When you look at SharePoint 2013 Social Features, it is important to understand the Social features are really just a way to highlight how users are already working. Once you've flipped things around and are starting with the user and common actions, it becomes easy to see how the tools available to you can simply enhance current activities of users.
In this article we are going to highlight some of the latest and greatest social features, but do it in a way that is based solely on common activities. Reviewing this article will help you identify some of the practical applications of how social could really impact your organization.
A Central Location for “My Stuff”
Most users want to have a central location that is easily accessible that can be used to store their personal content. My Sites easily provides this capability and has for several releases.
What is new in this release is the ability to easily and quickly access the most common aspects of your My Site without really having to think about it too much. Take a look at the default Team Template that is available within SharePoint 2013. Notice that across the top of the page you see links for Newsfeed, SkyDrive and Sites. These are links that allow to quickly and easily access areas within your My Site.
By having these sites available on all templates the users of the system can easily navigate from specific project or team content and then directly into their personal content.
Easily Following Content
One can argue however that the ability to easily link to personal content is not really relevant if it’s not easy to organize content.
In 2013 they have added the concept of “Follow,” which allows people to quickly and easily add links and references to the content on their My Sites. Within SharePoint you can follow Sites, Documents, People or Tags. For all things you can follow you will see the icon directly on the item and then be shown a message that the content is now referenced on your My Site. This allows you to be working with content and then easily save a reference to return later.
If we consider typical user behavior you can relate this feature to the following scenario: A user has been invited to work on a team to provide input on their approach. There are several documents that the team is creating that the new resource will need to review and provide feedback. By following these documents the reviewer can see within their newsfeed updates. These updates will prompt them to open the documents and complete their responsibilities. Because they were able to easily follow the content they could rely on their My Site to push the data to them instead of having to remember to navigate to all of the sites directly.
When I open my personal Newsfeed, I see information from 3 groups -- those I am Following, Everyone and those that have Mentioned me. I can also easily see how many things I am following in each of the characters. I can also easily respond inline to others' comments. This allows me to have a single centralized feed of all of the data from within the organization.
Easily Start & Follow Conversations
The next thing to highlight is that not only can you follow the content, but you can also interact with and have conversations with others directly from the site. You can do this by simply adding the @ symbol in front of their name in the post.
As you type the @ symbol, the global address book is displayed making it easy for users to find others. Once you mention them they also receive an email letting them know that you have mentioned them. This email directs them to the conversation and provides a way for them to easily respond. The email is very rich in formatting and easy for users to interact with.
By default, each new team site contains a newsfeed that allows for teams to discuss content. Because it is located centrally on the home page it is easy for users to jump in and start to engage in conversations.
This is another example of having a tool that compliments how users already behave. Users are used to working together on content, but in most cases they then go into email and start emailing the team with questions.
In some cases this works great and in others it causes a separation of data and decentralized points to return to when you need to find and access the data at a later point. By using the newsfeed feature you can provide a way for teams to keep their conversations more centralized within their project or team content.
Easily Share Content
The final piece that I want to highlight is the ability to easily ahare content with others. So many times we are looking through content and think that it would be great if another person saw the content or we see something that we know someone else is looking for.
Within SharePoint 2013, all users who have access to a site can “Share” content with others. They do this by selecting the “Share” link on either a site or a document and then enter in the user’s information as well as a note about the content. The Share request when approved by the Administrator grants access to the content for the person that the content was Shared with.
Since all Share requests have to be approved by an Administrator there is no danger of a user sharing content with someone who shouldn't have access. This is all managed through a workflow process that uses emails to notify those involved in the status along the way. This puts the power into the hands of the users, but keeps the control in the hands of the administrator. Instead of having to ask to give someone permission to content you can simply kick off a process that steps the request through the appropriate channels.
In summary, we have shown several different features that allow users to easily work with content and with others. We have addressed a few common scenarios, including:
- The ability to quickly navigate to “My Stuff”
- The ability to start discussions and ask questions in the same context as the team or project data
- The ability to easily follow others, documents and sites in a way that allows me to easily see a feed of the latest activity
- The ability to share content we find with others as we discover it
We are in truth just touching the surface of some of the Social features available within SharePoint 2013, but by looking at these features you should be able to recognize common internal behaviors and see how the tools available are a complement to activities that users are already doing.
I definitely encourage you to jump in and start to explore these new features and I believe that you will find a huge and welcome improvement to the features we started to see in earlier releases.
Editor's Note: To get more of Jennifer's outlook on the upcoming SharePoint 2013, read her SharePoint 2013: Intranets with a Side of Social