Getting started with SharePoint Communication sites

Sharepoint on laptop on a desk

Start using the new SharePoint communication sites

A few months ago, Microsoft announced SharePoint Communication Sites - a new way to easily create and distribute mobile-friendly content on SharePoint. Since the announcement, these new communication sites have been rolling out to Office 365 customers and they are a great new feature to start taking advantage of. These new sites are a simple and effective way to share your organisation's news and messages in a secure way. Rather than being built with the administrators in mind, these sites are easy to use to allow end/super users to create engaging pages and content within SharePoint without requiring coding or SharePoint knowledge.

While the flexibility is empowering for any user, it is important to keep permissions locked down and to ensure you have a governance plan in place to avoid sites being created by anyone - causing disorganised and unmanaged content to multiply. With this in mind, if you are considering taking advantage of communication sites then it's worth having a steering group or a small team of super users assessing its suitability and how these sites could be managed, developed and governed.

When you're ready then getting started is easy! Here's our guide below to start making the most of communication sites.

Getting started

SharePoint Communication sites are very simple to get started with. If you have the right permissions you can simple click 'Create Site' and choose the new Communication site option.

create a sharepoint site button

SharePoint site options

From here you have three choices; Topic, Showcase or Blank (so you build the site from scratch).

Sharepoint options Topic, showcase or blank

Topic

The Topic site is a great option when you want to share quite a bit of information, such as a mixture of events, news, imagery, pages and documents.

Showcase

The Showcase template is more visual so could be better suited to more imagery based communication or to 'showcase' a specific event or product - such as an annual conference, Christmas party or a product launch.

Using the web parts

The Topic and Showcase templates are just that; a template to get you started. You can still remove sections, add new sections or edit it but the templates give you a starting block from which you can work. We would definitely recommend starting with a template so that you can see how editing works.

Each 'panel' of the site is made up of web parts that you can choose and input onto the page. These are pre-built by Microsoft so that you can quickly create the layout without needing to code and by simply adding you text, imagery or information into these parts. If there are web parts that do not exist that you require then these can be built through custom development to create custom web parts that are specific for your organisation.

SharePoint web part icons

Much in the same way that you would amend your website in your website content management system (CMS) - you edit the layout, save changes and when you are ready to make the changes 'live', simply click publish.

Pages

Pages are created in a similar way to the homepage - using the available web parts, making it very quick to create a news article by adding imagery, quotes, links etc. These pages can then be surfaced on the homepage so that new announcements can be prioritised on the homepage, automatically pulling through imagery.

Documents

You are also able to create and store documents like you would in traditional SharePoint Team sites. While communication sites wouldn’t be the place to take advantage of advanced document management capabilities, it does allow you to link and share documents relating to the communication site. You can still also use Microsoft Flow to automate certain tasks and processes.

Coming soon: Hub sites

Only a few weeks ago at Ignite, Microsoft announced another key milestone on its SharePoint and Office 365 roadmap: Hub sites. The idea of hub sites is to bring together these new modern Team sites and Communication sites. As an organisation creates a number of Team sites (for team collaboration) and then also creates Communication sites (for sharing their messages) they will have a growing mixture of disconnected sites.

Enter the new 'Hub site'. As the name suggests, the 'Hub' site will be a central hub to bring together selected sites to surface news, events and documents to one 'Home' page. The associated Team and Communication sites will then automatically have a common navigation, look and feel and search applied to bring these sites together. You can find out more in this Microsoft announcement.

SharePoint hub sites diagram

This additional building block is going to be key to tying sites together. Hub sites will be available to First Release customer in the first half of 2018, so bear this in mind when planning and reviewing your Team and Communication sites.

Get planning!

Now is an ideal time to be reviewing your SharePoint setup. With the upcoming GDPR impact, many organisations are reviewing SharePoint to help with compliance. Combined with the new SharePoint releases and announcements you can start planning how the new Communication sites and upcoming Hub sites will fit into your wider document management and intranet strategy.
We recommend creating a test Communication site to see its capabilities but if you would like a demo or to discuss your SharePoint strategy please get in touch.

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