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Social Computing in SharePoint 2013

Social computing, or what I like to refer to as professional networking to assist in sometimes overcoming some internal political hurdles, is one of the most powerful and sometimes underused features of SharePoint. Those who have worked with SharePoint 2010 or 2007 in the past will be familiar on some level with SharePoint My Sites capabilities, depending on whether the organization opted to implement them. In SharePoint 2013, however, the professional networking capabilities of SharePoint include not only radically improved My Site features but also a new Community Site template, which adds a new layer to this social computing powerhouse platform.

A Community Site is a new SharePoint 2013 site template that provides a forum type of experience within the SharePoint platform. This of course will add to your governance planning, but the way it has been architected into the SharePoint 2013 fabric, it adds a great deal of value and cements SharePoint 2013 as the social computing tool for enterprise organizations.

If your organization has worked with knowledge management (KM) initiatives in the past, it is helpful to think in terms of these communities to help categorize and spawn discussions among different groups or team members across the organization. This feature does not replace My Sites at all but rather is an added layer to help promote open communication and collaborative exchange by enabling users to share things like best practices and lessons learned, as well as to share and promote their personal expertise.

I have had the opportunity to work with organizations in the past on their knowledge management initiatives in SharePoint. I wish this feature had been included in past releases of SharePoint but it’s here now and KM directors should take notice.

The Community Portal, which is a collection of the individual Community Sites on differing and specific topics, provides discussion lists and web parts directed specifically at the knowledge management and “community” experience.

Understanding the Community Reference in Terms of Social Computing

It can become a bit confusing when referring to the “community” features of SharePoint 2013 because the term itself is also used to refer to other common SharePoint elements. It’s important to keep the specific use of the term in context. The SharePoint Community Sites are for the enhancement of social collaboration and knowledge management within the organization.

You may also hear users or stakeholders refer to “communities” in terms of the IT community or SharePoint’s “Power User” community which are, in fact, communities but more granularly they are just specific user groups or sets of individuals.

I think this is important so that you are able to set the tone with the SharePoint stakeholders and user base when describing the different SharePoint terms so that there is no confusion or overlap of terms.

Features and Practices of SharePoint Communities in Terms of Social Computing

This new Community Site feature in SharePoint 2013 enables users to further organize discussions as well as categorize feedback and knowledge and apply “metadata” or content types such as “lessons learned” and “best practices.” It also enables users to get feedback from other team members within the organization who may have come across the same issue that a current Community is discussing and offer invaluable feedback to the Community users to solve a specific problem in a much faster manner.

Just as a SharePoint site or set of SharePoint sites should have a “power user” or “super user” assist in owning issues and championing the specific sites, communities need moderators to manage the community by enforcing the organization governance as well as reviewing and addressing posts for appropriate content.

There is also a new feature that allows each community to contain information about its member and content reputation that will help them earn “status” or the “gifted badges” type of recognition from the Community moderators when they do things such as posting discussions, promoting or liking content, or providing feedback by using the “marked as a best answer” feature in SharePoint 2013 communities.

A new SharePoint community can be created either at the site collection level or at the site level. The decision of where to create the sites, at which level, can be influenced by which features you would like to provide (that is, activate and so on) within a specific community or a greater set of community sites.

Understanding the Community Portal Template Versus the Community Site Template

SharePoint 2013’s Community Portal template is actually an enterprise site template with a web part page and has the inherent capability to provide search-driven results, that is, audience-driven results. This template provides additional web parts such as the “Popular Communities” web part to display communities that are flourishing and are very active, which is ultimately determined by the number of replies to posts as well as the number of members within the community.

The Community Portal page can be accessed from the Sites link on a user’s My Site.

The Community Site template contains the same base list, libraries, and features of a standard SharePoint Team Site template.

It is important to add the SharePoint Community features to your overall SharePoint Roadmap as well as governance model because this provides an additional layer of sites as well as a possible hierarchical element to your existing navigation and overall SharePoint topology.

Many of the terms used within SharePoint communities are common to other areas of SharePoint Sites; however, the following terms are new and you should understand and champion them when implementing communities into your SharePoint 2013 platform:

  • Moderator

    The moderator is a community member who has permission and access to tools to manage, or moderate, the community settings and members. The moderator should be deeply involved and tasked with reviewing and addressing posts that are flagged as inappropriate, as well as sometimes combining sets of “discussions” or threads to better organize them for consumption by the user base.

    The moderator should also set rules per the organization’s governance model for discussions and the quality of content that exists within the community, as well as champion the community to ensure that it’s being used and does not become “stale” and irrelevant.

  • Reputation

    Each and every member of a SharePoint Community Site earns a reputation within the community based on specific activities and feedback from other members. This can occur when the member’s posts are liked or an answer to a discussion is rated as a best answer provided. The new reputation functionality is maintained at the site level and is specific only to that individual Community Site.

    A member may be more knowledgeable in a specific area or Community and thus may have a stronger reputation in a different community due to his or her skill set and vast knowledge base on a specific topic or interest.

  • Gifted badges

    The Community moderator can provide or assign a community member with a gifted badge to designate the user as a special contributor of the community. These gifted badges help community users understand who are the possible experts in a given community and provide them with insight on who may be able to give them the best and most informed information.

  • Best reply

    Within a SharePoint Community discussion, multiple replies will be given on a specific topic or question, but one reply can be designated as the best reply. The best reply designation can be given by either the user who originally posted the topic or question or the moderators of the community. When a user starts to build up a number of best reply tags, the user will start to build a reputation within the community.

My Sites in SharePoint Server 2013

A My Site is a personal site for a given user that allows them to display information such as their profile and relevant skillsets, as well as information regarding sites they are interested in and a newsfeed of recent activities. This also provides the users with access to their OneDrive, as well as their blog, aggregated list of tasks, and other personal information.

A user’s My Site consists of two site collections, the SharePoint 2013 farm’s My Site host site collection and the user’s individual site collection.

Ensuring Best Practices My Site Architectural Configuration

SharePoint Server 2013’s My Sites, as shown in Figure 3.5, do have core architectural and configuration requirements or prerequisites that must be put in place to ensure that all My Site functionality is made available and that they function in a best practices and high-performing secured manner.

FIGURE 3.5

FIGURE 3.5 A newly created SharePoint Server 2013 My Sites.

SharePoint Server 2013’s managed metadata service application enables web applications to store and access keywords from a managed metadata term database. These features are required for My Sites users to specify keywords as their areas of expertise in the Ask Me About section, as well as to utilize the new hashtag feature in Posts and Newsfeeds, and for social tagging by using the “Tags and Notes” feature within My Site.

The managed metadata service application must be configured as the default keyword term store for the web application.

I would also recommend for any SharePoint 2013 implementation that the SharePoint Server Search service application be enabled, but in terms of My Sites it is absolutely a requirement. This enables users to search from within their My Sites for people in the organization based on names or areas of expertise, which I believe is one of the most popular features of My Sites. This also enables users’ search results to access the hashtags in microblog posts.

Expertise Search/People Search

The expertise search capabilities within SharePoint Server 2013 My Sites is another very popular features that should be enabled within your organization because it provides tangible return on investment (ROI). The People search and expertise tagging will help your organization’s users to locate other team members who have identified themselves as having significant experience with a particular subject area or topic.

The My Site features in SharePoint enable users to add terms to their profile that describe areas in which they have experience and thus populate the searches of users using the expertise search.

What Are Communities in SharePoint 2013 in Terms of Specific Audiences, Users, or Departments?

When SharePoint is implemented within an organization, there are business requirements that must be accomplished, as well as the information technology goals and key benefits that are embraced by IT to deploy SharePoint and support it for the long term.

From the very beginning, communities or “sets of certain types of users” start to develop, and those related users within those communities have their own sets of goals, processes they want to improve on, and collaboration or increased knowledge sharing in the governed and secure manner that SharePoint offers.

This is true for a SharePoint implementation of any kind, whether it be an enterprise content management (ECM) initiative or a new intranet or an increased “social” or “professional networking” related strategy the culture is striving to embrace.

Three core types of communities exist within any SharePoint 2013 implementation. There are, of course, many subcommunities and types of users that flow out of these main community types, but these are the three that can be identified at the very top level:

  • The “Knowledge” community and related users, whose goal is collaboration, knowledge sharing, social/professional networking, and retaining this knowledge for the long term.
  • A goal of this community is to prevent knowledge loss when staff members leave the organization and to provide their best practices, lessons learned, and intellectual property knowledge when new staff come into the company.
  • The “Power User”/“Super User” community, which provides the “care and feeding” as well as support to ensure that the Knowledge community continues to thrive. This group is made up of team members or users who work with the Knowledge community as well as the business leaders who set these goals and the IT and Operational community that “keeps the lights on” and ensures security, performance, governance, compliance, and business continuity.
  • The “Operational” community, which supports both the Knowledge community and the Power User/Super User community. This community is made up of the technical staff with roles such as the SharePoint administrators, Site Collection Owners, Site Owners, infrastructure, networking, and security.
  • The Operational community is also getting ever-growing requests to support the Knowledge community, which is knocking at the door regarding mobility, smartphones, tablets, and the bigger BYOD questions.

The Knowledge Community

One thing I have stressed with my team members at EPC Group, the SharePoint and Microsoft consultancy I founded about 15+ years ago, is to take the word “SharePoint” out of many conversations and focus on the business and functional goals at hand. Microsoft SharePoint is the technology you are using to accomplish these goals, but think in terms of how the technology can meet the needs of the communities.

There is a bit of a new blurry line when talking about SharePoint communities today, with SharePoint 2013 having a new level or hierarchy of Community Sites (templates) that support specific communities. However, I think it’s key to think in terms of knowledge management and Networks of Excellence (NoE) that initially created many of the best practices and strategies that drive SharePoint communities today.

So, taking a step back and using the NoE concept in the knowledge management world, the following are roles, responsibilities, and best practices that should be taken into consideration.

Executive Community Sponsor

  • Approves and supports the business case and vision for knowledge sharing at the functional, business unit, operational, and/or executive levels
  • Signs off on the business case, vision, and resources for knowledge sharing
  • Remains involved through executive briefings and communications with the organizational community sponsors

Community Sponsor

  • Sets goals and related performance criteria for the community
  • Fosters widespread interest and enthusiasm for knowledge sharing and community participation
  • Directs and presents the strategic input of the community to executives

Community Leader

  • Directs the activities and sets the priorities of the community
  • Manages the usage and appropriation of community resources
  • Ensures the quality and timeliness of community activities/deliverables
  • Develops a team concept within the community dedicated to learning and innovation
  • Participates in and leads all aspects of community planning, design, development, and deployment
  • Oversees the processes, content, technology (portal administration), and people resources to increase the effective sharing of best practices and lessons learned across business units
  • Works closely with knowledge-sharing leaders and staff to incorporate training and standards
  • Measures community maturity and effectiveness with accountability
  • Communicates knowledge-sharing success stories and lessons learned
  • Gives recognition to the community, and enables award or recognition of submissions
  • Guides research and benchmarking projects (where applicable)
  • Encourages qualitative and quantitative benchmarking to identify new areas of improvement opportunity
  • Appoints, coaches, and supports the community coordinators

Community Coordinator

  • Ensures effective content management by collecting and managing the right information that supports the community
  • Ensures that SharePoint’s content is updated and relevant to the user’s needs
  • Monitors collaborative spaces (sites) to extract new knowledge and to identify issues that require responses
  • Builds awareness of and access to the right people and right information that supports employees’ daily workflows (day-to-day tasks)
  • Maintains processes for knowledge acquisition, storage, maintenance, and dissemination
  • Facilitates community interaction and outreach to increase the number and contributions of active members
  • Links community members with subject matter experts to answer questions or provide solutions
  • Collects and packages knowledge-sharing success stories and lessons learned and champions these to other communities to keep a sense of competition within various communities to strive for excellence

Community Core Team Member

  • Actively participates in and steers network activities under the guidance of the community Sponsor
  • Builds regional sponsorship for and engages regional members in knowledge-sharing activities
  • Formulates and executes plans to deploy community deliverables at the regional levels
  • Provides a link between the strategies of the community and the strategies of the regional business units
  • Develops relevant measures of success for the community
  • Engages local community coordinators and subject matter experts (SMEs) in knowledge-sharing activities

In identifying these different roles, there is a best practices framework to be followed to ensure SharePoint Community effectiveness, as shown in Figure 3.6, along with 10 critical success factors.

FIGURE 3.6

FIGURE 3.6 EPC Group’s SharePoint Community effectiveness framework.

In identifying this framework, there is a best practices SharePoint Community operating model, as shown in Figure 3.7, that should be followed to ensure SharePoint compliance as well as continued care and feeding of the community.

FIGURE 3.7

FIGURE 3.7 EPC Group’s Community operating model.

There is always the question of “the users and participants have a day job and tasks they must manage, so how can this be worked into the SharePoint network and overall participation?” Figure 3.8 details an approach to this question.

FIGURE 3.8

FIGURE 3.8 A graphic showing the intersection between a user’s “day jobs” and the user’s community activities.

Within any network, critical or very time-sensitive issues or areas of possible improvement will come to the attention of community leaders and the roles identified previously.

Figure 3.9 details a workflow or process showing an example of how these community items can be dealt with head-on; it also puts a timeframe out there for resolution of issues so that they are not prolonged and the community itself does not become irrelevant because users have stopped providing or sharing knowledge due to an unresolved issue.

FIGURE 3.9

FIGURE 3.9 A workflow example showing how community items can be addressed head on but how a timeframe can be assigned for issue resolution.

Lastly, you want to ensure that you have defined metrics, as shown in Figure 3.10, and have an understanding of the maturity model, as well as how relevant each community’s knowledge is, to ensure that it is being updated and used, and that ROI is being gained from the network. Figure 3.10 compares the knowledge gained from communities to the time spent to provide a starting point for your organization.

FIGURE 3.10

FIGURE 3.10 EPC Group’s SharePoint Community sharing maturity metric diagram.

The Power User/Super User Community

The Power Users/Super Users are the users who support the care and feeding of SharePoint, as shown in Figure 3.11, communities and really “keep the lights on” by helping enforce security strategies, governance, and compliance. They are your “first line of defense” and will limit IT involvement in extremely common issues that IT should not have to be pulled into when they should be concentrating on more pressing or higher-priority items.

FIGURE 3.11

FIGURE 3.11 Power Users or SharePoint Administrators: Who should be your organization’s first line of defense?

Because IT and the Operational community are usually extremely busy working on keeping the lights on, the Power User community, as shown in Figure 3.12, should be your first line of defense as well as a friendly face to engage the business and work with IT to resolve community issues.

FIGURE 3.12

FIGURE 3.12 Power Users should be your organization’s first line of defense to handle common and easily answered questions from your SharePoint 2013 user base.

The Operational Community

The SharePoint Operational community and related roles support the following in SharePoint 2013:

  • People (permissions, Active Directory, groups, and so forth)

    • Roles and teams
    • Sponsorship
  • Process and policies (enforcement)

    • Security
    • Content management (policy enforcement from a technical level)
    • Hardware and services
    • Procedures (from an automated or technical level)
  • Communication and training (from a technical level)

    • Communication plan
    • Training plan
    • Support plan
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