created communities for each Department in AvePoint, Product in AvePoint, identified Interest Group, and Regional Office. It made it a lot clearer when we created a table grouping the communities by these areas. One thing that is frustrating is there is no easy way to click “Join” from this page so you have to open each Community homepage up. It is also not that clear the difference between what “Join” and “Follow” do.

Blogs

There is a 512 character limit on Status Updates, I was quite surprised when someone complained about that but then I live in the world of Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn and am familiar with the concept of micro-blogging with status updates. I recommend that if I have something deeper and more detailed to share that I will post something on my blog and then automatically an activity is posted to anyone that is following me in their newsfeed. Anyone who accesses your blog can post a comment on that blog post, but typically blog posts aren’t questions posed to people, this is really what Community Discussions are for.

I tend to encourage the use of Blogs for sharing:

  • an anecdotal story
  • an opinion on something that has happened related to the Organization
  • external information and your opinion on a particular topic

Hash Tags

One thing to take into account is that if for example a hash tag is used in a status update posted to a particular Community, they will not appear in the search results for that hashtag or appear in a newsfeed if a User is following it UNLESS they have been granted access to that Community, they don’t necessarily have to have joined or followed the community.

This is also true if I use hash tags in the body of Discussions in Community sites as when the activity is posted to the newsfeed of anyone that follows me or the Community it will extract all hash tags and show them as structured information. This means that anyone following that hash tag with access to that Community will also see this in their newsfeed regardless of whether they are following me or the community.

This allows for better discoverability, for instance, maybe the Support team have a Support Department community where they are putting status updates or starting discussions on their support tickets and use a hash tag for a particular product like #ComplianceGuardian. If the #ComplianceGuardian product manager is following that tag, regardless of whether they have joined the community the status will appear in their Newsfeed.

Status Updates vs Discussions vs Blog posts

As a community champion internally at AvePoint trying to encourage the use of these social communication channels internally, I know that not everyone will stick rigidly to these guidelines. I know people will just post status updates to Everyone, I know that questions will be posted as status updates rather than community discussions. The approach we are taking internally is to focus on key champions and contributors to follow these guidelines hoping others will follow suit.