When are people going beyond SharePoint for social functionality?

by Richard Harbridge on December 10, 2011

For many people the built in SharePoint 2010 social capabilities, while limited, meet the needs of the business. For many organizations still piloting or evaluating the use of social technology and SharePoint’s limited feature set meets their business needs. However there are many others who aren’t satisfied by the capabilities provided by SharePoint and are looking for a more robust feature set. This article will dig a little more into the options available for organizations and my personal opinions on them.

There are basically three options when working with SharePoint from an Enterprise 2.0 or social perspective. The Real Story Group came up with a great phrasing for this.  I am going to deviate slightly by using the term replace and combining supplement and extending. You can complement SharePoint with another product, you can supplement or extend SharePoint functionality, or you can replace SharePoint social functionality with a different products functionality altogether.

What makes SharePoint a compelling platform and product is the breadth of capability it provides. Organizations that have already made a commitment to SharePoint should consider how social software features in SharePoint can be additive in terms of business benefit.

Supplementing or Extending

The most common scenario in the marketplace is supplementing or extending the native SharePoint social capabilities to meet specific business needs. Whether adding simple ‘quick tags’ like ‘I like it’ so users can tag items from a single button in the ribbon, or more complex needs like customizing the activity feed in SharePoint there are many products and solutions available. The blogging platform in SharePoint as an example doesn’t support video embedding, so this might be a perfect example for where a company purchases, implements, or extends the SharePoint blogging capabilities to enable this.


Beyond supplementing SharePoint capabilities some organizations identify specific scenarios where social maturity and demand is higher and compliment SharePoint with other products and platforms, or have SharePoint complement these other products and platforms. As an example Molson Coors saw dramatic improved adoption of Yammer following the integration of a Yammer Web Part for SharePoint which made Yammer visible within the portal. They selected Yammer due to the rich activity stream capabilities it had that SharePoint natively did not possess.


Though it is a double edge sword, the final option of replacing SharePoint functionality completely is also available. This is the least frequently employed option in the marketplace. If there was a considerable business need you could as an example use an entirely different platform and manually or individually direct users. Letting them know when to use one platform versus the other. The most common social example for this is the use of other Wiki platforms in larger organizations. The down side here is that it is often extremely difficult to ‘force’ users to use one platform over the other. Often these organizations might have some Wiki’s in SharePoint, and other Wiki’s in this other platform and inconsistent search options or silos of information in each.

On the other hand if your organization had no SharePoint investment then adopting the platform as the foundation for enterprise social networking would be a bad idea. Especially if you weren’t intending to use many of SharePoint’s other capabilities. So keep in mind that ‘SharePoint’ might be the technology being evaluated as to whether it can ‘replace’ an incumbent social technology as well (though this is infrequent).

Do you agree? With what I have written here? What examples do you have to add?

Hope this helps,
Richard Harbridge

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