8 key considerations when you implement SharePoint social capabilities

Ensure success in your implementation of social features

by Richard Harbridge on 3/25/2014

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Microsoft SharePoint, social technology, spx

Over the past year I have worked with many companies rolling out SharePoint’s social features. I've found a minimum of eight things that every company should carefully consider when rolling out features like MySites, User Profiles, Tags, Notes, Activity Feeds, and Blogs. This article will outline why each consideration is important and in some cases provide an example of how you might begin dealing with that consideration effectively.

If you ensure you have accounted for all of these, you will be more successful. So without further ado, let’s go through the eight key factors for and effective SharePoint social strategy.

1. Understand the value

You need to understand the value of social functionality at both the organizational level and the individual level. You will be challenged on this, and you will want to appropriately support and articulate the value at all times and in a variety of ways.

Organizations cite a number of reasonsfor introducing and leveraging social technology within the enterprise. The most popular are fairly broad value statements such as:

  • Social Technology lowers the cost of sharing and organizing information: easier and more ways to access information   
  • Social Technology surfaces knowledge and networks: improved visibility   
  • Social Technology increases employee engagement: enables more participants

The reality is that social technology tends to support key subject areas or organizational activities already existing within companies. Most social technologies within an enterprise leverage the identity of the contributing individual. As a result, there is generally no such thing as anonymity within the enterprise. This means that enterprise social technology usage will:

Improve search relevancy and helps people find what they are looking for. A concrete example of improving search relevance in SharePoint would be that social tagging, rating, and action will result in and increase the ranking of a particular document or item. If it is being socialized, the assumption is that it is more important than content that is not.

Improve content authority and reliability. When users are searching or browsing through large amounts of corporate information, the use of social features such as tagging, rating, and discussions can greatly help them understand the authority level of certain content. This comes not only from the existing tags, ratings, and discussions, but also based on who uploaded or modified the content, and whether that person has expertise in that topic area based on their user profile information.

Add additional contextual relevance to existing information. In SharePoint it is not only within communities or personal sites that social features are leveraged. Even on executive dashboards that use roll ups and reports of data, it is possible in many cases to use the note board for discussion, to tag specific reports, to rate specific reports or data summaries. So long as the information is within SharePoint, it can be tagged and discussed. In fact SharePoint even allows users to use a feature that enables the tagging and discussion of external information sources.

Provide additional ways to find content. Beyond searching for information by using keywords, phrases, or tags, it can often be useful to find information by discovering experts or individuals who are linked to the content either as authors or as someone who recently highlighted that content through social tags, ratings, or sharing. Additionally what this means if you want to find someone by using their expertise, searching and discovery makes it easier to find the right person, and their properties (that help you find them) are more accurate.

2. Align your use of SharePoint’s social features with business objectives.

To make sure your use of SharePoint's social features is successful, you need to have objectives for social activities. The best objectives are things that are measurable, achievable, and have been defined/clarified enough that they aren’t platitudes. For example, you might do something like allowing the company president to connect with employees and answer their questions. This is a good, clear use of social technology, while objectives like, "improving collaboration," are not applicable since they can’t be measured.

It is important to be able to align new initiatives, technologies and business solutions with organizational goals. To try and help you visualize this effect, I made up the following objectives, based on fake differentiators of a business.

Example Objectives:

Grow Organizational Footprint

  • Acquisitions

Provide Excellent Customer Service

  • Promote a positive work culture
  • Highlight exceptional people
  • Have highly effective decision making
  • Provide community support
  • Provide customer-transparent support functions
  • Have leadership greet customers by name

These objectives actually map easily to social concepts and features within SharePoint or related technology. Figure 1 is a visual mapof the organization objectives listed above and the solutions or social solutions that might directly, or indirectly help achieve those objectives.


Figure 1: Visual map of organization's objectives

3. Legitimate concerns, legal considerations, and risks you need to understand and appropriately mitigate

Legitimate concerns with social engagement include corporate embarrassment, loss of IP, distraction, entry point for electronic attacks/viruses, harassment, and more. Figure 2 lists each concern and suggest mitigating solutions that you should implemented (at a minimum). Each mitigating solution helps reduce or alleviate the correlated concern.

Concern Mitigating Solution
Corporate Embarrassment The most common reason for corporate embarrassment is lack of training on management and executive teams (or their supporting staff). It’s important for the leader who creates a blog for example to also impose ‘approval’ on blog comments. These simple measures must not only be put into effect but they also must be understood and the users must understand how to use these features effectively.
Loss Of Intellectual Property & Trade Secrets This is often dealt with by appending or amending existing intellectual property policies within employee manuals or employee agreements. The Intranet or any social technology should not be exempt from acceptable technology use practices and ethical/respectful employee behavior.
Another Potential Distraction It is important for management to support the platform but also to clearly explain why/when it should be used. Setting the expectation that this is a work technology (like email, or their web browser) is often the only effort necessary. To help make employee use more effective it can be extremely useful to provide training, guidance, and examples for how to use the technology in a work setting. Often using stories to illustrate this can go a long way (especially if they are based on the corporate culture, a real use of the tool, and particular to the business).
Another Entry Point for Viruses/Other Attacks This is immediately mitigated by deploying or implementing an enterprise ready social technology. Many have constraints imposed to stop people from adding script as an example to status updates, discussion boards, tags, or embedded within other social content.
Employee Harassment This is often dealt with by appending or amending existing sexual harassment policies within employee manuals or employee agreements. The Intranet or any social technology should not be exempt from acceptable technology use practices and ethical/respectful employee behavior.

Figure 2: Concerns and solutions

4. Have a thorough plan!

Make sure your plan has timelines, clear objectives, clear phases, clear milestones, and solid success metrics. Some examples of what you need to cover for SharePoint are user profile planning, MySite planning, ratings/tags/notes planning, team site planning, community site planning, and more.

Honestly this is where I spend a ton of time with my clients. So rather than go on and on about how you might tackle each subset, let me provide two very high-level diagram examples for how you might approach this. Figure 3 breaks down the each item that requires careful planning very simply.

Figure 3: Simple overview of planning

In Figure 4, below, you see examples of how each phase might evolve over time. Each area of interest involves careful planning and is outlined as a gradual approach to make both user adoption and organization adoption easier and more manageable.

Figure 4: Breaking down each phase with examples

Of course all of this over time will be developed into comprehensive timeline, not just simple diagrams. As an example, Figure 5 provides a very basic timeline example.


Figure 5: Timeline example

5. Realize and plan for the impact on governance

The rollout of social features has an impact on both policies and processes. Often it also introduces new complications, new roles, and new responsibilities.

I have written quite a few SharePoint standards here. These include social standards. I recommend starting with these, and then expanding the changes based on your needs.

6. Clearly understand and correlate leadership, your organization's culture, and the affect this will have, and how you will guide, or steer, the changes

Remember that you are introducing some very new methods of working, finding things, and communicating. Some users will readily adopt it, and some will resist. Make sure you understand how to provide the right alternatives to the right audiences within your organization.

I am a huge fan of focusing on the right kind of people. Those who are optimistic leaders often are the best candidates, whereas pessimistic leaders can be extremely challenging. Charlene Li has a great book on Open Leadership (you should read it) that highlights many of the factors you should consider when planning the impact social capability has on leadership. Figure 6 illustrates the different kinds of leaders.

Figure 6: Types of leaders

Beyond open leadership principles, I also encourage understanding the role a situational leader has in social organizations. When you have a lot of open collaboration going on within your organization you will find that many situational leaders can be extremely effective at improving the usage and adoption of SharePoint within your organization. Figure 7 illustrates situational leadership.

Figure 7: Situational leadership

7. Plan for adoption

 Measure adoption effectively and beyond just the number of completed user profiles. Provide effective support from the beginning. I have listed over 50 user adoption activities here that you can perform to help boost or manage adoption. This might not be a bad place to start.

8. Don't forget the importance of integration

One of the biggest mistakes I see in work doing SharePoint strategy consulting is organizations implementing complimentary technology that has very loose integration with SharePoint. When it is not properly integrated or built to be pervasive within SharePoint, it causes both management challenges, as well as user challenges. The biggest offender for social is having multiple profiles and needing to find ways of consolidating these. I blogged about this in a different format under the title: When are other people going beyond SharePoint for social functionality?


This is a long article, so let me summarize the eight key considerations:

1. Understand the value and be able to communicate it effectively

2. Align your use of SharePoint's social features with business objectives

3. Understand and appropriately mitigate legitimate concerns, legal considerations, and risks

4. Have a thorough plan

5. Realize and plan for the impact on governance

6. Clearly understand and evaluate leadership, your organization's culture, and the impact this will have

7. Plan for adoption

8. Don't forget the importance of integration

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