A simple, but effective method of replacing key office email correspondence with a SharePoint blog

The following post has been updated to reflect SharePoint 2013.

Internally, we are using SharePoint blogs very effectively, to replace common sharing of information (in our case, typically about technology like ‘how I fixed this or that’. Using Microsoft Word as our blogging tool (and if you don’t have Microsoft Word (2007 through 2013), you could use Windows Live Writer, which is free), and SharePoint as our blogging engine, we have all that we need to create a rich, blogging experience with the following benefits:

  • We create/share information using a rich tool, just like composing an email to the team (A subject, some paragraph/body text and maybe some clipart, screenshots, etc.). However, this information is retained within SharePoint, meaning it is not lost in someone’s Sent Items – it is searchable and discoverable within SharePoint (by search or category lookup). As well, as you’ll soon see, as we have subscribed all staff to Alerts, regarding new content, we also receive the latest blog information, real time. By storing the information in SharePoint, we also get the added benefit of this information being available to NEW employees as they come on board (again, not lost in someone’s thoughts, memos or Sent Items bin). Knowledge is then:
    • Searchable
    • Categorized
    • Retrievable chronologically
    • Available to new staff when they arrive on the scene

To create our Office ‘Knowledge Blogging System’, we take the following steps:

  • Create a blog site (we have two, 1 for technology issues where categories are based on topics such as different types of technology, and another blog whose categories are actually the names of the various clients we support). In this example, I’ll be creating the blog for ‘client support’ (categories, named after clients)
  • We’ll change the behavior of how posts are moderated. By default, a blogging list in a blog site will require posts to be approved. We’ll turn that behavior off (we’re a small team of 10 people – much like a department in a larger firm), we are looking for ‘speed’ of information instead – your environment may be different or the content may be more sensitive
  • We’ll set blog alerts so that when a new post is created, everyone receives a ‘blog notification’ which is basically the entire content of the post, as an email – i.e. this would have been the typical ‘hey guys, I learned this, try and retain it’ email and where the life of it would have stopped. Instead, everyone gets the email as a byproduct of saving the content into SharePoint – now and for the future
  • Create the necessary categories (in our case, these will be names of clients we support and store information about)

Simple, effective and awesome, I think anyways.

 

Step 1 – Create a Blog Site

In this instance, I’m going to create a site (a “web” if you want to get technical) underneath our ‘client management’ site. The steps to create a blog site are really straightforward and illustrated in the next few screenshots, using SharePoint 2013 (for a 2010 version of these instructions, go here: http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro/archive/2012/07/23/building-a-knowledge-blogging-system-in-sharepoint.aspx)

Choose the Settings Cog and Site Contents

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Go to the bottom of the Site Contents Page and you should see “Subsites”. Click “+New Subsite”.

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Create a new SharePoint Site, using the “Blog” Template.

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Now we have a blog site, ready to roll. Style it/theme it in whatever manner you want. The next step is to click ‘Manage Posts’ and change the default ‘approval’ behavior to allow posts to be posted immediately (we want none of that pesky approval process, for our small team/content – again, your mileage may vary).

 

Step 2 – Change the Approval Behaviour for posts to not require approval

Isn’t it great when you can just skip a step. Microsoft took a page out of the “we love our users” guide and have removed “Content Approval” as a required default in 2013 blogs, so just move on. Nothing to see here.

 

Step 3 – Configure the list to set all necessary staff to receive Alerts (emails) of new posts

You may have a different way you will want to approach this (such as a workflow, etc.). However, the quick and dirty way to enable everyone on your team to receive the latest blog content (knowledge!), is to subscribe them to alerts, from the Blog Posts list.
Simply open the Blog Posts list (choose “Manage Posts” on the Blog home page), choose Alert Me, Set alert on this list and set the appropriate notification settings. For us internally, sending alerts when ‘New items are added’ made the most sense. See below for the visual steps necessary:

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And spam the heck out of your team Winking smile

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Step 4 – Create your categories

In our case, for this particular blog (again, we employ two different blogs, your mileage and use will vary), our categories will be defined as the clients we support. For the purposes of this blog entry and confidentiality, I’ve made up a few… Click on Categories and change the defaults if desired (Events, Ideas, Opinions, etc.) and add any additional categories you made need.

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Step 5 – Register Microsoft Word (2007 minimum) as your Blogging Editor

Or download, install and configure Windows Live Writer, which is out of scope of this post…

If you don’t have Word 2007-2013, Windows Live Writer is a great, SharePoint capable Blogging Tool. I happen to prefer Word 2013 (SmartArt anyone?) but Windows Live Writer is free and there are lots of cool add-ons for it, that you can’t get with Word. And if you have Word 2003 or older, Windows Live Writer will be the tool you want to seek out. (Get it here: http://download.live.com/writer).

Simply click on ‘Launch Blogging App’ if you have Word locally installed.

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And then accept the various defaults (or change them, I don’t care)

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Step 6 – Finally, post away and enjoy the result

In Word (or Live Writer), blog away – always be detailed and don’t be afraid to add illustrations to make your point – that’s the beauty of using Word (and SmartArt) for providing clear messages – A picture is worth a 1000 words as they say.

Here’s a basic sample, but you’ll get the picture. And, the net/final result is your team will receive an email with the blog post (just as though you sent them your informative/knowledge email), but you’ll have the added bonus of a blog post that is permanent and searchable as well (future proofing).

Here’s the blog post being created, in Word

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Here it is in SharePoint

Benefit: Permanent, Searchable, Categorized, and Thin (only a browser needed to retrieve the information)

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And here is the Email Notification that follows

Benefit: still arrives as a real time email. I.e. the old school (and only) way this content would have been disseminated. The recipient can choose to read it if it is of immediate interest or delete it, with the confidence of knowing they can find it when they need it.

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