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Six Ways to Improve the Content Contributor Experience in SharePoint

By | September 19th, 2012

Originally published in CMSWire, November 07, 2012

As discussed in a previous article (Making SharePoint WCM More Adoptable for Content Contributors), a thoughtful and usable contributor experience is critical to the successful adoption of a SharePoint WCM experience. Content drives the site, so making content contributors comfortable in the editing environment is essential. Here are just a few ideas for simple improvements that can make a world of difference in adoptability.

1. Design for Both Contributors and Visitors from the Start

For any WCM project, there are two end user audiences to consider: regular site visitors and content contributors.  Approach the project with those two audiences in mind – not as an afterthought. While designers typically focus on the visitor experience, designers and developers need to work together closely to construct usable experiences for content contributors.

2. Customize Contribution Experiences

SharePoint allows a lot of flexibility in customizing the editing experience.  Not every experience requires extensive customization, but many key experiences do. Sometimes this means normalizing the experience so that the content contributor doesn’t have to worry about what piece of content goes where or how to format it consistently.  Sometimes it means using form-based editing instead of in-context editing. Sometimes it means automating some sequence of native SharePoint capabilities.  And sometimes it means creating custom editing controls, custom site actions, or specialized web parts.  Successful customizations will save time and simplify decisions for content contributors.

3. Remove Extraneous Options Where Possible

When creating a page in SharePoint within a site’s “News” section, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to choose a “Product Description” layout.  So why is it even an option?  Removing contextually irrelevant page layouts, ribbon options, site actions, and other such options will help contributors to create the right content using the right tools in the right place – not to mention that it’ll help keep the branding police off your back.  These simple configuration changes in SharePoint can dramatically simplify and improve the page creation experience.

4. Plan a Clear Content Reuse Strategy

Content can be reused in SharePoint in a variety of ways (CQWP, metadata, custom lists, etc.) and can make small contributions go a long way.  Automatically surface teaser content on landing pages, blog entries on your home page, and “related” content on any page. Content contributors will be grateful if portions of the site effectively maintain themselves. Just remember to be clear about where the content originates (don’t make them hunt for the place to make a change!)  With a thoughtful content reuse strategy, content contributors can feel like they’re making a real impact on the overall site.

5. Provide On-Page Guidance

Adding content to a SharePoint page experience should never be a guessing game for content editors.  Clearly labeled fields with brief descriptive and/or instructive text can help the editor know what content is expected, how to use metadata tagging, or why certain fields are required.

6. Use Homegrown Training Materials

All content editors should receive some basic level of SharePoint training, but generic training materials have real limitations. If you have customized the look and feel of your SharePoint site or have followed any of the above contribution customizations, the editing experience will differ from that reflected in the generic training materials. Customized training materials for specific editing experiences can make the difference between editors who confidently contribute to the site and those who would prefer to “just email the webmaster.”  A one or two page reference document with screen captures is simple to create, and easy to use.  Better yet, record a 5 minute screencast illustrating and describing the editing process for specific templates – it’s the next best thing to having the developers and designers sitting in the room.

None of these ideas are necessarily difficult, complex, or radical.  Ultimately, it takes only a little common sense in UX design and some gentle nudging to transform a frustrated and defeated content contributor into an enthusiastic and useful content provider.

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