Deep-dive of SharePoint 2013 & Office 365’s Social Computing Capabilities

Posted by Errin O'Connor on May, 08, 2015 11:05

Social computing, or what EPC Group likes to refer to as “professional networking,” to assist in overcoming some internal political hurdles, is one of the most powerful and sometimes underused features of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365.

Those who have worked with SharePoint 2010 or 2007 in the past will be familiar on some level with SharePoint or Office 365’s My Sites capabilities, depending on whether the organization opted to implement them.

In SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 however, the professional networking capabilities of SharePoint include not only radically improved My Site features but also a new Community Site template, which adds a new layer to this social computing powerhouse platform.

A Community Site is a new SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 site template that provides a forum type of experience within the SharePoint platform.

This of course will add to your governance planning, but the way it has been architected into the SharePoint 2013 fabric, it adds a great deal of value and cements SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 as the social computing tool for enterprise organizations.

If your organization has worked with knowledge management (KM) initiatives in the past, it is helpful to think in terms of these communities to help categorize and spawn discussions among different groups or team members across the organization.

This feature does not replace My Sites at all but rather is an added layer to help promote open communication and collaborative exchange by enabling users to share things like best practices and lessons learned, as well as to share and promote their personal expertise.

I have had the opportunity to work with organizations in the past on their knowledge management initiatives in SharePoint. I wish this feature had been included in past releases of SharePoint but it’s here now and KM directors should take notice.

The Community Portal, which is a collection of the individual Community Sites on differing and specific topics, provides discussion lists and web parts directed specifically at the knowledge management and “community” experience.

SharePoint 2013 & Office 365’s Community Reference in Terms of Social Computing

It can become a bit confusing when referring to the “community” features of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 because the term itself is also used to refer to other common SharePoint \ O365 elements. It’s important to keep the specific use of the term in context. The SharePoint Community Sites are for the enhancement of social collaboration and knowledge management within the organization.

You may also hear users or stakeholders refer to “communities” in terms of the IT community or SharePoint’s “Power User” community which are, in fact, communities but more granularly they are just specific user groups or sets of individuals. I think this is important so that you are able to set the tone with the SharePoint stakeholders and user base when describing the different SharePoint terms so that there is no confusion or overlap of terms.

Features and Practices of SharePoint \ Office 365 Communities in Terms of Social Computing

This new Community Site feature in SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 enables users to further organize discussions as well as categorize feedback and knowledge and apply “metadata” or content types such as “lessons learned” and “best practices.”

It also enables users to get feedback from other team members within the organization who may have come across the same issue that a current Community is discussing and offer invaluable feedback to the Community users to solve a specific problem in a much faster manner.

Just as a SharePoint site or set of SharePoint sites should have a “power user” or “super user” assist in owning issues and championing the specific sites, communities need moderators to manage the community by enforcing the organization governance as well as reviewing and addressing posts for appropriate content.

There is also a new feature that allows each community to contain information about its member and content reputation that will help them earn “status” or the “gifted badges” type of recognition from the Community moderators when they do things such as posting discussions, promoting or liking content, or providing feedback by using the “marked as a best answer” feature in SharePoint 2013 communities.

A new SharePoint community can be created either at the site collection level or at the site level. The decision of where to create the sites, at which level, can be influenced by which features you would like to provide (that is, activate and so on) within a specific community or a greater set of community sites.

The Community Portal Template vs. the Community Site Template

SharePoint 2013 and Office 365’s Community Portal template is actually an enterprise site template with a web part page and has the inherent capability to provide search-driven results, that is, audience-driven results. This template provides additional web parts such as the “Popular Communities” web part to display communities that are flourishing and are very active, which is ultimately determined by the number of replies to posts as well as the number of members within the community.

The Community Portal page can be accessed from the Sites link on a user’s My Site. It is important to note that you can have only one Community Portal per SharePoint Server 2013 farm. The Community Site template contains the same base list, libraries, and features of a standard SharePoint Team Site template.

It is important to add the SharePoint Community features to your overall SharePoint Roadmap as well as governance model because this provides an additional layer of sites as well as a possible hierarchical element to your existing navigation and overall SharePoint topology.

Many of the terms used within SharePoint communities are common to other areas of SharePoint Sites; however, the following terms are new and you should understand and champion them when implementing communities into your SharePoint 2013 platform:

The Community Moderator

The moderator is a community member who has permission and access to tools to manage, or moderate, the community settings and members. The moderator should be deeply involved and tasked with reviewing and addressing posts that are flagged as inappropriate, as well as sometimes combining sets of “discussions” or threads to better organize them for consumption by the user base.

The moderator should also set rules per the organization’s governance model for discussions and the quality of content that exists within the community, as well as champion the community to ensure that it’s being used and does not become “stale” and irrelevant.

Community Reputation

Each and every member of a SharePoint Community Site earns a reputation within the community based on specific activities and feedback from other members. This can occur when the member’s posts are liked or an answer to a discussion is rated as a best answer provided. The new reputation functionality is maintained at the site level and is specific only to that individual Community Site.

A member may be more knowledgeable in a specific area or Community and thus may have a stronger reputation in a different community due to his or her skill set and vast knowledge base on a specific topic or interest.

“Gifted” badges

The Community moderator can provide or assign a community member with a gifted badge to designate the user as a special contributor of the community. These gifted badges help community users understand who are the possible experts in a given community and provide them with insight on who may be able to give them the best and most informed information.

The “Best Reply” feature

Within a SharePoint and/or Office 365 Community discussion, multiple replies will be given on a specific topic or question, but one reply can be designated as the best reply. The best reply designation can be given by either the user who originally posted the topic or question or the moderators of the community. When a user starts to build up a number of best reply tags, the user will start to build a reputation within the community.

My Sites in SharePoint Server 2013

A My Site is a personal site for a given user that allows them to display information such as their profile and relevant skillsets, as well as information regarding sites they are interested in and a newsfeed of recent activities. This also provides the users with access to their OneDrive, as well as their blog, aggregated list of tasks, and other personal information.

A user’s My Site consists of two site collections, the SharePoint 2013 farm’s My Site host site collection and the user’s individual site collection. When a My Site host site collection is created and users then create their individual site collections, this data is maintained in one or more content databases that are associated with the web application that you specify to host My Sites.

It is possible to add content databases to this web application if multiple databases are required for storage due to size and other considerations are necessary. Also, the My Site host site collection and the related configuration that enables and creates individual My Sites site collections must be enabled before users can create My Sites.

Ensuring Best Practices My Site Architectural Configuration

SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365’s My Sites, as shown in the image below, do have core architectural and configuration requirements or prerequisites that must be put in place to ensure that all My SharePoint Server 2013’s managed metadata service application enables web applications to store and access keywords from a managed metadata term database.

These features are required for My Sites users to specify keywords as their areas of expertise in the Ask Me About section, as well as to utilize the new hashtag feature in Posts and Newsfeeds, and for social tagging by using the “Tags and Notes” feature within My Site.

The managed metadata service application must be configured as the default keyword term store for the web application. I would also recommend for any SharePoint 2013 implementation that the SharePoint Server Search service application be enabled, but in terms of My Sites it is absolutely a requirement. This enables users to search from within their My Sites for people in the organization based on names or areas of expertise, which I believe is one of the most popular features of My Sites. This also enables users’ search results to access the hashtags in microblog posts.

EPC Group’s Nationally Recognized Practice Areas

EPC Group leading SharePointOffice 365, Infrastructure Designand Business Intelligence Practice areas continue to lead the way in providing our clients with the most up-to-date and relevant information that is tailored to their individual business and functional needs.

Additional “From the Consulting Trenches” strategies and methodologies are covered in EPC Group’s new book, “SharePoint 2013 Field Guide: Advice from the Consulting Trenches” covering not only SharePoint 2013, Office 365 and SharePoint Online but Information Management, ECM\RM and overall compliance strategies in this ever changing world of “Hybrid IT.”

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