The Benefits of Harnessing Social in SharePoint

The idea to write this post stems from a brief consulting gig I did a couple of years ago. The client wanted to know what SharePoint had to offer in the social space and how it may be of benefit to the organisation. It was around the same time that I was developing an intranet prototype on SharePoint 2010 in which I was making a push for the adoption of My Sites while highlighting some of the reasons why it would be a good idea for them to do so. The purpose of this post is not so much to state what SharePoint necessarily has to offer in this area but to explore the shift in approach towards these concepts organisations seem to be taking and further reinforce the benefits to be gained by doing so.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was setting up a greenfields MOSS 2007 intranet implementation with a relatively high degree of flexibility in suggesting the direction the site should take and the features of SharePoint it should leverage. One area the line was drawn at however was My Sites. While the My Site story in SharePoint 2007 wasn’t as advanced or attractive as in SharePoint 2010, there was regardless an obvious negative bias towards anything remotely social for the corporate environment. This stretched from the common theme of blocking social sites such as facebook to not considering corporate alternatives.

It was therefore somewhat refreshing to be involved in projects where the thought of corporate social was not only being considered but actively investigated as an option. I had a number of personal opinions on the topic, mostly positive, and was keen to see all potentially valuable features of SharePoint used to increase organisational efficiency and effectiveness.

These days the push for corporate social is fairly mainstream. Mark Fidelman recently wrote about Microsoft’s push in FINALLY, Microsoft Embraces Social — And It’s Going to be Big and the even more recent Microsoft aquisition of Yammer speaks volumes to the value being placed on social networking for the enterprise.

While it may be inferred that the Yammer aquisition highlights SharePoint’s weaknesses in the space, I tend to argue that leveraging a feature within a product no matter how immature it may be perceived as being is worthwhile if it adds value. Even harnessing some of the out of the box social functionality in SharePoint 2010 will deliver effeciencies let alone when steps are taken to customise and improve the offering like in Chris O’Brien’s Extending SharePoint 2010 social features. I need not look further than my own company Ignia to see an example of how companies are now using the social features of SharePoint to derive value.

The arguments for and against corporate social networking could fuel a never ending debate and at the risk of losing impartiality in this post (and completely neglecting the required levels of governance required for a successful implementation) I want to highlight a few of the reasons I believe leveraging the social features of SharePoint is a good idea for the enterprise.

First and foremost the obvious benefit derived from leveraging the social features of SharePoint is, well, enabling social. By that I mean fostering a social environment within the organisation allows employees to communicate with one another, get to know one another and ultimately assist in improving morale, satisfaction and engagement within the organisation.

Embracing the corporate social network also encourages participation and idea sharing. If discussions are taking place within the network and all employees are encouraged to join in or even propose them, then the chances of valuable ideas being derived improve. Much like brainstorming, the more unique ideas that are put forward, the more chance there is of eventually solving a given problem.

Enabling a healthy enterprise social environment also assists in forming and nurturing a company culture. Particularly for new employees coming on board, having an environment where members of the organisation willingly expouse and reinforce the values of the company assists in fast tracking adoption of the culture by all staff.

Finally, discoverability is a huge advantage of harnessing the social features of SharePoint. Being more specific here – encouraging all staff members to enter their skills and interests in their profile ensures that other members of staff can search for the particular skill set they need for a given problem. Rather than having to know someone is an expert in a certain field and going to them for an answer they are able to search for the topic and have a list of subject matter experts returned to them with their contact details, or in the spirit of embracing the social landscape, posting a question to their profile page.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert in this field and the benefits i’ve listed above are more my personal opinions than facts based on any scientific research. They are however in my mind just a sample of the many ways in which leveraging the social features of SharePoint can benefit the organisation.

As an addendum to this post, rather than researching similar posts on this topic before writing it I chose to write the majority right from the start. As it was more of an opinion piece I thought it better that the words were solely my own. It is however valuable to include some of the posts I found after the fact that should be read to get some more insight into the benefits of using SharePoint’s social (and particularly My Sites) features. Todd Klindt wrote a piece on Making the Case for MySites which focussed more on the advantages of introducing a staff member to SharePoint more so than the social features themselves, but was none the less interesting. Only yesterday Veronique Palmer wrote about the Benefits of Using SharePoint My Sites which is a pretty comprehensive discussion on the topic. Finally, Ant Clay has an interesting post on The ROI of SharePoint Social Features (Measuring the Intangible) which was interesting to read.

Overall I think that the push towards enterprise social networking, particularly from an internal corporate perspective, is fast gaining steam both from Microsoft providing us with the tools and the organisations willingness to adopt them. By harnessing the social tools in SharePoint organisations are able to leverage efficiencies and gain a number of benefits which should lead to an increase in the rate of uptake across industries, something that i’m definitely looking forward to.