The Social Side of SharePoint

Mobile Man / Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Social networks have been available for personal use for a long time - indeed their roots can be traced back to the 90’s and early 2000’s with sites like Friendster and MySpace. However, their appearance in the business context took a little longer and is a relatively new phenomenon. So-called “Enterprise Social Networks” are increasingly common nowadays in organizations - employees no longer see them as optional, with many using their social features to do their day-to-day work. Enterprises are responding to these needs more and more and are delivering ESNs to their users.

Social Tools in SharePoint

When looking at SharePoint, social features were introduced first in SharePoint 2007 with MySites. However, functionality to engage with colleagues and external customers was limited and it never really took off. With the arrival of SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013, MySites had been improved a lot, when new features allowing users to follow sites, people, and documents, engage with other users and ‘news feeds’ were introduced too.

In 2012 Microsoft announced that they had acquired Yammer - at that time a leading provider of enterprise social networks - which was integrated with SharePoint 2013 and subsequently Office 365. In today’s post we’ll take a look at all the social features currently available, but also at the roadmap to see what features will be added over the next couple of months.

Yammer - the latest features and developments

Yammer integrates nicely with SharePoint and Office 365, but is also still a separate platform. Some examples of this integration currently implemented or being rolled out include:

  • Document Conversations: it is possible to start a conversation on Yammer, straight from a document opened in Office.
  • Yammer Embed: Embed a Yammer feed anywhere in Office 365, to display the latest conversations and interactions for a user or a group.
  • Delve: Delve shows documents stored in Office 365, as well as conversations in Yammer.

Looking at the Office 365 roadmap, we can see that Microsoft is working on some nice new features for Yammer:

  • Add external collaborators to your internal Yammer conversations: Discuss topics with your external customers, vendors, etc.
  • Office Online support: Open and edit documents in Yammer, using Office Online (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)

Document Conversations: Make it easier to start a discussion

Very often, a user working on a document will want to discuss it with one or more colleagues. That user would probably go to Yammer, post a link to the document, and start a discussion. This will now be a lot easier! As stated before, Microsoft is currently rolling out a feature that enables users to start a Yammer discussion directly from a document. This results in a very smooth integration between document management and collaboration in Office 365 and discussion in Yammer which will be a marked improvement.

Groups - work like a team

Office 365 Groups is the newest way to create a team and work together on documents, start conversations, publish schedules and work collaboratively. It was introduced in September 2014 and Microsoft keeps adding more and more features.

It can be seen as a replacement for old-fashioned teamsites in SharePoint. Instead of creating a site and adding users to the site, you now create a group. Documents and people can be added to that group a lot easier. And, when a user is in one or more Groups, he or she will see active or updated documents in Office Delve. A big announcement at Ignite was the deeper integration between Yammer and Groups which will allow teams to “seamlessly move between Yammer conversations, meetings in Skype for Business, Outlook email, files in OneDrive and content discovery in Delve.”

Delve - the nextgen start page for your documents

The Office Graph (which is based on the Yammer Enterprise Graph) implements machine learning in Office 365. It extracts all activity in Office 365, calculates what would be important for a user, and allows apps like Delve to envision this data. When one of your colleagues works on a document, this will be visible in Delve. Popular documents in an employee’s network will also be shown, as they are likely to be relevant.

The biggest new feature in Delve are the so-called Boards. A lot of sessions at Ignite, the most recent event from Microsoft, discussed this new feature. It allows people to group information in Delve based on a topic. People can subscribe to a board, receive suggestions for other boards, can share boards with other people in the organisation, and so on.

Discuss your projects with your customers

As discussed earlier, Microsoft is working on opening Yammer for external collaborators. Right now, it’s not possible to share Yammer with external users. By implementing the ESN externally, you will be able to share certain discussions with your customers for example. This will make them feel more engaged, because they are able to participate in discussions. This will certainly improve customer satisfaction.

Social Networks are important for your business

Sharing knowledge has always been a pain point for organizations. With the introduction of social networks, it is easier for people to share their knowledge with co-workers. It will also make them feel better, because they are able to receive feedback on the knowledge and input in discussions they are sharing. Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 offer a wide range of social features, and this will only get better. Social features in Delve are becoming increasingly important, and if we’re to believe the hype, Delve will be the biggest workplace collaboration invention since SharePoint!

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