STP Johannesburg: Joel Oleson’s ‘Social Intranet Evolution’

Joel began his session by acknowledging that "intranets are changing," and mentioned that he was "hoping to make this [session] an interactive conversation" around the various ways that they're changing. Joel explained that he's been thirteen years working in SharePoint (seven of which were at Microsoft), and that for the last year and a half he's been the Solutions Manager at the LDS Church, an organization that's 14 million strong. Joel's role involves 25,000 users in AD, and an additional 60,000 volunteers worldwide. As well, the LDS extranet has two million objects in it.

Addressing "the rise of the social intranets and why that's so important," Joel said "I've noticed in organizations that people are really strong in consumer file-sharing apps, they know how to use and navigate their tools." As a result, they expect that same rich social file-sharing experience on the intranet in their workplace. All too often, however, the intranet at work can feel like "going back to the dark ages" after having become accustomed to consumer social apps.

As a real-world example, Joel shared the story of fellow STP Tour-mate Michael Noel having posted a photo of a "mystery coin" featuring unusual script and symbols on its face on Facebook, hoping to elicit some information as to its origin. Michael had mentioned that he thought it might be Arabic. Joel showed that, in the ongoing conversational stream, more info surfaced as more people shared their interpretations, insights, and knowledge. Within a few hours, "tapping an audience in a very niche way," the origin of the coin and the story behind the symbols was revealed. As Joel said, the true power of social networks (including those available at work) lies in the fact that you have a network of friends, and if your friends don't know an answer, maybe the friends of your friends will.

We can now share and seek reactions to documents "at the speed of light." The broad changes in communication methods over time have seen a shift from a lower engagement push style to more social, higher engagement approaches, and Joel's contention is that this can be achieved in the corporate intranet. Joel shared a (several years old) quote from Bill Gates: "Social networking applications will become as ubiquitous in the workplace as Microsoft Office tools and will likely replace e-mail as the dominant form of corporate communications."

In response to audience feedback, Joel acknowledges that, with Yammer for example, it's still early days, and that tagging and metadata will become increasingly important with social tools in the enterprise, particularly from a findability standpoint.

As Joel pointed out, migration to SharePoint alone doesn't solve the problem, however, as many of the social features are not turned on by default.

"I think SkyDrive Pro in 2013 is going to make some inroads" towards becoming the one place for users to manage files, tasks, and the information being shared (and who with).

Joel observed that Yammer starts to introduce a "water cooler" style conversational stream for the workplace, one where people want to share, and where it's easy to do so. "We start creating these more engaging types of experiences," which is, of course, all to the good. If user adoption is an issue, Joel advises that you start looking into exactly these more engaging types of experiences. "The richer experience someone has when they find a user (including documents they've authored, comments they've shared, etc.) … that helps build communities around topics."

Social features in SharePoint "have just gotten better and better and better" with each successive release of the platform. Joel shared a demo using the live LDS intranet, running 2010. Showing the site home page, he asked, "What would we do to make this more social?" Audience feedback included that: it's missing user feedback and commentary; it's not personalized; and events could be used in such a way as to see who else in your area will be attending (Joel added, "and see which events you yourself are going to"). Joel said that "we want users to help shape" the technology by telling us what they'd like to see on the site. Feedback is critical to engagement, and Joel mentioned that integration with analytics is integrated in 2013, so determining what resonates with users will only become easier going forward.

In his SharePoint 2013 demo, Joel began by showing the Communities feature, using Debbie Ireland's public-facing Share the Point site. Joel showed that "What's hot," "Recent," and "Unanswered questions" are "bubbled up at the top." Users have reputation ratings themselves in 2013 (as opposed to ratings based exclusively on their individual contributions to the site), which encourages participation to enhance one's reputation by earning badges.

Joel then showed the 2013 "About Me" page, noting that it's "more of the My Site style," with a heavy reliance on surfacing relevant activity feeds.

Bringing up Yammer, which is integrated with SharePoint in 2013 via the Yammer Web Part (which is itself integrated with Search), Joel demonstrated that you can interact with the community directly from the Web Part (pointing out that this is also possible today in 2007 and 2010).

After sharing Erik Qualman's quote, "The question is not whether we do social media, it's about how well we do it," Joel advised that organizations recognize that people are already using commercial social tools (Dropbox being just one common example) in the workplace. With this in mind, and adding onto Qualman's statement, Joel said that "another question is that if you're not providing them with authorized social tools, what are they using instead? Because you can bet they're using social tools." The bottom line being, wouldn't you prefer to have the benefit of security with the social tools your users are turning to for the sharing of confidential information?


Sharing the Point Africa Tour is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Colligo.


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