What is the SharePoint Community Site and how should it be used?

What is the SharePoint Community Site?

In the words of Microsoft, “a Community Site is a new site template that provides a forum experience in the SharePoint environment”.

There are 4 main components to the SharePoint Community Site that will be familiar to users of any forum:

Feature Description
Discussions Members can post an opinion or question to start a new discussion. Other members can reply to and like the post. The member that started the discussion has the ability to mark a chosen response as the ‘Best Reply’. Moderators have the ability to mark a chosen discussion as a ‘Featured Discussion’.
Categories Members can create categories to organise their discussions. When a new discussion is posted it can be assigned a category which other users can filter by.
Badges and Reputation Moderators can assign badges to members to indicate their status within the community, e.g. Subject Expert. Members can earn reputation by posting in discussions and through recognition by other members of their posts (e.g. when their content is liked or marked as a best answer).
Members A list of all members, including their badges and reputation earned, is held on the community site. Community Sites can be set to allow any new users to join or an approval process can be set to manage new members.

For more technical information on Community Sites I recommend the following TechNet article.

The general benefits of a Community Site, much like other social features, are clear. Again, in Microsoft’s words, “communities promote open communication and information exchange by enabling people to share their expertise and seek help from others who have knowledge in specific areas of interest.”

However, without structure or purpose, communities will fail regardless of the underlying technology. Those that go down the “build it and they will come” route risk damaging the credibility of social technologies within their business when adoption falls flat on its face because users have no idea of where to start.

The purpose of this blog article is to provide 3 use cases of the SharePoint Community Site. In each example, you will see how the SharePoint Community Site template (enhanced by other SharePoint features) can be used in typical business scenarios. Each use case includes actual screenshots of the solution.

Having read the article, you will have:

  • A better understanding of what the SharePoint Community Site is
  • More ideas around how the SharePoint Community Site can be used in a real-world scenario
  • Three, easy to implement, SharePoint Community Site solutions to get started

SharePoint Community Site Use Case #1: Customer Feedback Site

Customer Community Site

Customers like to share their opinions and organisations can gain value in listening to them. This community site provides customers with a forum to discuss their ideas for your product, a channel to offer feedback and a convenient location to access up-to-date product information.

Features used (in additional to the Community Site template):

  • Promoted Links App (and App Part)
  • Announcements App (and App Part)
  • Survey App
  • Custom List App
  • Document Library App

Sharing product ideas

Clicking on “Share your product ideas” opens a new discussion modal, where customers can start a discussion around an idea for a specific product.

Sharing product ideas

Taking the product survey

Clicking on “Take our product survey” opens a new survey modal, where customers can provide feedback on products, value for money, customer service etc. Customers can only view their own responses.

Taking the product survey

Checking product FAQs

Clicking on “Check our product FAQs” takes customers to an FAQs page, where they can find up-to-date FAQs grouped by specific product.

Checking product FAQs

Viewing product documentation

Clicking on “View our product documentation” takes customers to a product documentation page, where they can find up-to-date documents (e.g. product manuals) grouped by specific product.

Viewing product documentation

SharePoint Community Site Use Case #2: New Starters Site

New Starters Community Site

On boarding can be a stressful experience for new starters, and an expensive and time consuming one for HR. This community site provides new starters with a forum to introduce themselves, meet and network with their peers and ask questions to designated mentors.

In addition, it holds a range of material for company orientation and automates some generic administrative tasks associated with joining a new workplace.

Features used (in additional to the Community Site template):

  • Promoted Links App (and App Part)
  • Document Library App
  • Custom List App
  • Contacts List App (and App Part)

Introducing yourself to colleagues

Clicking on “Introduce yourself to your colleagues” opens a new discussion modal, where new starters can start a discussion around their new job role, previous experience, hobbies and interests etc.

Introduce yourself

Reading the employee handbook

Clicking on “Read your employee handbook” opens the document in the browser (through Office Web Apps), where new starters can read the document or download it for offline consumption.

Read the handbook

Completing the new starter form

Clicking on “Complete your new start form” opens a new form modal where employees can provide basic information about themselves, such as name, address and emergency contact details. Once completed, the form will trigger a workflow for HR to approve.

New Starters Form

SharePoint Community Site Use Case #3: Sales Support Site

Sales Community SIte

Sales teams rely on other departments (e.g. marketing and product development) to support their engagements. This community site provides sales team with an interface to interact with the rest of the organisation. Salespeople are able to request information and other employees can involve themselves in up-coming engagements and events.

Features used (in additional to the Community Site template):

  • Calendar App (and App Part)
  • Photo Library App (and App Part)

Attending an event

Clicking on an event in the sales and marketing calendar opens a page with more details and a link to a related discussion where employees can register interest.

Sales Events

Uploading a photo

Employees can drag and drop photos from the events they have attended which can then be used for promotional purposes by the sales and marketing team.

Sales Images

Conclusion

As I warned at the start of this blog, communities without structure or purpose will fail.

Simply providing your employees with an out-the-box SharePoint Community Site and expecting social collaboration to ‘just happen’ is not only unrealistic, but destructive, in that in undermines the credibility of social technologies.

Finding a specific use case for a community, and providing additional functionality to supplement the Community Site Template, will ensure better adoption and higher business value.

In this blog we have looked at 3 generic use cases and shown how solutions can be created to suit their specific needs. If you would like more information on community sites, or would like help in deploying your own social solution on SharePoint, please feel free to contact us.