Setting Up and Customizing Communities

​Reagan Templin is a Senior Technical Writer specializing in SharePoint and Robin Miller is a program manager on the SharePoint Team.

We introduced SharePoint communities in a previous post. Now, let me show you how easy it is to set up and customize a community.

As a writer, I’m part of the Content Publishing discipline at Microsoft. Within Content Publishing, we have a lot of people who write, edit, manage, and publish content to our various sites. Within each division, we have different groups that align to specific products and schedules. Although we are working on different products, deliverables, and schedules, our core purpose is the same—to deliver great content to our customers. With a community of practice, we could share our experiences and best practices and learn from others who have similar roles and responsibilities outside of traditional organizational hierarchies. Let’s use this example to set up and customize a community of practice.

Creating a community
At Microsoft, I can request to have a community created for me by Microsoft IT. They determine where my community site collection will be created in the SharePoint environment and configure the appropriate administration settings. As the sponsor for this community, I will be the site owner and can customize and share the site, selecting appropriate permissions for other users to be site owners, moderators, members, or visitors. Another option would be to activate the Community a Site Feature on an existing site, but more on that later.

Customizing the community template
I’ve requested my Content Publishing community, and receive notice that it has been created. When I first visit the community, it is set up with the default template. It’s nice, but it doesn’t really represent the discipline this community is for.

So, let’s jazz it up! We can make some simple changes from the Site Settings page to make it pop. First, I’ll add a description and change the logo.

Next, I decide to change the look. I choose the Breeze template, but decide that I want a different background and color scheme. I replace the background with some books, and select a more snappy color palette.

I decide to try it out and preview how my site will look. I like the choices, so I decide to keep them.

Setting up categories
Now that the site looks cool, I need to set up the categories. I already uploaded some images to a SharePoint library, so I can use them to represent each category that I create. I also add descriptions for each category so that members will know where to post their questions.

This is how the categories look to members of the community. When they hover over one of the categories, like the General category, they can see more information about that category.

The About page has some default text, so I update it a bit, too. It’s easy since it’s a Wiki page that uses the rich text editor.

I also want to add some Apps to the Home page to make announcements and a calendar for events. I go to Site Contents, and add them to my site. I then edit the Home page, and insert them on the page. I move them beneath the intro text where they are front and center when members visit the page.

Configuring community and reputation settings
Now that our site represents the community, I’m going to review and tweak community and reputation settings before members start participating.

First, I go to the Community Settings page. The established date is fine, and I prefer not to enable auto-approval. To begin with, I will share the community with all of the people in Content Publishing groups, but I will approve one-off requests after that. However, I do want to enable members to flag posts. Most communities tend to be self-governing, but I want members to be able to alert moderators to any problems, such as questionable posts, the need to move a post to another category, and so on.

Next, I’m going to go to the Reputation Settings page and see if there is anything I want to change. I decide to update the member achievement point system so that creating and replying give the member 10 points, “Likes” give 20 points, and best replies give 100 points. Though you can edit these settings at a later time, it’s best to set these up before letting members participate.

Sharing the site
Now let’s share the site with our moderators. Community management is important to ensure thriving communities. Your moderators will loop people in to help answer questions, mark best replies, mark and update featured discussions, give recognition to members, monitor reported content, and so on. 

Once Alex joins the community and appears as a member, I can assign a gifted badge to him so that other members will be able to easily identify him in the community.

Now it’s time to let members join the community. I’m going to add all of our content publishers to the members group in the community, and I’ll check the box to send them an email invitation to let them know about the community.

Activating the Community Site Feature
Remember way back when I said that communities are also available as a Site Feature? From the Site Settings page you can choose Manage site features and activate the Community Site Feature.

This will add the four community pages (Home, Categories, Members, and About) along with all the community Web Parts to your site. The key difference between the Community Feature and a Community Site is that only Community Sites will appear in the Community Portal. Sites with the Community Feature activated will also not use the community result template in search. The community functionality will be exactly the same.