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TechnologyApr 08, 2013

Top Five Social Features in SharePoint 2013

Jesus Salazar

Enterprise Social features have been getting a lot of buzz lately. With the emergence of social technologies, a new generation entering the workforce is communicating very differently than my generation. It is no wonder so many businesses are asking questions about Enterprise Social Features and why it is right for them. SharePoint 2013 has a ton of great features to highlight. Before we go any further, 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 vast and increasingly complex, the traditional methods of producing and distributing information become 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, distribute it to individuals they think will find it valuable, and then leave it up to said person to use as necessary. So, what are the drawbacks to this approach? Here are a few of the more prevalent ones I have seen:

  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 these drawbacks are things that companies have lived with and tried to manage through process and technology over the years, oftentimes with limited results. This “top down” approach to capturing, producing, and sharing information has become more difficult to manage with increasing amounts of information, as well as, a changing workforce. The “Younger Millennials” (18-28 years old) that have entered or soon will enter the workforce tend to think “email is for old people.” Furthermore, they spend way more time texting and messaging than emailing. This trend will continue to compound and unless changes are made in the way that businesses communicate and collaborate, end users will find ways to work around these inadequacies. This could create liabilities and security issues that are difficult to manage. Resistance is 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 a “bottoms up” approach to how knowledge management and information sharing is done is no exception.

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It is because of this trend 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 to yourself, “Twitter, Facebook, and 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 in this blog 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 they can easily be found. You can also be notified when items change or updates are made to content.

3.  Bring People into Conversations – Much like Twitter, you can use the “@” symbol to reference a fellow colleague in any conversation, post, etc., and they will be notified that they are referenced. This helps to quickly and easily bring people into discussions. 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 leave the organization.

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. It’s 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 as the user participation. 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 am personally excited about these features and others because until now the typical answer for social features in SharePoint was, “If you want a real social experience, you are either going to need to customize SharePoint 2010 or 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. After all, you are relinquishing control of valuable information to some degree and trusting that the overall system will get the right information to the right people at the right time. However, with help and a good plan, the benefits of going social are vast, and not just limited to productivity and leaner execution. Culture, employee enjoyment, and overall cohesiveness of an organization are all positively impacted.

If you would like to hear more about social features in SharePoint 2013 or how to best plan to roll out SharePoint 2013 in your business in a way that maximizes user adoption and ROI, email info@credera.com or call 972.759.1836. For more information on SharePoint 2013, please visit our blog or follow us at @CrederaMSFT.

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