BPC: Mark Miller Explains ‘How to Build a Community in SharePoint’

Mark Miller presenting "How to Build a Community in SharePoint" at #BPC10Mark Miller of EndUserSharePoint.com (EUSP) today presented a session that he had prepared expressly for the BPC on best practices in building a community around SharePoint.  With missionary zeal, Mark shared the benefit of his own experience, providing a brief history of EUSP and explaining the steps he employed along the way to grow his site into one of the largest SharePoint communities online.

After boiling down the definition of "community" to "a group sharing common characteristics or interests," Mark played a brief video featuring Derek Sivers speaking about the formation of communities, the bottom line of which was "The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader."  In other words, while the initial spark of a community is formed by the first person to stand up and announce their presence to the world, it's the first follower who truly begins to form what will ultimately become a community.

Mark described the evolution of an evangelist for a community as beginning as a lurker, prior to moving on to their initial participation when they feel compelled to participate.  Continued participation, and the acknowledgement and recognition that come with regular participation evolves into becoming a de facto evangelist for the community.  Ultimately, as Mark noted, "Community is built through participation and contribution."  Mark repeatedly stressed the importance of acknowledging all comments, and especially the importance of acknowledging frequent contributors, for they're most likely to become evangelists for your community.

Mark's philosophy on site visitors is that 99% of them will be lurkers, "and there's nothing wrong with that."  Of the remaining 1%, Mark estimates that .9% are minor participants "who might comment once or twice in a year," and the remaining .1% "are your evangelists, [because] your message rings true with them and they have something to contribute.  I'd have to say that those percentages ring true with my own experiences in SharePoint community-building here in Bamboo Nation.

Mark suggests that you begin your community-building initiative by identifying the biggest pain points (in his case, the relative lack of SharePoint content dedicated to end users), and beginning to build a community around those problems.  Mark stressed the importance of mining external social sites for opportunities in building community (user groups, SharePoint Saturdays, websites, Twitter, and forums).  Mark stressed that "If you want to build your own community, leave comments in existing communities," asking and answering questions in those existing communities relating to your specific area(s) of expertise.  I should note here that my own SharePoint Blank blog was an "external" site that Mark commented on early in my Bamboo Nation tenure … and that Mark's comment on my blog led me over to EUSP (where I was, of course, only too happy to comment in return).

Another suggestion, and one that Mark credits as being integral to the growth of EUSP, was to join events such as SharePoint Saturdays or local user groups as a speaker.  Mark credits the fact that he spoke at the very first SharePoint Saturday as the catalyst for the beginning of what became explosive growth in EUSP as a community, based largely on his increased visibility in the community as a direct result of speaking at SharePoint Saturday.

Mark described having noticed other commenters on existing communities with similar interests and ways of expressing themselves, and how he reached out to them privately, introducing himself and complimenting their efforts.  Ultimately, Mark asked them to check out EUSP and to please let him know their thoughts on the site.  Typically, such a low-key and friendly/supportive approach led to those folks becoming regular contributors on EUSP.

Regarding the structure of your proposed community, Mark described blogs, wikis, and forums (or some combination of the three) as options, each of which offers a different user experience.  Mark suggests giving due consideration to each of the options and choosing the vehicle you feel is the one most appropriate to express your information.  Mark does, however, caution against standing up a forum unless you've got a commitment from enough participants to ensure that questions posed therein will be answered, and answered in a timely manner.

Prior to the post-session Q&A, Mark concluded by boiling down his recommendations into a set of both worst and best practices for building a SharePoint community.  Worst practices included:  going in with a belief of "build it and they will come"; "providing new content … once a week"; and "worry about ownership of content."

Mark's best practices recommendations were: "start with a party of one, and act as a content filter"; "provide fresh content … every single day"; "consistently acknowledge participants, even for the smallest contribution"; and "listen to the participants.  Conversation will dictate when it's time to expand the vision."

Mark knows whereof he speaks, folks, so if you're of a mind to start a SharePoint community, you'd be well-served by heeding his advice.  And if you do so, by all means, please feel free to use both EUSP and Bamboo Nation as external sites on which to comment as you work towards increasing your visibility as you work towards building your own SharePoint community.

Check out ourfull coverage of Best Practices Conference 2010:

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