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SharePoint 2013 Social Features

[frame]This post is part of a series that looks at what’s changed from an intranet manager perspective, in particular things employees will notice and improvements for site and content owners.

SharePoint 2013 series

  1. Is SharePoint 2013 worth waiting for?
  2. SharePoint 2013 for intranet sites 
  3. SharePoint 2013 social features (this post)
  4. SharePoint 2013 for collaboration
  5. SharePoint 2013 digital workplace and mobile (forthcoming)
  6. SharePoint 2013 governance, analytics and search (forthcoming)
  7. SharePoint 2013 user experience (forthcoming)

See our summary webinar on Slideshare: Is SharePoint 2013 Worth Waiting for?[/frame]



There’s much to like about SharePoint 2013’s social enhancements. The most immediately visible change is the introduction of the newsfeed, giving the microblogging capability that was lacking in 2010. The second headliner is a new type of site called “Community” that brings together existing social elements and adds badges and levels too.

These, along with tweaks to social pages, make SharePoint 2013 a much more promising basis for building a social intranet. Most significantly, SharePoint offers integrated continuity across collaboration that few other offerings can match:

  • Unstructured – social in SharePoint and real-time using Lync
  • Semi-structured – team site collaboration around documents and tasks
  • Structured – processes implemented as workflows and records management

Although it may not be the best at any one of the above, the continuity of moving between modes is invaluable compared to, say, running the social element on a stand-alone Yammer platform.

Profiles and Newsfeed

My Sites have progressed significantly (though the “My Site” name itself is no longer there – you just see your name and “About Me”, plus top bar links to Newsfeed and SkyDrive (see screenshot). This is much less confusing than the “My Content | My Newsfeed” separation of old.

The newsfeed is now two-way, meaning people can reply to comments just as they can on Yammer or Facebook. The newsfeed shows status changes to anything that you follow, so you can follow a document or site as well as people. Like Twitter, you can reference people using @person, and tag comments with #hashtags. SharePoint helpfully suggests names as you type from your followers, directory and metadata in the term store.

Newsfeed within SharePoint 2013 profile


Following tags is interesting – if you click on a tag you get the option not just to follow it, but also who else follows that tag, a good way to see shared interests. You can tag photos and videos with people’s names too, Facebook-style.

Through your profile, you have fine-grained control over privacy settings for your updates. (see screenshot below). This is a wise move by Microsoft as a feat of being too visible often holds back adoption in the corporate world where people tend to be much more conservative than the social media hype might indicate. Similarly, when you add a status update, you can choose to share it only with members of a team site, for example.


My Content has been replaced  by “SkyDrive Pro”,  from which you can share documents with anyone and also sync documents offline. The SkyDrive becomes visible within Windows Explorer, so the whole experience is very much like Drop Box and makes far more sense than the Outlook-based sync of old.

People search works as well as in 2010, preserving the dynamic organisation chart view as before. Comparing against our people finder checklist, a full implemented and adopted 2013 directory with Exchange and Lync could potentially score 24 out of 25.

Communities and Gamification

Over the past few years, I’ve been advising clients to set up templates for Communities so that they’re distinct from departments and project teams. Communities are characterised by groups of people that have an area of knowledge or practice in common. Unlike departments, community members sit in different parts of the organisation, and unlike projects, communities are not time-bound. They work best, however, when people know they are part of the community, which is why providing an online sense of place and identity is so important.

It’s good to see SharePoint now supporting this model explicitly, and with the right process and culture in place will go some way to bridging the online silos that SharePoint is sometimes accused of reinforcing.

Communities begin with a Yammer-like template centred on discussions. The feature set is now pretty complete:

  • Discussions can be grouped by category as well as tagged
  • Posts can be flagged as a ‘Question’ to make it clear you want help
  • Ratings can be set to star ratings or “like” only
  • A “What’s hot” list is built in, along with “Top Contributor” and “What’s Happening” views, all of which help keep the momentum of a community going
  • There are moderation tools so posts can be flagged for intervention, promoted to “Best Answer” etc.
  • The full rich editor ribbon is there (perhaps alarmingly) allowing people to insert pictures, documents, video and even HTML code

Gamification has crept in too, with support for badges and reputation settings (click on the first image where you’ll see a badge for “Professional”).

  • Gifted Badges are allocated by the moderator, and can either be a series of bars or moderator-defined categories. This is useful to identify people with specific roles such as “Moderator” or “Subject Matter Expert”
  • Achievement Badges are linked to levels that can be defined per-community and linked to different kinds of activity such as being voted “Best Reply”. This is a great way to give a community a bit of character, for example, a gardening community could have “Sprout”, “Sapling” and “Tree” levels

I do have several reservations about gamification, and I worry that because these tools are built-in, they may be thoughtlessly deployed and backfire badly. However, Microsoft have at least put in place a decent amount of flexibility to adapt the deployment to each situation.

Do You Still Need Newsgator, Yammer or Other Add-ons?

Following much debate about the meaning of Microsoft’s Yammer acquisition, there was a concern that it meant SharePoint 2013’s social features would continue to miss the mark. I don’t think this is true. If SharePoint 2013 had a decent mobile client, there would be little point in running a Yammer network alongside a SharePoint 2013 implementation unless it has already taken root and it would be hard to migrate users over.

If you’re thinking of piloting Yammer, and in the absence of any current way to merge Yammer and SharePoint accounts, I would advocate not initiating a stand-alone Yammer network and consider moving to SharePoint communities sooner in 2013 instead. If you want to just experiment with microblogging, a more integrated tool like Attini Talk or Social Factor would mean less of a shift for users later on and has better potential for migration.

Something like Newsgator is trickier. Although a feature-by-feature comparison on paper would show SharePoint 2013 having moved much closer, Newsgator has a more joined-up vision of how a social intranet should work, meaning employees and business owners are likely to find it more intuitive.  Newsgator have not yet gone public with how they will respond to SharePoint 2013 treading on its toes, but it means that the business case to purchase Newsgator (and it’s not cheap) just got much harder. If time allows, I’d pilot with 2013 and see if your business outgrows the functionality before looking at third party tools. Just to add to the confusion, Yammer will be integrated with SharePoint via Newsgator.

If you already have Newsgator, then it is compatible with SharePoint 2013, but it is unlikely that you’ll be able to migrate Newsgator + SharePoint 2010 into SharePoint 2013 alone, meaning that success creates a lock-in effect. But if you need that level of social functionality now, then Newsgator is a good move, it might just turn out to be an expensive one.


Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

  • Posted at 5:28 pm, 2 August, 2012

    Keep in mind user expectations keep moving higher and higher. Not sure you can qualify your statement about a feature-by-feature comparison of solutions without actually having done one. It’s also important to clarify that organizations need to define what their goals are for social BEFORE looking at feature/functions. Their social goals will drive requirements and what solution makes most sense for them and utlimately will determine value relative to cost. For those orgs that have SharePoint today, a solution like newsgator looks to maximize a technology investment the organization already owns. Beyond microblogging and communities, they want to blend corporate top down communications with bottom up. They want expertise location, news aggregation, rich gamification, social learning, video steaming, ideation, and mobile applications. They require enterprise controls, advanced community administration, compliance features like legal audit search, retention of social data, block terms. They want advanced filtering and faceted searching of social content.

  • charlotte Shaw
    Posted at 3:40 pm, 8 August, 2012

    Sam, we currently have SP 2007, but we want to migrate to 2013 as soon as possible. However, in the meantime, our IT department is very keen to purchase Cisco Webex Social (mainly because we have other Cisco tools in-house). I have a quite a few concerns about that and from what you are saying about the social features of 2013, I think there would be huge overlaps. What do you think? Do you have any experience of Webex Social? Sadly, as is often the case, no-one is taking much notice of business needs in the rush to adopt a new toy, so I feel I need all the help I can get to make my voice heard (I head the intranet team on the business side). Thanks for any help you can give

  • Posted at 3:46 am, 20 July, 2013

    Thanks for the post for composing “SharePoint
    2013 Social Features

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