It’s Sunday morning and I’m relaxing a bit, getting set mentally for the next month at EndUserSharePoint.com.
I’m one of the keynote speakers at SharePoint Summit in Montreal, talking about the SharePoint Community and what it takes to create a site that not only provides information, but what is involved in building a community of users and contributors around that information. The following week I’m in London, speaking at SharePoint 2010 Evolutions. The last week of the month, I’m participating in The Experts Conference in LA.
The SharePoint Community is an anomaly. In all my years as a teacher and through all the various business segments I’ve participated, I haven’t seen anything like it. A large part of that is because of the way SharePoint 2007 was rolled out. There was such a lack of documentation and support that if you didn’t participate in the community, you wouldn’t be able to find answers to your questions. We were forced into each other’s arms just to survive.
My introduction to the SharePoint Community at large was through SharePointU.com forums, hosted by Dustin Miller and crew. There was a lot going on there, people just helping each other out. I didn’t realize at the time that it was such a common occurence. Then, as I started poking around on other sites, it looked like a lot of people were almost doing a Kerouac brain dump of just about anything SharePoint.
The real turning point for me was at SharePoint Conference 2008 in Seattle. I was new to SharePoint at the time, only having worked with it for for a short while, using it to organize data for an AIDS vaccine research project. What I remember most about those sessions was how much people were offering to share.
My favorite session was by Lori Garcia, talking about the five things she had done to get End User buy-in. She PACKED that room with over 500 people! She wasn’t a SharePoint Geek. I don’t think she would know a command line from a google prompt, but you know what? Her presentation was brilliant. Everything she said made sense. She did an analysis of why employees were surfing off the internal site… what were they looking for? Turns out stock quotes and weather were the two biggies that were missing internally. As soon as she put those magnets on the front of the company internal SharePoint site, like magic, the retention rate went up.
She added a quote of the day. She added "Ask the CEO". She added things that people really wanted.
But what wasn’t stated in all of this was that not a word was said about SharePoint. The End User does not care about SharePoint. The less you can mention it, the better. What does SharePoint have to do with the weather, or stocks, or sports, or daily quotes? Nada. Zip. Zilch. Absolutely nothing… and that’s as it should be.
In order to build community participation the way Lori did, you must listen to your audience. "Oh please… tell me something I don’t know" I can hear you muttering under your breath. You know what? I can say it until the cows come home but until you look at your site and say "What value am I adding to the business by maintaining this SharePoint site?", I’ll keep saying it: Your… clients… don’t… care… about… SharePoint! They care about their job.
Anyone who comes to your site is considered a client, whether you have an internal site that supplies daily updates to the project team, to the corporate facing sites that are pushing out information to a global audience. The problem is, that we’ve been taught since childhood that clients are people to be sold to. That’s a real problem.
If we are constantly in "sell" mode, constantly trying to "sell" the benefits of SharePoint, we turn off anyone who might actually be interested in the actual solutions that SharePoint provides.
This came up in a discussion with a friend of mine last week. She has a very well known product for children from ages 3 to 6. I would venture to say that literally everyone reading this who has children in that age bracket would recognize the product and agree that it is phenomenal. Her problem? "Mark, how do I get more people to come to my Facebook page and become a fan?"
I took a look at her Facebook fan page and within 15 seconds, I knew exactly what the problem was: You can’t build a community, an involved group of evangelists, by pushing product at them. Literally everything on the page was a push of the product. It was disconcerting because that’s not her. It’s not the way she is in "real life" or as a person.
"Content, content, content" should be the mantra of anyone trying to build a community. People do not become part of a community in order to be sold to. They are interested in what you have to say, not what you have to sell. In relation to SharePoint, this comes down to providing the resources and content in an easy to find interface. Simple to say, hard to execute.
Talking about SharePoint to the masses of users is a losing game. Nobody wins. People who want to know about SharePoint, the Power Users and Site Admin and Site Collection Admin, will be the core of any community that centers around SharePoint. These will be your evangelists, your ears and eyes to the SharePoint users who really don’t want to be a part of the community. To build a true community of evangelists, you must focus content so that they can use it to build internal buy-in with the "final" user.
There are now many sites that can help provide this kind of content, but the ones that really make it work are those that listen to their audience, that allow feedback both positive and negative, that answer questions and provide content for people who want to know about SharePoint. That’s what EndUserSharePoint.com is about. That’s what Jeremy Thake at SharePointDevWiki.com is about when it comes to Developers. That’s what Joel Oleson at SharePointJoel.com is about when it comes to content migration. That’s what John Anderson at SharePoint Blank is about when it comes to the core functionality of what SharePoint can do out of the box. That’s what Michael Gannotti at Social Media Talk is about when it comes to using social media in SharePoint. That’s what Michael Lotter has done to build SharePoint Saturday.
Each of these communities has something in common: a leader, a person who takes responsibility for providing the content, for monitoring the feedback, for stoking the fires of participation. If you look closely at any major community in SharePoint, there is someone walking point, making sure there is a consistent flow of relevant content. When you participate in those communites, there is no sales pitch for SharePoint. It’s information based, something you can choose to use now or know that it’s available in the future.
Twitter, FaceBook, Linked In, web sites, blogs, wikis… name any type of communication medium on the web and you’ll find the SharePoint Community has setup base camps, building knowledge bases around the ideas and concepts of the SharePoint platform. In all cases, where a real community is being built, someone has to lead. Someone has to say, "This is how we do it here."
The panic of not having support, and supporting content, will not be a problem with SharePoint 2010. It remains to be seen whether SharePoint 2010 will be able to generate the same type of community bonding that 2007 did. There is already a plethora of material being provided by Microsoft, as well as by every major training and consulting company that touches SharePoint in any way. Without the need to bond together, to share as much as possible in order to get things done, it’s questionable as to whether the community itself will survive as a whole, or split apart into various fragments working as specialists within the whole.
The next three years will be an interesting time with SharePoint. If you are in Montreal for SharePoint Summit 2010, I hope you’ll continue this discussion with me as part of the keynote and then throughout the hallways during the following two days. I want to know what you are doing to build community. What are you doing to create a legacy of content that you will be proud to see years down the road. What are you contributing because of your passion for a subject.
SharePoint is the playing field, but building community through sharing of content and user participation is the name of the game.
I look forward to seeing you in Montreal.
Founder and Editor