So, in my "Wrapping Your Head around the SharePoint Beast" session I urge people to drink the Kool-Aid and join the SharePoint Community to help ensure success in their SharePoint endeavors.
Also, the current buzz surrounding the SharePoint Community is deafening. Take things like yesterday's "State of the SharePoint Community tweet jam" and add to that the dozens of articles out there about why the community is important, why it's not what it used to be, and why people disagree with each other. Is it any wonder that people brave enough to step into the waters might not know where to begin?
It's definitely a more intimidating place than it used to be and on some days I myself have had a pessimistic view wondering what the heck is going on. That being said, the community still remains vitally important to your success in SharePoint for the following reasons:
- Finding solutions to your specific problems
- Weeding out the bad information from the good
- Learning what the experts have to say
- Keeping up-to-date on patches, problems, what's next
- Learning tips and tricks for how to solve problems in SharePoint
- Finding talented resources to hire
- Finding a new job
And that's just the work related aspects of the community. You will undoubtedly make friends along the way if you invest enough time and effort. It really can be what you want it to be.
But how to get started? I know this topic has most likely been addressed in several blog posts, however I was not able to find them after doing a casual search. Heck, I'm sure I've mentioned it in a blog post or two, but never devoted an entire post to it. So, I thought I'd give you people who have no clue where to begin some simple to follow advice.
Where else can you get help with a SharePoint problem from someone in South Africa, the UK, Australia, and Texas all at the same time?? Are there new patches for SharePoint? Are there problems with those patches? Is someone hiring? Is someone blogging? Did two SharePoint companies just join forces to create an international crime fighting organization? Find out first on Twitter.
Joining Twitter is probably the #1 step you should take to join the community. Most of the experts and a majority of the SharePoint MVPs are on twitter. They are helpful, friendly, and it's a very non-threatening way to get your feet wet in the community. However, it does take a little effort if you want to get the best experience possible. So, here are some tips for helping you use Twitter effectively.
Fill out your Twitter profile!
Wondering why no SharePoint people are following you back? There's a good chance you didn't fill out your Twitter profile. There are so many fake Twitter accounts out there that most people on Twitter do not auto follow anyone that follows them. But if you take the time to actually fill out your Twitter profile and insert the word SharePoint in there, your chances of getting followed back go up by a billion percent… I did the math… trust me.
Follow active SharePoint people
I could take this as an opportunity to name drop, and I just may, but follow active SharePoint people who Tweet regularly and Tweet about things you are interested in. Look at the people I follow, about 95% of them are SharePoint people and they are all pretty awesome. Another great way to get followed on Twitter by these people is to tweet that you enjoyed their session at a conference. We immediately know that you are not a Spambot, you use SharePoint, and you obviously have good taste. J
Download a Twitter client
I hear a lot of complaints from people who don't want to use Twitter because they don't want to have to keep going to the web site. Luckily there are a LOT of Twitter clients out there that you can run in the background of your computers, phones, and tablets. These clients allow you to search on specific terms, get notified when people message you, and make it extremely easy to just pop up Twitter during a break to see what's going on. I never use the web site anymore and always have Tweetdeck or Metrotwit running in the background. I can usually respond to a tweet faster than I can an email. You just have to learn how to say what's important in 140 characters.
Use your name as your Twitter handle & upload an actual picture of you
So, if you ever plan to step out of Twitter and meet any of these people in real life this is actually an important tip. I recognize people by their Twitter profile picture the first time I meet them at conferences, and my memory clicks much faster when I recognize your name. First time introductions are much more pleasant (for me at least) when I'm not thinking "Oh crap, do I know this person? Who are they?" and I have to wait for them to tell me their Twitter handle. There are a few really great people I've met on Twitter who did not follow this rule and I still give them a hard time about it (@GrumpyTech). Also, my own personal opinion (so feel free to ignore this part) is don't create a Twitter handle of "SharePointFirstName" or "SharePointKnowItAll" or something like that. Take this as an opportunity to brand yourself and make your name visible. If you get 10,000 followers as "SharePointSuperStud" and suddenly find yourself being demoted to a Google engineer and change your Twitter handle to "GoogleGuy" none of your followers are going to know who you are and you lost all of that brand awareness.
Twitter really is one of the greatest tools at my disposal as a SharePoint professional. I may get bashed for saying this, but in some ways Twitter IS the SharePoint community. It's were we get our day to day work done, it's where we arrange meetings, hatch ideas, and blow off steam. Of course, I live in the middle of nowhere with the nearest SharePoint person 100 miles away, so Twitter is definitely MY SharePoint Community between conferences.
Start a Blog
Another great way to get involved in the community and give back is to start a blog. I know there are few people who are groaning right now because they think there are too many blogs posts out there. While true, there are a LOT of SharePoint blogs out there I promise you there is always room for one more. You'll either find that you hate it and give it up immediately or you'll love it and find it almost therapeutic to spend a couple of hours typing things out. But how do you know what's worth blogging about? For me, the true measure of a good blog post is whether you will go back and reference it again yourself. I kid that my blog is actually just a good way for me to remember how I figured out some problem, but you know what? There's some truth to that. So, if you figured out how to do something and you want to make sure you remember how you did it, then THAT is a good blog post regardless of what anyone else in the universe thinks.
Become a conference / user group regular
If you are lucky enough to have a SharePoint User Group (SPUG) near you, attend whenever they meet. Maybe even offer to speak if you have a tip or trick you'd like to share. Also, you may have heard there are these things called SharePoint Saturdays? I think I've been to one or two. Look for a SharePoint Saturday or some other SharePoint conference near you and check it out. There will be people you've met on Twitter there and we are even friendlier in person. So, not only do you get to learn about SharePoint, but you get to build on those relationships that help you keep your SharePoint sanity. As these relationships grow, you will find that not only will these people help you with your SharePoint problems, they may even help you bury a body someday should it come to that. ;)
Go to a SharePint!
You know one of the most critical things you can do to be active in the SharePoint community that 95% of conference attendees don't do?? Go to a SharePint! After almost EVERY SharePoint Saturday and other conferences there will be an open call for a SharePint. This is where the speakers go to relax, smile, and have a drink or 12. Yet, it never fails that most attendees decide to pass on this. Don't do that! Attend! Tell jokes. Trade business cards. Tell me that you like my hair… what's left of it. Just sit down with us and have a drink and relax. You'll find it therapeutic and you'll make a friend or 100.
Enjoy it, but don't take it too seriously
I'll let you in on the worst kept secret out there. Some days the SharePoint Community is more like a High School or a Soap Opera than a cohesive unit bent on conquering your SharePoint woes. We're human, it happens. We get wrapped up in our worlds, our egos, and our self-importance from time to time. I let it bother me for a short while, but I'm over it now. SharePoint is an awesome technology, and I've made awesome friends that I'll have for the rest of my life. But you know what? At the end of the day, it's just a technology. Technologies come and go. Experts today are novices tomorrow. The friends you make will be your friends whether you use SharePoint or the next failed Google attempt at social computing. Keep your eyes on what's important. Enjoy being part of something great, but let's be real… we aren't curing cancer here and my kids will love me no matter how many people read my blog and my wife could care less If I'm never a SharePoint MVP… in fact, I'm fairly certain she still doesn't know what SharePoint is… and I kind of like that. J