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SharePoint 2013 and social media

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SharePoint 2013 introduces numerous new or improved social media functions that make it easier for people in companies to work together.

Like Facebook, My Site in SharePoint 2013 gives each employee his or her own profile page which is usually synchronised with the Active Directory.

Facebook reached one billion users in October 2012, more than half of which use the social network daily. Twitter and Linkedin, with 600 million and 175 million users respectively, are also major social networks. In addition to these three platforms, which currently dominate web-based communication and information gathering, YouTube and Wikipedia are also noteworthy actors. Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia available in over 280 languages and has over 1.5 million articles in German alone. Youtube can also boast impressive user numbers: an astonishing 25 hours of video material is uploaded to the site worldwide every minute.

There can be no doubt that social media has become an inextricable part of our daily lives. This development is the result of various factors, including globalisation and the urge felt by many internet users to be able to express their views and receive feedback from other users at all times. These trends underscore the importance for worldwide networking and the capacity for exchanging information across national borders.

Companies, too, have long since recognised the importance of social media. Social media is primarily used for public relations purposes in social networks as well as for microblogging. But they are becoming increasingly important within companies as well, as nearly every company today must have the capability to work efficiently with other locations within the organisation. Internal networking between employees and centralised information exchange are thus becoming ever more critical for companies. Moreover, the increasingly common blurring of the line between private time and work life means that many people are no longer physically present at the company while doing their work.

More social media

These trends have informed the latest SharePoint release. In the fields of social media and collaboration, SharePoint 2013 offers a diverse range of functions. One standard SharePoint feature is the My Site function, similar to Facebook. With My Site, each employee can create a profile page and edit it as necessary at any time and it is generally synchronised with the Active Directory. Users create public profiles to make contact information and shared colleagues visible to everyone in SharePoint, share personal information, make specific knowledge available publicly and display all activities in a clear manner. Also standard is an “Ask me about” function in which experiences and knowledge can be assigned to a user’s profile through the addition of keywords and tags.

The My Site function familiar to users of previous SharePoint versions has been further developed and improved for the 2013 version. One improvement is the clearer presentation of information relevant to the respective user on My Site in SharePoint 2013. Another enhancement in SharePoint 2013 is the option of using hashtags and mentions in microblogging. These functions are already familiar from Twitter and have now been integrated in SharePoint. The new SharePoint version also allows users to follow changes to any My Site page and documents or pages via My Site.

Other central social media components include comment functions, information sharing with selected people and personal evaluations of all documents, images, lists and blog entries.

Expanded collaboration

To ensure the comprehensive exchange of information throughout the company, SharePoint offers both blogging functions and an advanced search function that can access elements such as documents, blogs, news and My Site pages. And with the FAST search technology now integrated as standard, it is possible to connect and reliably index as well as search other systems in the environment. Search results are structured, clear and easy to use. SharePoint 2013 enables filtering of search results by specific criteria using a horizontal . A preview function also makes it easier to find the right information. In addition to the SharePoint search function, which enables users to find information in a structured manner, there is also a standard Wiki which, like Wikipedia, allows all users to edit and add information.

To follow the activities of specified SharePoint users, SharePoint 2013 offers a news feed function. Authorisations are used to manage different users’ news feeds on view. News feeds make it possible to ensure a constant flow of information within the company. For example, news feeds display all microblog entries from the respective users and can be subscribed to individually.

The final function that promotes cross-location networking between employees and merits mention in this regard is Lync, the internal messaging and presence information tool. The integration of Lync and SharePoint makes it possible to ascertain the current presence state of employees at any time in SharePoint as well. Lync also makes it simple to exchange information quickly and secures suitable means of communication even between remote locations, for instance via telephone, video conference or desktop sharing.

Readiness is the prerequisite

Thanks to its new social media functions, SharePoint 2013 makes it significantly easier for employees in different locations to network with each other and enables centralised storage of information so that it can be accessed at any time.

SharePoint will continue to expand its capabilities for efficient use with social media. For example, the Yammer and Skype products recently acquired by Microsoft will be increasingly integrated into existing products such as SharePoint and to open up new possibilities for covering social media requirements internally. SharePoint already has a Yammer app representing the first stage of integration of SharePoint and Yammer. Likewise, Skype is already integrated in Lync to extend Lync’s functionality for use with external contacts as well.

Notwithstanding the extension of SharePoint to enable its use as a social media tool, the use of social media is a strategic and cultural decision that must be made by each company individually irrespective of the technical options available. Acceptance of the use of social media within a company may vary across generations and parts of the business; however, the need for an efficient solution enabling simple communication and a secure flow of information will only continue to grow.

This article appeared in Swiss IT Magazine on December 10.