Apr 11, 2013

SharePoint 2013 Social Features – What’s New and How Can it Help Companies Communicate Better

Jesus Salazar

Jesus Salazar

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Enterprise Social features have been getting a lot of buzz lately. With the emergence of Social technologies and media out there as well as a new generation of people entering the workforce who communicate very differently than my generation is used to, it is no wonder why so many businesses are asking questions about Enterprise Social and why it is right for them. SharePoint 2013 has a ton of great features, but before we jump into that, I think it is important to understand what social features “buy you” in the workplace. Hopefully you find this information valuable!

Will Stokes, Credera SharePoint Architect, and I recently presented on the topic at SharePoint TechFest Dallas. You may view our presentation here.

The way in which employees communicate and collaborate with each other is ever evolving. As information becomes more vast and more complex, the traditional methods of producing and distributing information becomes harder and harder to scale. Historically, organizations have created and built content in a centralized fashion. That is, one person or a small group of people create or package valuable data and information in the form of a finished document or deliverable of some kind, distribute it to whom they think would find value (or to everyone if they aren’t sure!), and then leave it up to said person to use as it makes sense. So what are some of the drawbacks to this approach? Here are some of the more prevalent ones I see:

  1. Compartmentalized perspectives of information (since it only comes from a handful of people)

  2. Latency in reporting or distribution of information (since deliverables can take a long time to produce)

  3. Difficulty in scaling the maintenance of all of this information (since the creators of this information typically move on to other things)

  4. Difficulty in capturing the analysis, action items, or any resulting impact of the documentation (since the information is typically distributed through email or posted on a file share or corporate intranet)

Most of the these drawbacks are things that companies have lived with and tried to manage through process and technology over the years, often times with limited results. This “top down” approach to capturing, producing and sharing information has only become more difficult to manage with increasing amount of information we produce and consume as well as the changing workforce. The ” Younger Millennial’s” (18-28) that have entered or are soon entering the workforce tend to think “email is for old people”. Furthermore, they spend way more time texting and messaging than emailing. This trend will only continue to compound and unless changes are made in the way that businesses communicate and collaborate, end users will find ways to workaround these inadequacies. This can create liabilities and security issues that are difficult to manage. Resistance if futile! Why not embrace change and let the innovation begin! As I’ve seen versions of SharePoint come and go over the years, a consistent and increasing trend of “putting people at the forefront” and encouraging more of that “bottoms up” approach to how knowledge management and information sharing is done is no exception.

It is because of this that I was excited to see the improvements in Social Features of SharePoint 2013 over its predecessor. If you are like me, the first time you see this stuff you will say “Twitter, Facebook, Google+ all in one”. SharePoint 2013 has basically woven social through just about every primary use case it has! Here is a list of some of the things that I am most excited about (Note:  Although I am super excited about Yammer as well, I have chosen not to talk about it here in this post!):

  1. Access “Your Stuff” from Anywhere – SharePoint 2013 has put personalized links across the top of all of its main site templates. This allows you to go to areas of the new “MySite” quickly and easily without having to first go to MySite like in SharePoint 2010

  2. Ability to Follow Pretty Much Anything – Now you can choose to “Follow” people, sites, documents, etc. This will automatically place items on your MySite so that they can always be easily found. You can be notified when items change or updates are made to content as well

  3. Bring People into Conversations – Much like Twitter, you can use the “@” to reference a fellow colleague in any conversation, post, etc. and they will be notified that they are referenced. This helps quickly and easily bring people into discussions to weigh in or just be aware of what is going on. Any valuable insights or information they choose to share is automatically captured in the conversation along with the rest of the information to date. I really like this one because it helps minimize the loss of tribal and tacit knowledge when people within an organization leave

  4. Now that’s an Activity Feed – Although the Newsfeed left much to be desired in 2010, SharePoint 2013’s newsfeeds mirror the functionality of any top major social website. Its smarter, better, and works the way you would expect it to

  5. Get Some Street Cred – As with any social website, it is only as good the user participation you have. SharePoint 2013 has lots of cool features that help encourage participation in discussions. Through a “Reputation Builder” feature, users get points by responding to threads, getting “Likes”, and by having people mark your reply as the “Best Reply”.

I personally am really excited about these features and more because up until this point, I was getting tired of telling my clients “if you want a real social experience, you are either going to customize SharePoint 2010 to meet your needs or go with a third party product”. Now a business can focus on tweaking the nuances of its social offering rather than building core social functionality and the overhead that comes with any custom solution.

Lastly, user adoption is the lifeblood of any collaboration environment. Without it, the value and ROI of a solution goes way down. SharePoint 2013 has made significant strides over its predecessor to make interacting with people and their information as seamless as possible but there is still much to be managed. Without proper governance and an execution plan, a business may never allow themselves to be free from the constraints of the traditional methods of sharing information. Moving to a more social environment can make some organizations nervous, afterall, you are relinquishing control of valuable information to some degree and trusting that the overall system will get to the right place at the right time. However, with the right help and a good plan, the benefits of going social are vast and are not just limited to productivity and leaner execution. Culture, employee enjoyment, and overall cohesiveness are all positively impacted. I hope you found this post valuable.


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