Plan for communities in SharePoint Server 2013

SharePoint 2013

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Applies to: SharePoint Server 2013

Topic Last Modified: 2015-03-09

Summary: Learn about planning for Community Sites and Community Portals in SharePoint Server 2013.

In SharePoint Server 2013, Community Sites provide a forum experience in the SharePoint environment. This experience enables community members to contribute information and to ask for help from other members. Community Portals provide a directory of Community Sites for users to search for and discover communities of interest.

Communities are groups of people who collaborate around common goals to share and access information. Community Sites provide a computing solution for users to collaborate around questions, problems, interests, suggestions, opinions, and so on. Through feedback, in the form of replies, members gain access to valuable information from which they can further narrow the most useful responses via the number of members who like a reply and which reply is marked as the best reply. These actions provide incentives for members of the community to participate and build a reputation within the community. Over time, users who have provided the most positive contributions to the community become top contributors and earn trust from other members.

Use this article to develop a plan for implementing communities in SharePoint Server 2013. Before you use this article to plan for communities, make sure that you understand the terms, concepts, and benefits in Social computing terminology and concepts in SharePoint Server 2013 and Overview of communities in SharePoint Server 2013.

In this article:

Communities are part of the social computing offering in SharePoint Server 2013. They provide a means for fostering collaboration among large groups of employees in an enterprise. By using communities, employees have an outlet to collaborate outside traditional hierarchies while keeping valuable corporate and intellectual property within the company.

Community planning is most successful when business users sponsor the effort by aligning communities with corporate goals and working with the IT staff to develop and implement the strategy through technology. This is especially important for corporate initiatives instead of informal grassroots initiatives led by employees. If you are part of the IT staff interested in implementing a Community Portal and Community Sites, make sure that you have appropriate business leaders and users involved in defining the business needs early on so that the effort has a purpose suitable for a community solution.

This article is organized in ordered phases for planning Community Sites and portals. Although each phase is discussed independently, in practice some phases might overlap.

Identify stakeholders who will work together to identify business needs, develop requirements, evaluate possible solutions, determine a schedule, and approve plans for a collaboration initiative. Business leaders and users should lead collaboration initiatives with input from the IT staff on the available technology options. Make sure that you have a balance of people high enough in the organization to provide approval and funding for the project, in addition to people who are closest to the daily work to help identify the challenges and define the requirements that the solution should address. Without these key people involved, you might implement a solution that does not have the necessary budget and resources allocated, has poor user adoption because it does not meet user needs, and so on.

Although communities offer a valuable collaboration experience, you should first identify your business needs and then evaluate the possible collaboration solutions in SharePoint Server 2013. Begin with organizational goals and use these to develop a plan for community deployment and phases at which to deploy them. If you are new to communities, start with a business need that is fairly low-risk and has a group of users who want to collaborate. Then add other communities in over time. Use this as guidance to define the number of communities needed and which should be open, closed, or private. Always make sure that you lead with the business need and verify that a community is the right solution for that need.

Evaluate the options available for collaboration and determine whether a Community Site is an appropriate solution for business needs. Consider the following information when you evaluate social computing options in SharePoint Server:

  • Communities   Communities are well suited for mass collaboration initiatives, where a large group of users participate in sharing knowledge and learning from other people across organizational and hierarchical boundaries. They are a persistent form of knowledge collection and storage.

  • Team sites   Team sites are well suited for distinct groups of users to collaborate and store information that is common to the team, such as documents and calendars. They are generally used within organizational hierarchies, and generally have more permanence than project sites.

  • Project sites   Project sites are well suited for distinct groups of users who are working together on a specific project, although these users might span organizational hierarchies. They generally exist only for the life of a project, and might be discarded or archived when the project is completed.

  • My Sites   My Sites are well suited for individual users to promote their profile information, save and share personal documents, build networks of people, follow content and sites of interest, keep up-to-date via relevant information in feeds, and participate in microblogging activities. Some parts of the My Site are more lasting than others, such as document storage and profiles, whereas other parts are briefer, such as items in feeds.

Planning the solution architecture involves identifying answers for the following:

  • What type of community do you want?

  • What is the primary language for the community?

  • Where does the Community Site logically belong in the current or planned SharePoint environment?

  • What services and service applications do you have or need that support community features and functionality?

Make sure that a Community Site is an appropriate solution for your business needs. In some cases, it might be easier for users to add a discussion list or activate the new community features on an existing site, such as a team site. However, when you want users to specifically use a site to discuss and share knowledge around communities of practice and interests, create a Community Site. Additionally, only sites that use the Community Site template display in the Community Portal if you deploy one.

Figure: Ways to use discussions and communities

Usage options for communities

Depending on the permissions that you or the site owner configure for the Community Site, you can make the site more or less discoverable to users in the enterprise, and determine how to handle membership approval. If you have a community with sensitive information or that you want to limit to specific users or groups, consider configuring permissions for a private community. Conversely, if you want the community to be discoverable and allow all users to contribute, consider configuring permissions for an open community. The following table describes how to achieve configuration of these different types of communities.

Table: Configure permissions for different types of communities

Type Permission Approval setting

Private community. Available to only specified members.

Share the site with only specific users or groups, and grant Member permissions to them so they can contribute.

Not applicable.

Closed community. Everyone can view the content of the site, but only members who have approved requests for membership can contribute.

Share the site with Everyone and grant Visitor permissions to them so that they can view the site and request access.

Enable access requests on the site.

Open community with explicit membership. Everyone can view the site and can automatically join to contribute to the site.

Share the site with Everyone and grant Visitor permissions so they can view the site and automatically join as members.

Enable auto-approval on the site.

Open community. Everyone can contribute to the community.

Share the site with Everyone and grant Member permissions so they can all contribute.

Not applicable.

Community Sites are generally used with a single language because user-generated content, such as the text in discussions, is not translated. Users are not prevented from posting to discussions in other languages, although it is up to the members of the Community Site whether they can understand and respond to the discussion. However, as with other SharePoint sites, Community Sites can use the multilingual user interface to display the user interface elements in another language specified by users.

Based on the identified business needs, determine where the community logically belongs in your SharePoint environment. For example, if the business need is to enable large-scale participation among employees across the company or a region, the community might logically belong with the company portal or another similar high-level area in the SharePoint environment. However, if the goal is to enable participation among a smaller group of employees, such as a division or business unit, the community might logically belong with a divisional portal or similar level in the SharePoint environment. Or you might have a farm specifically for content or collaboration sites where you decide all of your Community Sites belong.

In order for community activities to display in the My Sites newsfeed, the web application that contains the My Site Host and personal sites cannot run under a different account than the web application that hosts Community Sites. Community Sites need not be located in the same farm as My Sites and the User Profile Service, but the web applications that host each must be using the same account in order for newsfeed integration to work.

Community Sites have similar deployment considerations and topologies as team sites, although the read/write characteristics for the underlying content database might be more intensive than with team sites depending on how active the community is. When planning for capacity and performance, consider how many members there are, and how frequently members generate and interact with discussions in the Community Site.

The Community Portal is available only at the site-collection level. However, Community Sites are available at the site collection and site level. If you create Community Sites at the site level, you can choose to inherit permissions from the parent site or to use unique permissions. Generally, you should use unique permissions to manage communities to keep the membership of each community separate. However, you might choose to inherit permissions if you have a hierarchy of Community Sites that you want to have the same membership.

If possible, we recommend that you locate your enterprise Community Sites in the same site collection or at least in site collections that share the same purpose. This enables you to tune settings, and easily move, backup, and restore the underlying database as needed without affecting the other site collections and sites in your environment. For more information about site collections and sites, see Plan sites and site collections in SharePoint 2013.

There are several SharePoint services and service applications that improve Community Site functionality in SharePoint Server 2013. Depending on your identified business needs, these might be required for your implementation even though they are not truly required for Community Sites. Review the information in the following table to determine whether you already have these services in your topology or have to plan and implement them.

Table: Related services and service applications for communities

Service Reason

User Profile service

Consider using the User Profile service to integrate communities with My Sites. The User Profile service and service application store information about users, such as profile pictures, organizational details, and activities. This is a required service for My Sites and it is one of the key services for the social computing experience in SharePoint Server 2013.

Community Sites benefit from feed integration and a Community Portal when you implement them with the User profile service and the My Site Host site template. When community members mention other members or use hash tags in their discussion posts and replies, SharePoint Server updates users’ feeds with these activities. On users’ My Sites, users who follow those mentioned people or hash tags see these activities in their feed. This can help users discover communities of interest, other people to follow, and information about things they are interested in. Additionally, members can click mentioned members to navigate to a member’s profile on their My Site.

When implemented in the same environment as My Sites, users can access the Community Portal from the Sites page on their My Sites. Additionally, when a member joins a community, starts a discussion, has a post liked or marked as a best reply, or increases the reputation level, a notification is posted to the feeds and is displayed for users who are following that user on their My Sites.

Managed metadata

Consider using the Managed metadata service to enable hash tags in Community Sites. When members include hash tags in discussion posts and replies, they can select tags from the term store from the Managed metadata service. Additionally, when a term does not already exist in the term store, members can create new tags and add them to the term store. This helps to seed the Community Site with the corporate taxonomy for tagging and enable growth of the term store through member contributions.

Search service

SharePoint Search is an important part of the SharePoint user experience, including the experience with Community Sites and Community Portals. Search enables users to search within discussions and find information in a Community Site. It also populates the search-driven Community Portal page with sites that use the Community Site template. Search performs the security trimming for the results that display both in community searches and the communities that appear on the Community Portal.

The Community Portal is a page that users can browse and search to discover communities of interest. This portal provides integration between users’ My Sites and Community Sites. The My Site contains a link to the Community Portal so that users can easily navigate to the portal.

Determine which users to assign as site owners and moderators. Work with them to understand and configure permissions appropriately for the community based on business needs.

Moderators are a specific SharePoint group who play an important role in keeping the community active and healthy. They have permission to manage categories and discussions, actively edit posts or delete them, mark posts as featured items or best replies, monitor flagged content, and configure reputation settings. As a best practice, have the site owners and moderators configure reasonable reputation settings before members start to use the community, and refrain from changing them later unless needed. If you change reputation settings after members have joined and participate in the community, SharePoint Server does not recalculate the existing reputation of members, although reputation for existing members going forward will be calculated with the new settings. Any members who join after the reputation settings are changed will have their reputation calculated accurately based on the new settings.

Depending on the size of the community, you might want to designate specific members to be category owners. Although there is no specific permission for category owners, you can either decide to make category owners part of the Moderators group or have moderators set up alerts for specific users who are tasked with monitoring specific categories. If category owners are made moderators, they can set alerts for themselves to monitor items in their categories and respond appropriately.

Determine the rules of participation and consequences when rules are broken. Most communities are fairly self-governing, but the moderator role should have clear guidelines from the business about how to handle issues and guidance from the IT staff on how to implement those consequences in the technology itself.

Additionally, encourage site owners and moderators to use the manage discussion view to monitor the community by exporting the discussion list to Excel. This way, they can easily determine how many posts are unanswered, have replies, and so on. This data can help moderators and site owners to address issues in the community if it is necessary, and understand where they should intervene, such as encouraging participation and moving discussions to more appropriate categories. Just as with other SharePoint lists, moderators and site owners can edit or create a specific view of the discussion list to make sure that the data that they need for review is included during export.