By Cathy Dew
Your user communities are a fount of knowledge, setup your sites to support them
If you have been following our blog series about building a knowledge base, then you’ve read about creating FAQs and Bots, training videos & cheat sheets, and Wikis to your SharePoint site. All these options provide static content to your user base. The next step in rounding out your knowledge base sources is tapping into the experience hidden within your own company’s experts by using SharePoint Communities. By building incentives and locations where your experts can provide answers to questions on an as-needed basis you can fill in the knowledge gaps from your other knowledge base options.
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Fostering Conversation with SharePoint Communities
Building a SharePoint knowledge base is all about fostering the sharing of ideas and expertise throughout your organization. If you want to maximize conversation and idea sharing, though, the best thing you can do is start building real communities within your SharePoint environment.
There are already likely a few mini communities within your enterprise. Typically, communities start at the team and departmental levels and build out from there. By harnessing the tools in SharePoint and Office 365, you can take those communities online and lay the foundation for corporate-wide information sharing. Harnessing SharePoint to give these communities a place to grow and thrive online is almost like building social networks or forums where discussions and idea sharing can take place. Simply put, it is a terrific way to complement all the work you’ve already done putting together a knowledge base.
There are three fundamental ways to build communities through SharePoint and Office 365: Microsoft Teams, SharePoint Community, and Yammer Groups. We will discuss the basics of each solution below, in hopes of giving you an idea which type of community structure is right for your organization.
Microsoft built the Teams platform with the goal of opening channels for chat and collaboration within Office 365 or SharePoint. Essentially, the platform is Microsoft’s answer to popular business-tailored chat apps such as Slack. What elevates Teams above other similar chat apps is its integration with other services in the Microsoft ecosystem. Because it is linked with Office apps such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as other services such as SharePoint, Power BI, Delve, and Skype for Business, Teams allows for quick sharing of files, calendars, SharePoint wikis, and more. This seamless integration maximizes collaboration efficiency and makes Microsoft Teams an excellent place to have team forums or discussion channels. The link with Skype for Business is also a huge perk since it allows users to switch quickly from text chat to video chat, voice chat, or screen-sharing.
The main weakness of Microsoft Teams is that the chat setup is meant for small, structured groups. With larger collectives of users, the Teams interface can quickly become frantic, crowded, and chaotic. As such, the platform is only useful if you are working with teams or groups of less than 50 people. For larger groups, you will want to look to one of the other options on this list.
Within SharePoint itself, you can use the Community site template to improve communication and collaboration between your teams. A SharePoint Community site is in fact, a collection of four wikis (Home, Categories, Members, and About) that you can customize to suit a specific topic, department, or team. By starting at the topic level, you can create a SharePoint Community where users can communicate about internal applications, business processes, and more.
These sites are a terrific place for experts on different topics to share their knowledge with other members of your organization, or for team members to pose questions directly to department specialists. Indeed, by encouraging users to ask questions of the experts in these communities, you can start to see which questions are repeatedly asked and turn those topics into FAQs or wikis.
Community sites in SharePoint are set up with a rewards system that gives members incentive to engage and contribute their expertise. They are also capable of supporting hundreds of users at once and can be shared throughout the organization, both features that Microsoft Teams do not offer.
Community sites are great for medium-sized groups of people to communicate and learn from one another. If you need a corporate-wide community platform, though, then Yammer Groups are the way to go. Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012, and at the time, the platform was touted as “Facebook for business.” That informal definition is fairly accurate, as Yammer is essentially a corporate social network that you can implement across your entire organization. Employees can then use it as a one-stop interface to communicate, both via large public groups and smaller, more niche-based private groups.
As a knowledge base, you can use Yammer to have large-scale group communications and threaded discussions for all parts of your company. Users can also upload files, videos, images, and other assets to repositories within Yammer, making the platform a robust collaboration tool for large groups of people.
After implementation, Yammer can support thousands of users, making it a more substantial community platform than either MS Teams or SharePoint Community sites. However, since an effective Yammer network demands scope and complexity, a bit of thought needs to go into the creation process. Specifically, you need to be very particular about creating groups. Otherwise, the interface will be too confusing, and no one will be able to find the experts or discussions they are looking for—issues that will formidably impede adoption.
Get Started with Your SharePoint Communities
Incorporating communities into your SharePoint Knowledge Base will only improve the sharing of vital information throughout your organization. If you are interested in adding SharePoint communities to your network but aren’t sure where to start, we can help. We are your premiere San Francisco Bay Area SharePoint consultants. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.