Building Your SharePoint Site? Remember Your Audience

Someone recently took me on for putting versioning in my document names on our website.  As a SharePoint professional, I know this is not good practice. However, remember who the audience is.

The resources on our website are publicly available for download so we have no way of knowing who has these documents and what they’re being used for.  I purposely put the version number in the document name so people can instantly see if they still have the right version of the document on their sites or fileshares. Our documentation is not like this internally, there we use the versioning functionality.

I often get flack for our awful website – it’s not pretty, this I know.  My favourite quote was: “The first time I went to your website I thought it was broken”.  LOL!   But it gets used during every single beginners training course we give to show working examples of what they’re busy learning – and explained what works and what doesn’t work, how to do things and how not to do things.  And for as many detractors we’ve had, we’ve had equal attracters saying it’s massively useful and familiar cos it’s built on SharePoint.  You can’t make everyone happy right.

When you’re building your sites, whether it’s out of box configuration or custom development / branding, always ask yourself who your audience is; who are you building for?  With our website, I wanted a portal of information for people to access.  (It’s busy being re-engineered cos it is a mess).

There is no point in building an over-architected solution using content types, managed metadata and content type hubs if the people who have to maintain the system afterwards barely know how to upload a document.  They won’t use it.  While things like that are (usually) built for a reason, what is the point if people simply will not use it because it’s too complicated?  You need to understand your audience and their SharePoint maturity level.

The same counts for branding your internal team sites.  An insane amount of time and money is wasted on custom branding intranet sites in many instances. Companies spend months arguing about what specific colour something has to be – for an internal website that no-one but staff can access.  Why?  Why not allow some freedom and have some fun internally?  It’s the people on the ground who have to use SharePoint.

How often do you hear that Exco members are actively using and maintaining a site?  In 5 years I’ve never heard that.  Yet I have heard countless times that it’s the execs that want a specific colour or some random marketing, flash, moving image all over the site.  What on earth for? Companies are more than happy to waste thousands and thousands of Rands on custom branding, but not a cent on upskilling the staff who actually have to use and maintain it. How does that make any sense?

Staff inside the company don’t care about stuff like that.  They want to know what your department does, how your department can make a difference in their lives, how they can get hold of you, get to know you, understand what you’re working on, and give feedback.  That marketing shpeel just gets in the way of this and drives people away from your site.  That stuff is fine for internet sites, not internal sites.

Remember your audience.  And have some fun with it.

The site below isn’t finished yet, but it’s original name was going to be the Design, Development, Maintenance and Support Office Site – DDMSO.  (Yawn). That’s what the head of the department wanted it to be called.  But the audience was a bunch of hardcore techies – and what’s the one thing that all techies love? Sci-fi! So after an all day brain storming session understanding everything they wanted to achieve with the site, we built it like this instead.

Everything in the original brief from the manager is in here, but it’s been made fun for the people who will have to use it.  You can’t see it here, but every link has alternative text so people know what it’s for.  Universe is all the projects all the teams are working on internally and externally.  The Energy Field is training resources, FAQ’s, tips and tricks, team discussions, events, etc. Now that the shell has been built, we can get great images to make it look really sexy.  Doesn’t Stargate sound more fun than DDMSO?  And they love it!

Remember your audience.

About Veronique Palmer

Empowering people one at a time.
This entry was posted in SharePoint 2007, SharePoint 2010, User Adoption. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Building Your SharePoint Site? Remember Your Audience

  1. Well there’s nothing wrong with that all either. 🙂 You do what works for your department and culture.


  2. Yvonne says:

    HI Veronique, the wiki is known as “Knowledge Library”, the Discussion Forum is known as “Technical Forum”, the list of technical experts is known as “Experts Directory” and the blog is known as “Blog”. Initially, there were some other titles being considered but the department users said they could relate better to these titles. Thus, these titles were adopted. The department site name is straightforward as it’s the same as the department’s name.


  3. Quite right Yvonne. You’d think that would be logical, but it appears not. So what did you end up calling the site?


  4. Yvonne says:

    Hi Veronique, thanks for the article and the reminder to focus on the users. “Stargate” is definitely more attractive! Recently, I was involved in a project to design a teamsite to meet the needs of 900+ users in a department and when it came to naming (e.g. name of wiki, name of a directory listing, etc used in the teamsite), exploration was done and the core team did some simple usability testing with the target audience “the users” to find out which title/name was more intuitive to them to reflect the content accurately. Then, decision was made. If simple checks with the target audience could be done, it would be better than built and then discovered need to rework due to misfit.


  5. Thank you so much John, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for subscribing!

    You are so right of course. I saw it happening here too again this week, it just baffles me. But it’s a journey I guess huh, it will be some time before the general business population really get it.


  6. John Clayton says:

    It’s amazing how people get bogged down with the look of an Intranet site – especially Sharepoint, which is essentially just an extension to Office. I’m the IT side of Sharepoint but the look and feel are being dictated by a group of execs. I’ve taken the “give ’em enough rope and they’ll hang ’emselves” approach, doing exactly what they’ve asked for. “You want weird hexagons drawn up in visio as your site navigation? Okay…” For the most part, things like that hang around for a few hours, weeks at most, before they come back with an “Okay, how would you do it?”

    We’re just starting getting Sharepoint to be accepted by the masses – it’s a real eye-opener for some when they “get it”, suddenly they see the potential there.

    Excellent post. You’ve now in my Google Reader subscriptions.


  7. Cool, good luck! And thanks for the inspiration. 🙂


  8. David says:

    Thanks again Veronique and yes, I did read the article on control, and will add to my important reference files for future ‘friendly’ showdowns with stakeholders, should they arise


  9. Pleasure. Don’t know if you saw my next post regarding the ownership of SharePoint. Hopefully that will also help you with some of your questions.

    Regarding an email marketing platform – I’m not the expert on that, but personally I wouldn’t use SharePoint for that type of thing. There are far better tools for that. You’d have to do a lot of customisation / workflow for SP to perform the same thing that marketing tools are built to do out of box. I also wanted to do that via SP, but it just got too complicated plus the licensing was too expensive cos you need internet licensing for unlimited users. I run both systems separately now, right tool for the job and all.


  10. David says:

    Many thanks for your considered response Veronique, I will follow up your suggestions. One other thing: does SharePoint cut it as an email marketing platform, eg could it perform the same functions as MailChimp? Such as one click unsubscribes, managing bounced emails


  11. Hi David,

    There is information on this, but it’s spread out all over the show. I’ll have to dig them up for you, which is no problem. Check out Lynn Warneke’s blogs, she understand the whole ‘who should own SharePoint thing too :

    You can explain to them that SharePoint is like using Facebook or hosted SharePoint or Google Docs – we don’t get to see the servers and settings, all governance is automated and users are left to manage their content as they see fit. On premise SharePoint is the same principle. It’s a service that IT needs to supply to business, but business owns the content and how that content is managed.

    For some reason I thought I blogged this subject already. But a scan of all my posts shows I have not! I will remedy this situation this week then you can use it as motivation as well.

    You could start with some of these customers stories with regards to hosted sites too :

    When it comes to a case for hosting it all internally – I don’t really think it matters much because you could build approval processes to get stuff published from your intranet to your website. You just need the right SharePoint version in place to make use of the all the features you would need to manage intranet and website.


  12. David says:

    Veronique, my company uses SharePoint for intranet, 700 users. The company website is not run on SP but they are looking to do so. I am in the marketing area and don’t want IT getting too involved in content side of website if they host it on SharePoint. Do you know of any articles that 1. argue for different team to look after SharePoint as intranet platform, and web platform and/or 2. articles that recommend hosting websites off-site with dedicated hosting, due to downtime and security concerns if IT hosts in-house (my concerns!). Re second article topic: is there a simple case for hosting SharePoint intranet and website both internally, due to ease of sharing docs between platforms, for example? tx


  13. I just love your concept Jason. And I want to see it! 🙂 As soon as the SharePoint Saturday Jhb chaos has passed this weekend, I’ll have time to pull myself towards myself, then could we please make a plan. I really would love to see your work!


  14. Our company intranet is based on TV stations/channels. Each channel represents an aspect of SharePoint, for example the Discovery Channel is where you find documents. BoxOffice is where you find videos of long serving staff members imparting their knowledge. Each channel has a tag line, and the tagline of the main site was: Out of the Box. The entire SP site has also had quite a graphic design overall, with each site having a slightly different look and feel. The reason? We are not an IT company and have many employees who are not up to date with IT, everyone is familair with television, so why not?


  15. Thanks Lynn. 🙂 And if anyone knows and understands this, it’s you.


  16. Lynn Warneke says:

    Excellent article Veronique. If only your points on the $$ spent on branding SharePoint versus user adoption and use were redundant. But sadly they remain very relevant. Great reminder to focus on what really matters – the users!


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