There is no way that you've heard anything about the newest release of SharePoint without hearing about the new Social features. With this release of products, the SharePoint team has put a huge emphasis on social and how it works within the environment. After being here at SharePoint conference, I think the best summary of the Social features that I can give is that this release of products simply highlights things that users already do. Wait! Before you stop reading because you think I am flat out wrong, hear me out.
Social is a word that describes our society in general. We are living in a world where a huge percentage of our time is spent being social and interacting with the rest of society. We buy movie tickets online and then we are prompted with an email to give feedback and ratings so the rest of the community can then see what we thought.
Between Facebook and Twitter it never takes long for breaking news to hit the wire and spread out to the masses. We are emailed weekly coupons that we can download to our frequent shopper cards and then have immediate access to the deals while in the store. While watching TV #hashtags are often displayed so that you can give live commentary on the program as you view it, it has simply become a large part of who we are. As new generations age, this can be seen so much more clearly, students who are now entering the workforce probably can't remember life before Facebook.
I share all of that because the truth is, the new features for Social that come with SharePoint 2013 are really just ways to naturally implement the things that people are already doing. Social — in many cases — can tear down the walls that often exist with internal communication and can drive the business towards success. Every company is different, but it simply isn't fair to say that your company isn't social. Your workforce may not have internal tools that foster their ability to communicate naturally, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't thrive if given the right set of tools that enable them to naturally approach things at work the way they do outside of work.
The Social Tools
When you think about Social tools in SharePoint you have several different options, including:
In the market today there appears to be much confusion about the tools that are available for use. SharePoint includes many out of the box social features that allow users to micro blog, follow content and easily search and locate relevant content.
In addition to these features, there are levels of integration within SharePoint and Yammer (Yammer is a cloud based social tool that was acquired by Microsoft earlier this year). Moving forward, it is clear that there will be greater integration with the two products, but at this point there is no need to feel like you have to choose one or the other. You can also consider using third party tools that allow for a customized solution that sits on top of SharePoint — such as NewsGator. Like all things in IT, the best answer to what you should use is — it Depends. It depends on your organization, your goals and your resources.
Getting Started With Social
So the next question is always, how do we get started? The best advice I can give is to remember that tools are mostly irrelevant and the business is really where you should be starting. Earlier, I stated that social was all about enabling users to do more naturally what they are already doing. So the first thing you need to do is learn about your users! Learn from them how they behave and look for ways that their experiences could be improved.
By aligning with what they are already doing, you will not have to deal with a new tool that you are forcing them to use. Being social isn't forced, it just happens, so your job is to create an environment that takes what is natural and provides a set of tools that drives that behavior. If you do not start with the behavior then you won’t find the right tool.
Once you have a good understanding of the types of things users are doing already, picking the tool should be the easy part. SharePoint 2013 brings to the environment social tools that are unlike anything before. In future articles, I will dive deeper into the specific features, but in the mean time, I encourage you to do some research and get a sample site so you can see firsthand what is new.
Don't get caught up in all the tools and what integrates with what, but instead, start looking at your organization to identify the ways it is already being social and then use the tools to make that better. In order for social to ever be successful, it must start and end with the business in mind.
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About the Author
Jennifer Mason is a SharePoint Server MVP that has spent the last several years providing consulting services around SharePoint Technologies. She is currently working with the team at Rackspace Hosting. Her focus has been on strategy, planning, governance and best practices for implementing business solutions using SharePoint Technologies. She is the author of “Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Creating and Implementing Real World Projects”, a resource for no-code solutions for SharePoint.