Four community hubs are now set up on SharePoint using a common design. I’ve previously described the hub design and set up process.
The hubs were all set up using standard SharePoint apps and have not required any maintenance. From an end user perspective, it is straightforward to post on each element of the hub. However, community interaction is impeded by limited SharePoint notification functionality. Community management, administration and reporting functionality is also limited.
By default SharePoint displays newsfeed posts made by any person or on any site that someone follows. However, notice of posts on discussion boards will only display in the newsfeed if the individual posting has ticked this in the advanced settings on their personal profile. Few people take the time to adjust their advanced settings. A person can set up email notification of discussion board activity, however the way to do this is not obvious to users. After several attempts to encourage community members to set up their own notifications I manually set these up for every individual member. I also set up email notifications for members on the custom list in the Knowledge Bites site, where user-generated content is published.
SharePoint social lacks the fluidity of open social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. As both an end user and community facilitator I find this frustrating and inefficient. As a result it has taken a lot of effort, support and encouragement to build online community interaction.
Improvements and Next Steps
The value of Communities of Practice to Supply Chain has been demonstrated but is well short of being fully realised. We will expand the use of communities in 2016. Before we do we will assess scalability and user experience of the current community hub infrastructure. We need to decide whether to:
- continue to use dedicated hubs for each community with any improvements identified in our review; or
- move to a new design with a single community site for all of Supply Chain using a new design recently adopted by our IT department.
Some variant of these two options may also be possible.
The new IT community and knowledge base that uses functionality not available in the standard SharePoint apps used by Supply Chain. This provides an alternative template for our online communities. However, it represents a shift from separate hubs for each community to one community for the whole of Supply Chain. One of the lessons we learned from our Maintenance and Engineering community is that members need to have enough common interest for them to get value from interacting. A single Supply Chain community exacerbates this challenge. We will explore the use of tagging as a means of associating content (posts or knowledge base entries) by domain to address this challenge. In effect, this could create ‘virtual communities.’ User experience and adoption are key factors to guide community infrastructure design, so we will involve a range of existing and new users to provide feedback in a test environment.
I’m up for another round of grappling with SharePoint to improve the user experience and community management. Getting the infrastructure right is an important hygiene factor for building online communities. This takes more effort than it should in SharePoint. It’s effort and time that I’d rather invest in building habits and behaviours to generate community interaction. However, it is the platform that the organisation has invested in so I shall do the best with my colleagues to make the most of it.