Microsoft have recently released Communication sites for SharePoint - available in SharePoint Online and Office 365. These are a great addition to the SharePoint platform and show Microsoft's future direction for SharePoint, which is to make SharePoint more mobile-friendly, user-friendly and integrated with Office 365. If you haven't tried creating a Communication site or would like to see what they look like then we recommend catching up with our 'Getting started with Communication sites' article.
As an overview, Communication sites are a simple way for a selected number of people to create an engaging site to share and broadcast information; such as news, documents, events, images or videos. These are separate to the existing Team sites and have a different purpose - please see our 'Team site vs Communication site' guide. Communication sites are an exciting release and have a number of great features and benefits - we wanted to share our top five with you below.
1. Anyone can build a great-looking communication site
The workers who want to create and broadcast company news or information tend to not be as technical or have the time required to learn how to manipulate or code a new system. Communication sites are as easy as 'drag and drop' - or a case of clicking and selecting layouts - and means a new site can be up and running within hours. Creating engaging and visual content is simple thanks to pre-built 'web parts' so you select how you would like information to be displayed and then input the text or image into this template. Giving editors a simple and effective tool means that they can quickly create and share content in an attractive and secure format.
- Plan and create your pages before you start on your homepage, as your home will point off to these pages
- Add imagery to pages when you build them - these images can be automatically pulled through onto the homepage when linking to the page
2. You can easily set permissions
Communication sites allow you to quickly and easily determine permission settings - giving very select few 'Full Control', a handful of people 'Edit' and then everyone else that you want to invite 'Read' access. This means that you can control who creates and shares content, while allowing your readers to view the content without fear of them editing or deleting anything. When created, the communication site is only visible to the creator - rather than public - so you can select and add editors and readers, either as individuals or Groups.
- Create your site and ensure you're happy with it before inviting readers so you can organise a 'launch' for increased user adoption
- Create some simple publishing rules or guidelines for the editing team so that content is consistent and follows your organisation branding
3. They are already included with Office 365
Thousands of organisations use Office 365, however from our experience, many companies do not take advantage of all the applications and features included in Office 365. While it can be tough keeping up with the new launches (for example Teams or Planner), SharePoint is a well-established tool and often under-utilised.
If you aren’t taking advantage of SharePoint yet it could be time to review your document management processes and also see if Communication sites could be used for sharing company news or events.
- Bring your Office 365 services together in Communication sites by embedding Power BI dashboards, Office 365 Videos, Microsoft Forms or Yammer feeds
- If you want to hear about new updates or applications then you can sign up to become a 'First Release' customer - this can be just nominating individuals rather than company-wide access
- Office 365 and SharePoint Online customers will always get first access to features, which is one of the key benefits of using Microsoft's cloud services. This doesn't mean that on-premise will be left behind but they will take longer to get these features
4. They are a simple way to bring your organisation closer together
For simple and effective company communications, Communication sites do a great job allowing your organisation to have one central place to securely, share news and build culture. You can easily send news out via email to individuals or teams, share events, pictures and videos and ensure that they are in one place, searchable, secure and give all staff the history (which is lost when solely emailed). It's important to realise that they are simple sites only and do not have the complexity of Publishing sites or Team sites. This means they lack features such as workflows, publish scheduling or metadata tagging so be aware of their strengths and limitations.
- Encourage staff to use the 'out-of-the-box' comments
- Ask staff to contribute by sharing their news
- Ensure Groups are set up to make sharing content easy - rather than typing every individual that you want to email content to or share the site with, a Group allows you to share content to one centrally-managed group of people, i.e. All Staff, Sales team, etc.
5. They are built to be mobile-friendly
Communication sites (and Modern Team sites) have been designed and developed to be mobile-friendly (or 'mobile-first' in Microsoft terms). This means that the desktop pages that you create will display beautifully on mobile and tablet screens without you needing to do anything. As more and more workers access company information away from the office on mobile devices, this will ensure staff can enjoy and easily view your content no matter what device they use.
- Your pages will be mobile-friendly automatically but do bear in mind some mobile best practices. Use bullet points to break up text and ensure Hero parts or carousels show the most important information first.
- Modern Team sites are also responsive - if your Team sites aren't then this is likely because you have the older versions of Team sites