Much has been written on SharePoint’s new social tools: MySites, activity feeds, tags, notes and others. However, adoption of these features is poor and many organizations lack an understanding of how the tools can actually provide them with tangible benefits and save them money. There are a number of both technical and non-technical points that create a compelling argument for the adoption of SharePoint’s new social features.

Leveraging Hidden Organizational Structures

Social tools can be leveraged to uncover hidden organizational structures; ones that mimic water-cooler conversations, golf days, hallway chats -- and can be so vital to decision making.

Being able to connect with fellow employees through search, and discover their actions by following their status, tags, notes or blogs can surface information that would otherwise not be available by direct questions or emails. It is the very act of social interaction within SharePoint that can help discover how users really interact, and how the organization functions as a whole. This can be vital information in terms of reorganizing or optimizing an organization’s structure and process.

(Editor's Note: Get a handle on SharePoint's Social Features. Read: Evaluating SharePoint 2010 as an Enterprise 2.0 Platform)

Increased Employee Engagement

Engaging employees is key to the success of many organizations today. Employees don’t want to be merely fed information; they would like to have a hand in the creation and direction of it. Social tools such as tags and ratings engage employees by allowing them to indicate what they think has the greatest relevance and value.

Rather than paying for research, social tools in SharePoint can be used to give employees a voice and thereby uncover what they find most important. Social content repositories such as blogs, wikis and discussion boards now have the added capabilities of notes, rankings and tagging that allow users to add context to their contributions.

There is an interrelatedness of the engagement that occurs at both the social and business level. Similar to social clubs, like sports teams or charity groups found in many organizations, social tools can be used to create a sense of community and belonging within an organization.

Research has shown that when employees are engaged in an organization they are also more loyal and hardworking. Social tools provide the platform to create these relationships at a very low cost to an organization and offer the flexibility of choosing an appropriate level of governance to manage it.

Fostering Innovation From Those in The Know

A direct result of an organization moving to more of a social model in information sharing is the ability to foster innovation. Social tools provide a level playing field and don’t restrict concepts and ideas to be explored from only a traditional top-down approach.

The pattern of innovation within an organization can change from department-driven to employee-driven, once employees feel comfortable contributing. This can add valuable insight to many business problems and provide solutions which incorporate a range of users’ knowledge.

Fostering innovation leads to significant benefits for any organization, whether it is in the creation of new products, market-place feedback, or simply by improving existing offerings.

Exposure of Tacit Knowledge

“Tacit knowledge” generally refers to the untapped knowledge in an organization that exists in people’s minds, emails and conversations. Social tools expose this tacit knowledge and unlock a vault of valuable information. Emails can be mined for keywords, and by using note-boards and encouraging conversation between users this knowledge can quickly bubble to the surface where it can be of real value.

Often tacit knowledge is lost through employee attrition, but social collaboration and knowledge sharing through SharePoint keeps this information from being lost when a team member moves on.

It’s easy to see that there are very tangible benefits to encouraging employees to share their knowledge and experience.

Promoting Organizational Values

Does your organization really follow its values? Using social tools -- blogs, virtual environments or tagging -- is a good way to encourage and monitor how employees embody organizational values. The social interactions that occur within SharePoint can be mined to determine how users feel about the organization. 

Mining of interests and tags can quickly lead an organization to realize the need to evaluate its own values and how effectively those values are communicated.

Driving and Improving Search Results

To maintain great search results, many companies invest in search administrators to keep search results fresh, compelling and consistent with user experience. Whilst this need has not been entirely eliminated within SharePoint 2010, the suite of social tools enhances the end-user search experience in a couple of key ways:

Social Behaviour Drives Better Search Results

Search result rankings now combine both a static ranking formula with the social events related to a particular piece of content. If content is tagged often, ranked highly by users or becomes a hub of social interaction, these very actions will have a positive effect on the contents search result ranking.

Search administrators do not need to keep as close of an eye on the trends appearing within their SharePoint space, the social engagement around content will directly feed into search results.

Mining Expertise Search

By defining expertise, interest, colleagues and other elements users can leverage the people search functions to determine experts in their areas. These settings do not need to be configured; rather they are mined from a user’s social interactions.

The tags a user applies and the mining of their outlook mailbox to create a profile that matches their actual expertise are another way that social tools contribute to the creation of a persona in SharePoint.

Create a Corporate Taxonomy

Creating a corporate taxonomy can be a complex and costly affair. SharePoint can take user-generated folksonomies and promote this to an organized taxonomy that can be leveraged across the organization. User-centered taxonomies are the most successful organizing principles given the added benefit that this taxonomy was generated by the users themselves.

There are very tangible benefits to the new social capabilities of SharePoint 2010. It’s important to work with a vendor who understands the costs and benefits involved and who can leverage these significant new social tools to an organization’s greatest advantage.