5 Highlights from SharePoint Conference 2014

SharePoint Conference 2014 wrapped up last week. Microsoft used the big stage to announce some exciting new capabilities and paint a clear picture as to how they see the future of SharePoint.

It starts with their view of the future of work. Not farm labor but information work of course. That future is networked. It consists of individuals and groups collaborating using documents, discussions, chat and video in a fluid setting. People may be working from their office, home, on the road or all of the above and using a variety of devices. They need access and an ability to interact. They need to be productive.

I have to subscribe to this vision as this is exactly how we work at Edgewater today. The future is here.

Microsoft’s vision for the technology that should empower this future of work is a natural extension of their mission of supporting information workers, and with Office 365 it all comes together rather nicely. Your office apps and files, email, chat, video, meetings, groups, calendars, people, social interactions all available and integrated. Available from anywhere and on any device.

It’s not all there yet and as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few gaps to fill but they are rapidly working on closing it and the speed of cloud deployments will allow them to make it a reality pretty quickly. Unless they find a way to derail things again.

A few things that were introduced this week build on and extend these concepts.

officegraphThe Office Graph: Not a new concept in social networks and a core capability of Yammer, extended to the full Office 365 suite, this is at once exciting and scary. All my activities, connections, interactions are tracked and put into a graph format that allows applications to use this data for a more relevant and personalized experience. It has some great potential applications, some we’ll talk about next with the Oslo interface. On the other hand, not that there is any real privacy in the workplace but any semblance of it will be officially gone. “Did you read my memo from last week”? well, no more white lies as your manager can easily get a report of who exactly read the memo.

OsloOslo: a new tool / interface concept from the FAST search team combines search and the social graph to give you a FlipBoard like experience, bubbling up things you should know. If your close colleagues are all reading the same document, maybe you should too? If a specific blog post is generating a lot of comments, what discussions are very active? Natural language search across multiple data sources. Can definitely be very useful.

GroupsGroups: yes, interesting to think of groups as a new concept. In this incarnation (lovers of public folders rejoice) groups are a cross application construct for discussions. Integrated across Yammer, SharePoint, Outlook and office, the idea is that in many instances, group discussions are a better way to interact than email. The only concern I would have is the proliferation of groups. It may be good for people who are only part of a handful of groups and teams but many of us are part of dozens if not more groups and teams and the interface I’ve seen only included about 6. I hope it scales.

inlinesocialInline social experiences: in short, this recreates a way to have a Yammer conversation on files and other Office, SharePoint and even Dynamics entities. I love this feature. It is such a natural way to interact instead of emailing and allows all people with access to see the discussion.

Cloud Only? Finally, I think the big question on everyone’s mind was what will happen to the on-premise version of SharePoint. With so much focus on the integrative aspect of Office 365 and rolling new features on a weekly basis, will the local server be phased out? The official answer is that the on prem version will continue to be important and get a new version in 2015 and beyond. With such a huge existing installed base they have to. But the future is clear and it is definitely in the cloud.

Social Media: Not Just for Sales and Marketing Anymore

chirrupIn the beginning there was social media. And companies scrambled to create  their presence on twitter, facebook, and in the blogosphere, not wanting to be left behind.  Now what? “We need to engage our customers!”   Corporate twitter accounts chirped cheery tweets by the hour, and then Spambots battled spambots.  The corporate social media team thought it was all about push and brand awareness and building loyalty.

Then twitter became the complaint line of  choice. Having a complaint go viral became a great way to feel empowered, boost self esteem and bully the big corporate types. Trolls lurk on corporate facebook pages, co-opting every cheerful post by the corporate social media team with endless repetition of their gripes and calls for boycotts.

NEWSFLASH: Your consumers are not as interested in interacting with your brand via social media as they are gaining more transparency into your business and the products you provide. When they don’t like what they see, taste, hear, smell  or find out about you, they will react brutally and swiftly, enlisting their evil tweeting minions to pile on to their cause–and overnight you will have a viral PR mess to deal with.

Here’s an example of the type of social media threats to your reputation that lie outside your control.  Are you tapped in to monitor this site and any others that might be popping up to negatively influence consumer decision-making?

  • Sourcemap makes supply chains transparent to customers and consumers.  This is good news if you want to differentiate your product because you are committed to ethical sourcing. It will become a headache if you are involved with things like sweatshop labor in the third world. You will need to respond quickly across ALL channels if the word gets out on twitter that your products have negative health or political considerations.

If you don’t believe me,  hop over to twitter and see what brands are under threat of boycott right now. While writing this I see AHAVA, Starbucks, Monsanto, Koch Brothers and of course, BP, and I haven’t even started scrolling yet.

OK, its important to stay on top of this, but not just to address complaints, promote new products, and defend your brand.  The difficulties highlighted above should not deter you from leveraging social media to the fullest.  The really exciting new applications of social media are happening elsewhere in the business:

  • Smart companies are leveraging social media to build more intimate supplier relationships, creating a more level playing field between large and small suppliers.
  • Demand planning teams can and should leverage social media to gain advance insight into changes in consumer demand.  This can radically transform the way clothing manufacturers do their seasonal line planning, for example. Imagine the culture change in an industry that historically hasn’t even been able to track against key KPIs.
  • Social media now drives innovation. The smartest companies are extending internal R&D by crowdsourcing new product ideas and product tweaks.
  • Internal continuous improvement teams are leveraging tools like Yammer to move improvement teams out of the creativity-sapping white board walled meeting rooms and into virtual asynchronous interactions that capture good ideas whenever they occur.

Parting thought:  act quickly but look before you leap!

The very fact that social media has so much to offer to so many functions within the business means that there is danger of creating social media in smokestacks within your business, with each department quickly implementing its own tools to gain insight within a comparatively narrow lens.  Social media tools need to fit within an overall application roadmap that takes into consideration where your ERP and CRM partners are heading, how existing tools integrate with your current applications, and how you can slide and dice the data appropriately to get the insights you need to respond rapidly.

Is the 1-9-90 rule for social participation dead?

It has long been an axiom that getting people to participate in online communities is hard, and the 1/9/90 rule helped explain why. 1% will be die-hard content creators, 9% will participate and 90% will be passive consumers and sit on the sidelines.

A recent BBC study claims the old rules are dead and that a whopping 77% of adults should be considered participators in some capacity. Interestingly, GigaOm pounced and claimed the old rules still apply.

I think the BBC research is on to something and that the online participation patterns have changed. Few of the things may have contributed:

  • Consolidation: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter consolidate for us updates and posts from multiple communities and allow us to respond directly from there. You no longer need to go and check on 7 different communities to see what is going on.
  • Ease of content creation and sharing especially from mobile devices. Probably too easy if you ask me. if you allow it, your phone will post your location, the pictures you take and more without even asking. The success of Instagram is just one example. Being connected 100% of the time allows us to interact 100% of the day.
  • We are not anonymous anymore. It has been a slow change but if the late 90’s were about virtual identities and avatars, now we interact as real people. It may look like a small change but the whole nature of online interaction shifted from an outlet to interactions we wanted to have outside of our normal (and sometimes restrictive) social circle to where now most of the online interaction is with our social circle. More and more the online communities and social networks augment and extend our real relationships with people and brands.
  • While some people who came to the party felt a bit out of place and stayed close to the wall for a while. After some time you realize that keeping to yourself in a social setting is not very nice and that people actually notice. If you are part of the community, participation is now expected.

So if the BBC is right and we should be expecting more participation what does it mean for businesses?

Business social participation may still be closer to the old rules because they do not reflect a close knit social group but as more people become comfortable in sharing it will start to have an impact.

Internally, collaboration and social networking with colleagues will eventually follow the same pattern of heightened participation if you allow the same enablers. Aggregate and consolidate activities and updates so they are easy to access, make it easy to respond to them and embed interaction and sharing everywhere in internal web applications, sites, tools etc. Making sharing a social norm may not be too far off.

Externally, in addition to the brand enthusiasts and deal seekers there is now a potential in making a lot more people participants

  • Think about creating content that people would want to share. Too many websites and social media sites focus on the marketing side “what we have to sell”. Cool or useful things to do with the product or that are just related to the category will more easily be viral.
  • Many websites have added sharing and likes to their pages but few take it to the level of actually allowing specific questions or comments through social networks on content or products.
  • Think mobile sharing. From QR codes in trade show booths to special coupons for scanning or photographing in the store. Even my dentist has a promotion for getting free whitening pen if you scan a code and like him on Facebook. Brilliant.

Top Web Technology and Marketing trends for 2010 part 1 – Social Strategy and Infrastructure

I was at Barnes and Noble over the weekend and browsing through the business books section could see only 2 types of titles, books on the financial collapse and guides to social media marketing. Both are selling well I hear.

It’s good to see that after some significant doubts, corporate America and small businesses alike are engaging users on social media sites and twitting away. Unfortunately, what we often get is a complete schizophrenic approach. The corporate website is all law and order, control and command broadcasting carefully crafted and designed branding messages and product introductions. Then we have the social media wild west where everything goes, no rules exist and chaos reigns. Living with a split personality is hard and as Nestle recently found out, trying to enforce brand guidelines on Facebook can backfire at you.

As mentioned, there are a bucketload of books that will teach you how to engage and utilize social media, use it to form personal relationships and provide value add rather than just another outlet for PR.

I think a more urgent task we have is addressing the challenges of changing the purpose, structure and utility of public websites to adapt to the new social reality. Frankly, even after 6 years of “web 2.0” most sites are still pretty static brochureware, but the Social revolution is changing that quickly. Even though not every company will want to cancel their website and send users to Facebook instead as Skittles did for a few months, there is much to gain from trying to marry the two worlds.

The goals of the public website have not really changed: create a positive brand experience, attract and convert new customers, retain existing customers, make it easy to do business with you and provide great service anytime, anywhere. Now adding the social layer on top of that elevates it to a whole new level. It also requires a new and maturing technical infrastructure and tools to manage this experience.

Adding the social layer can take many forms but done right it will make every website more relevant, accessible, personal and effective. The tools to manage this new environment are still evolving and maturing but the next releases in all product categories will include a social integration layer.

Before embarking on the next iteration, every website owner must examine and decide: “How social should the company’s site be?”

Here are some guidelines for different models of social integration

  1. Divide and Conquer: create separate destinations for different types of interaction but make them distinct from the main site
  2. Complete control over brand experience: build the brand site into a social community
  3. Co-Promotion: link and syndicate content from site to social media, promote social media activity on site.
  4. Aggregation and context: aggregate relevant social media to site from multiple sources
  5. Integrate and Connect with Social Media: create a seamless experience and leverage identity and existing relationships

Of course, these modes are not mutually exclusive and can be used for different part of the site or in evolving fashion.

For more on these topics, I’m doing a webinar on 3/31/10 on best practices of social integration and will bring some examples. To register go here.