SPLF 2012: Mark Miller’s ‘SharePoint & Social’

As the founder of EndUserSharePoint, Mark Miller is a central figure within the SharePoint community, and someone who lives and breathes social media, so I was very much looking forward to his session on social SharePoint at SharePoint Leadership Forum.  And Mark didn't disappoint at Thursday's event, opening his session by boldly stating, "I'm not a big proponent of social in SharePoint."  Mark then went on to ask, "What's the business rationale for putting social in SharePoint?"  before posing the provocative question, "How unsocial is SharePoint?"

Discussing the notion of social, and real-world communities around SharePoint, Mark mentioned that he and I, along with our Sharing the Point Tour brethren, were recently building communities in Africa, most particularly with STP Nairobi.  Showing a picture of attendees at that event to the SPLF audience, Mark explained that we were essentially "introducing them to themselves," and showing local SharePoint users and professionals in Nairobi how to connect in the real world and join together to help each other.

Asking SPLF attendees to share what they thought "social" meant, Mark received responses including: "getting together," "sharing," and "communicating." Mark agreed that those were all good answers, and said that to him, the true definition of social is "you're actually building relationships."  The question, he then went on to pose, is "can SharePoint help me do this?"

Mark said that when building a community, "you tend to have small niche groups forming around a core idea."  Over time, the niche groups then start to interconnect with each other (a process Mark saw take place in EUSP, which would later expand to become NothingButSharePoint, bringing developers and IT Pros under the umbrella in addition to end users), engendering "crosstalk within a larger community."  But can we use this process to get better use of the work environment, access to our data, etc.?  With this in mind, Mark says that "we have to make a business case for everything we do," or else we'll just end up spending time and money on something people aren't going to use. 

Addressing commercial social media, Mark asked, "What is Facebook for?" and in response to an attendee's reply of "a network of friends," asked, "Is there a business case for Facebook in the enterprise?  My answer is no."  Discussion with attendees followed, identifying the importance of context, e.g., Facebook is for friends, and Linked In is for business contacts, so is there more value for Linked In in the workplace?  And if yes, is that value purely based on context and one's resulting perception?  Mark prodded further, asking how many attendees were using Linked In for actual conversation and an exchange of information.   Not many were.

Mark interjected at this point, "I think search, and the display of search, is the holy grail, but that's a whole other conversation."

Moving on to Twitter, and its having been "the place for SharePoint conversations" over the last few years, Mark said that "the most current info, including the whole community, is currently morphing to Yammer" and, in particular, to Joel Oleson's SPYam network.  Seeing fellow SPLF speaker and Colligo CEO Barry Jinks in the room, Mark mentioned Colligo's sponsorship of the recent STP Africa Tour, and that the team had formed a private Yammer group for discussion which became an indispensable, threaded conversation for planning of the Tour.  For those who might not have already heard, Mark mentioned that Microsoft, seeing the movement to Yammer, "bought it, and is integrating it into SharePoint."

Returning to his central question, "is SharePoint social?," Mark referenced the 2010 platform,  and its My Sites, discussion boards, tagging/folksonomies, status updates, and activity stream, and asked, "Is it like the social examples we discussed earlier?  Not really."

One attendee responded, "The question's not is it social, but is it usable?,"  prompting Mark to agree and ask, "What is SharePoint for?"  Upon hearing answers ranging from document sharing and knowledge management to project management and spreading corporate communications, Mark replied, "I'm not hearing social in there."  Again, he reminded attendees, "you need to provide a business case for it." 

Mark quoted Microsoft as having said of the upcoming 2013 release, "We're going to design the next version around social."  He then went on to say that "the assumption is that they know how," which he clarified was "not a knock on Microsoft…they're trying to provide a foundation for the tools you need to run your company…but will it [as designed for mass usage] actually apply to your company or vertical?"

Barry Jinks, who sees real business value in social being integral to SharePoint, succinctly answered Mark's "What's the business case for SharePoint being social?" question by saying that "social needs to be in the enterprise, so the platform needs to support that." 

Wrapping up, Mark said that "communities can be small, they don't have to be huge to be useful," and that you just need to "justify it with the business case before you jump in."  Ask yourself of social, "Will this help my business?" because "that's what will help you make the decision" as to whether it's a worthwhile investment.  If the answer is yes, the improved social experience in SharePoint 2013 may just be right for your business.

Complete coverage of SharePoint Leadership Forum 2012:

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