I kicked off the third and final day of the Best Practices Conference with Jennifer Martinez's intriguingly titled session, "Blogs & Wikis - The Non-Social Use of Great Business Tools." Blogs and wikis are such core components of social media that I was anxious to hear Jennifer's thoughts on using SharePoint blogs and wikis for exclusively internal business applications.
Spending the bulk of her allotted time on wikis, Jennifer began by sharing wiki creator Ward Cunningham's definition of wikis as being the "simplest online database that could possibly work." Jennifer suggests that a revision of the definition might better reflect its real-world usage by replacing the words "online database" with "collaborative online management system" and, with apologies to Ward Cunningham though in the spirit of collaboration which wikis celebrate, I'd have to say that I agree with that revision.
After filling in the "what is it" (multiple editors, single content; multiple interconnected pages; quick editing; etc.), and the "why is it" (agile environment; right tool, right time), Jennifer moved onto providing examples of what it can be in a business environment. Areas that were suggested as being prime candidates for wikis included: policies and procedures; meeting notes; knowledge base; handbook, job aids; and brainstorming.
Addressing the idea of "how it should be" (i.e., best practices) and explaining that there are typically two extremes among wiki users ("liberals" and "conservatives"), Jennifer suggests that for a wiki to be successful, a balance between those two extremes must be struck. With the liberal "anything goes" approach versus the conservative "strictly on topic" approach, the balance must be struck on the side of relevancy to end users. Regarding who should have editing access, the liberal "everyone" versus the conservative "restricted users" balance needs to be struck with trustworthiness in mind (with a caveat that with the "everyone" approach, requiring content approval may be your saving grace, and with "restricted users, your saving grace will be permissions). The key component of the "free flow" versus "structured" decision should be that it's useable, and a semi-structured approach is probably best.
Listing a series of examples of what a blog shouldn't be (i.e., bad practices), Jennifer included:
- Popular opinion wins; errors become fact
- Wiki scuffles; big egos
- Information disaster (unorganized, random)
- Hidden wealth of knowledge (no one knows the wiki exists)
- Overly structural (stifles creativity)
- No collaboration
- No connecting pages; dead ends; two sentences per page
Shifting the focus to blogs, and maintaining the same structure she'd employed to discuss wikis, Jennifer noted that blogs are in essence the complete opposite of wikis in that they represent one-to-many communication, are typically dedicated to one subject and by one author (or limited authors), and readers may leave comments, as opposed to editing the original content.
For the "what it can be" section, Jennifer suggested the following as excellent uses for blogs in a business environment:
- Project updates; milestones
- Communications from the C' level (CEO, COO, etc.): vision, briefings
- Decisions, policies, ideas (informal)
- Mentoring (brain dumps; lessons learned)
- Rapid training (how to, etc.)
Regarding the "how it should be" area, Jennifer hit on the top priorities for a successful blog, including that it should be: purposeful; meaningful; relevant; timely; accurate; and active. Any successful blog, and this is an area I would suggest applies equally to business and non-business blogs, is going to include all of these components.
For the "how it shouldn't be" portion of the program, Jennifer included as bad practices for blogs: boring, unimportant, irrelevant; soapbox; unchecked opinions; gossip (despite the fact that the official definition of a blog on the default SharePoint new blog page includes gossip as a component); intimidating; and sporadic. Unlike the best practices, while these are absolutely bad practices in a business environment (which yes, is the topic at hand), I can't help but mention that I think a non-business blog is likely to be even more successful if it embraces, rather than avoids many of these same "bad" components. Agree? Disagree? By all means, let me know in the comments.
Aug 26 2009, 11:25 AM
John Anderson joined Bamboo Solutions as Manager of Content & Syndication in May of 2008 after a 12-year career at AOL. New to SharePoint at the time of his hiring, John was tasked with creating a new blog for the just-launched Bamboo Nation community in which he would document his daily SharePoint learning process. Thus was born the end user-centric SharePoint Blank, for which John authored 200 posts within a year, and which he continues to write today (albeit much more sporadically). Currently serving as Managing Editor, John sets the tone for Bamboo Nation as its lead blogger, and oversees content across Bamboo properties.