SharePoint and Social Computing: Getting from "Hell No" to "Let's Go"

Why open a potential can of worms and bring social computing into your organization?

The question actually could be rephrased as “Why not?” Why not help employees find the people and information they need to do their jobs? Why not help employees working in teams across time zones have a place to communicate with each other that is more efficient potentially than email? Why not help new employees integrate faster into the organization? Why not offload the years of knowledge exiting employees have about procedures and projects? Why not provide a way to fuel employee innovation?

When Social Computing Discovered Intel

While browsing case studies and links at The Social Workplace,  (courtesy of Jacob Morgan’s Social Business Advisor blog) I read an interesting white paper from Intel, “Developing an Enterprise Social Computing Strategy,” from several years ago that outlines what the company discovered when it brought social computing into the organization.

Actually the first thing the company discovered was what many learn in hindsight—that it’s better for the organization to get users into social computing than it is for users to get the organization into social computing.  Aside from that brilliant insight, here are a few more I gleaned:

Use governance. Plan where social computing fits in with your organization’s policies and where it will help further the organization’s goals. Human Resources may end up being an active partner in this process.

Assess risk. Analyze and predict where security breaches,  data loss, or loss of privacy might occur. Intel decided it could mitigate the risks by providing employees with internal social computing tools, rather than sending them to blogs, wikis, and other social tools outside the organization, and by providing guidelines for self-policing their activities. It reinforced with employees that the same standards of conduct for email, Internet, and telephone behavior applied to social computing.

Understand user needs. Intel considered what various employees might want out of social computing. For example, the design engineer might want to find information faster through wikis and blogs and find others with expertise in the organization. The person in sales might want to find information through wikis, as well as find people, and might want content delivery to a mobile device. Intel found that by focusing on real-world benefits to users, it was able to make social computing make sense.

Integrate with existing tools and workflows. An interesting point Intel stressed was that it had to integrate social computing tools with existing enterprise tools and workflows, so that employees wouldn’t have to totally change the way they worked.  If integration wasn’t appropriate, making a pathway through known tools to new tools helped users learn the new processes. 

Break down silos. Intel made sure that social computing tools worked across silos, otherwise it would perpetuate them.

Where's the SharePoint?

I didn’t see which social computing tools Intel ended up with. I'd like to learn more about that, but since this IS a SharePoint blog, I'll restrain my curiosity for now. SharePoint 2010 does offer a place to get started. Social computing features in SharePoint 2010 include these:

1. Social tagging.  Social Tags help users categorize information and can be searched and used as a filter; the Note Board feature lets users track comments; Ratings lets users rate content; and the Bookmarklets feature lets users add tags and notes for pages outside SharePoint and display them on a My Site. See the Microsoft article “Privacy and security implications of social tagging (SharePoint Server 2010).”

2. My Site.

My Site is a personal site for a user in an organization. It consists of a Web application, a My Site host site collection, an individual site collection, and several SharePoint service applications and features.  See the Microsoft article “Set up My Sites (SharePoint Server 2010).” 

3. Wikis.

A wiki is a publishing site for sharing and storing information in a centralized place. It’s similar to a Team Site, though each has its advantages and disadvantages. There’s a comparison table for wikis versus Team Sites in the Microsoft article “Enterprise Wikis overview (SharePoint Server 2010).”

To learn more about planning for social computing using SharePoint, see the Microsoft article “Plan for social computing and collaboration (SharePoint Server 2010).” 

SharePoint experts Dan Holme and Kevin Laahs have each written here at SharePoint Pro about social computing and SharePoint. Of special interest is Dan’s “SharePoint Social: Why?”and Kevin’s “SharePoint 2010 Goes Social.” 

In addition, you’ll find that social computing in SharePoint arises out of the User Profile Service. You need to enable it to provision My Sites, enable social tagging, and create and distribute profiles. Microsoft’s “User Profile service application overview (SharePoint Server 2010)” gets you started.   Microsoft also has an article you should look at, “Configure profile synchronization (SharePoint Server 2010).” Then look at Spence Harbar’s “Rational Guide to implementing SharePoint Server 2010 User Profile Synchronization.”  To get a deeper dive into the security aspect of monitoring User Profiles, read “Monitor SharePoint User Profile Changes” by Gary Lapointe and Matt McDermott. 

Of course, after all this work, you might find, as the company where I work found, that "if you build it, they will come" does NOT apply to SharePoint and end-users, at least not in some organizations. (Perhaps that's the true reason SharePint gatherings were invented--for SharePoint devs and admins to drown their sorrows, collaboratively speaking.) There is still plenty of work to be done in engaging end users in SharePoint. If you have any insights in that regard, or any comments in general about SharePoint and social computing, I'd like to hear them.


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