I admit, I was once in the same situation. Staring at the CEO of an international company that has over 15,000 employees and trying to explain SharePoint Social to him and his board. My first and biggest mistake was trying to explain it with examples like “It’s like Facebook for the Enterprise” or “It’s like LinkedIn.”
That was three years ago with SharePoint 2010 and since then, I have learnt my lesson. Social is very hard to measure a return on, though not impossible.
What is SharePoint Social? Know what you are selling
Before you can attempt to explain to someone what SharePoint Social is and what they can expect from it, you need to understand it yourself. Let’s look at what fits under this giant hat of Social in SharePoint.
Microblogging and feeds
One of the long awaited features for SharePoint has been microblogging. What exactly is microblogging? The ability to post a message, participate in conversations with comments and replies. But also tagging and mentioning others using the “@” symbol. Showing that you agree with something someone else said by clicking on “Like”.
But because it’s built in to SharePoint, you can actually even click on Follow Up and have it create a Task in your My site for you to follow up.
As part of Microblogging, you can also “Follow” Sites, Documents, People and Tags to stay current on everything happening, kind of like subscribing.
This is a new Site Template that arrived with SharePoint 2013, it’s called Community Sites. This new template is an attempt to replace the old Discussion Board that wasn't so popular in previous versions of SharePoint.
The Site allows users to have discussions and questions on topics that are relevant to the company. It also includes a reputation and badge system to reward active members and incites them to keep participating. What’s fun is that the Discussions leverage all of the Microblogging features mentioned above.
Interesting as well is that there is a Community Portal that pulls all the Community Sites together for easy navigation.
A few people think My Sites have disappeared and that it is now called SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro -- this is false.
If you want to learn more about SkyDrive Pro I invite you to read this complete definition: What is SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint 2013. My Sites are still the same, a personal Site Collection each user gets. There has been many improvements to the User Interface to make it more intuitive and has some cool features thanks to the Microblogging and the new Search engine.
Once My Sites are deployed, they become the default Save location for people running Office 2013. Push them to use the My Site or “SkyDrive Pro” library more and more.
Sharing is now Security Management
To make it easier on users and manage security on files and folders, the “Share” button has been introduced.
The notion of “permissions” is hidden or reduced from the average SharePoint User and replaced with a very social-like “sharing” concept. “I would like to share this with John so that he may view the document”.
Newsfeed Web Part
Though we have already covered the Microblogging feature in SharePoint 2013, I think we can isolate the Newsfeed Web Part into its own category. That’s because the Web Part can be added on any page and offers the Microblogging features mentioned earlier.
And when the Newsfeed Web Part is used on other sites, it still shows up in the users main Newsfeed if they follow the site. In the picture below, you can see the message posted earlier in the Community Site.
Be Prepared to Show What the Return Is
This is the million-dollar question: what is this going to do for our business? This is where I froze back a few years ago when asked a very similar question. How do we measure the return of activating all these social features? If I had the complete answer, you could be sure I’d be somewhere else right now. The thing is, it is very difficult, but not entirely impossible. A lot of it will have to do with calculating the time it takes to search certain things or find content with and without these features. The best is always to focus on problems the business is living with today and show how some of these specific social features would fix them.
A mistake is going in there and trying to sell this as a Facebook for the Enterprise. Stay away from such comparisons as much as possible and focus on the problems existing and how you will fix them. If the company is selling cardboard then they couldn’t care less about a Facebook for Enterprise, even if it’s the latest “trend.” Tell them that you could increase new employee's performance by providing a Community Site with answers to questions and you’ll see a very different reaction.
Know Your Stuff
As mentioned earlier, the key takeaway from this article is to stay away from comparisons with popular social medias and focusing on real problems that need to be solved. But that’s not going to happen by magic; you need to know what you’re talking about.
SharePoint is not the only platform in the world that can help. Yammer is focused particularly on Microblogging and has some much more polished, tailor-made features to respond to some business needs a lot better than the Out of the Box SharePoint can. Though it is often mentioned alongside SharePoint, it is a separate cloud-based offering only. Some integration is possible but is very limited for now. Already we have seen it grow with the recent release of Office 365 and the Newsfeed linked to Yammer instead of SharePoint and I am sure we can expect more in the future.
My advice, know what SharePoint can do, understand Yammer and keep an open mind on third party add-ons that will improve the general experience. But always focus on the need of the business and not bringing a Facebook into the Enterprise.