Sept. 3, 2007
When Office Online lost Janet Galore to the Stategic Prototyping group, it lost a true voice for creativity and forward thinking. Luckily for everyone here at Microsoft, Janet is still in the building (well, one of the buildings). This week she shares her idea about how to create a sense of community from within a company ... with the help of a blog.
Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services
At Office Online, we think a lot about how to build our community of customers, and blogs like Inside Office Online and Clip Art & Media are one way to do that. But when we turn our attention inside the company, it's easy to lose sight that employees are a community, too.
When I was working at Office Online, we looked at ways to nurture creativity and innovation on our teams. We noticed that people would often share cool ideas in email, or forward inspirational bits of news, videos, or blog posts to colleagues they knew. Many good ideas were getting buried at the bottom of inboxes, or not getting to the right people. We didn't want to stop sharing ideas in e-mail, but what if we could funnel some of those great ideas into a place we could refer to later, with the ability to see trends and comments?
So we did an experiment. We set up a group "idea exchange" blog on an internal SharePoint site, and opened it up so everyone in our organization of 200 could post, and anyone in the company could read it.
It's turned out to be a positive thing. Of course, not everyone reads or posts to the blog, but a growing number of people are using it, and there are some seriously good ideas and comments getting posted. The posts are organized into categories that make it simple to see trends. Periodically, the posts get reviewed and the top ideas are considered for future projects.
I was able to set up the blog in about 15 minutes, and that includes assigning permissions, setting up categories, and customizing the way it looks. If your company has SharePoint 2007 deployed on your company intranet, you can quickly learn to set up a blog with help from Office Online. How to create a SharePoint blog is a good place to start.
Running an idea factory
Here are some things I've learned about making a group blog successful and easy to use:
Create meaningful categories (and use those later to see trends in posting). You can view the categories by clicking on them.
Assign someone to be the blog "shepherd" to monitor posts, encourage comments, and cajole others into contributing. A community needs care and feeding.
Look at your blog site statistics to see how many people are reading. SharePoint makes this pretty easy — just click Site Settings, and then click Site usage reports under the Site Administration column. You can see who's reading the blog, how often people visit, where they are coming from, and more.
Make it simple for people to contribute. Post your blogging guidelines and tips directly in the blog. Create a category for how to use the blog, so users can see the information in one place by viewing the category.
Post using Word 2007. You can use the Launch blog program to post link on the right of the blog home page, and it will auto launch a blog template in Word. Just hit the Publish button in Word to post it live.
You can also bring up the blog template by selecting File … New in Word 2007.
Post meeting notes or brainstorming ideas directly from OneNote 2007. Right clicking on any piece of content in OneNote will bring up Blog this as a menu option. Selecting that option will bring up your handy Word 2007 blog template pre-filled with your OneNote content.
Send the blog an e-mail. If your blog has been enabled to receive e-mail by your SharePoint administrator, you can create a new post simply by sending the blog an e-mail. See the Post to a blog topic for more info.
Use RSS. Don't want to check the blog every day? You can sign up to receive alerts about new posts directly in e-mail or via RSS feed. Click View All Site Content in the Quick Launch menu on the left of the blog home page, and then click on the link to Posts in the Links section. That will take you to the page to see all the posts in one SharePoint list. Then select Actions… and you have the choice of e-mail alerts, or subscribing to the RSS feed.
Consider other authoring/blogging tools. Windows Live Writer (currently in beta) is another cool blog authoring/posting tool you can download. Point it to your blog, and post away.
Priming the engine
Once you have the blog set up, and everyone knows how easy it is to contribute, you'll still need people to try it out and get in the habit of reading and posting. Try holding a contest on the group blog. Ask employees to take a stab at solving a long standing problem, or give a reward for the most innovative idea submitted. I can't guarantee that your blog will generate the next million dollar idea, but you'll have fun trying.
About the author
Janet Galore is a Program Manager on the Strategic Prototyping team under Craig Mundie, where she tells stories about the future. Previously, she was Group Manager for Office Online Publishing and Design. Before coming to Microsoft in 2002, she worked at video game and internet entertainment startups where she got paid to animate dead fish and somehow won some awards. In her free time she writes and makes art.