The end of the year is here, so it seems appropriate to publish some kind of “10 things” list. This year I’ll share ten things you can do that can help you stand out in the SharePoint global community.
I went from a virtual unknown in the SharePoint community to a prominent contributor in just over a year’s time. I joined Twitter in August of 2010; however I didn’t really start actively tweeting until summer of 2011. I started my blog in August of 2011, and I posted my first article to NothingButSharePoint.com in December of the same year, just over a year ago. Since then I’ve amassed over 4,500 followers on Twitter, more than doubled my LinkedIn connections, contributed more than 15 articles to NothingButSharePoint.com and NothingButBranding.com, and have either spoken at or made plans to speak in the future at various user group meetings, SharePoint Saturdays, and SharePoint conferences.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but after more than one person that I spoke with at the SharePoint Conference last month asked me how I had risen up so fast in the community, it got me to thinking. Just exactly what had I done over the past year to get where I’m at today? Whatever it was, it worked and so I thought I would share it with you.
After analyzing some of the things I’d done over the past year, I put together this list of ten things that I believe really helped me stand out and get noticed in the community. Some of these efforts were calculated, and others were more things I just did for the benefit of myself but others noticed them. At any rate, I believe that all of these things combined helped me to make a giant splash in the community in a short amount of time:
1. Write good content
First and foremost, you must provide good content if you are writing for a blog or other website. I started my blog simply as a knowledge base for myself. Over the past six years working with SharePoint, there have been numerous challenges that have sometimes been difficult to figure out. Once solved, I wanted to remember how in case I ever faced that issue again. The key to writing good content, however, is not just hastily documenting what you did. You must research to make sure it’s the best solution, then thoroughly test it out, and finally write it in a coherent way that makes sense to the reader. There are a lot of bloggers out there and according to Bjørn Furuknap, unless you’re willing to spend the proper amount of time testing and researching your solutions before you write, you should just shut up.
If you do put forth valuable content, you’ll eventually be noticed by the owners of prominent SharePoint community sites and be asked to contribute articles for them. I’m not sure how Mark Miller found my blog, but it seems that once I started writing articles for his site NothingButSharePoint.com, I started to get much more notice. And you don’t need to wait to get “discovered” either; simply submit your articles to sites and if they are good, they’ll get published.
2. Be active on social networks
Much of the SharePoint community is very active on the various social networks. Probably the most popular is Twitter. You can follow hash tags such as #SharePoint, #SP2010 and #SP2013 to follow conversations around SharePoint and find people to follow. Twitter is great for finding information fast. I don’t know how many times I’ve tweeted with the #SPHelp hash tag when I’ve had a question about SharePoint, and someone has responded promptly with an answer.
SPYam on Yammer is a new community that sprung up earlier this year after Microsoft announced their acquisition of Yammer. This is where SharePoint folks go to engage in longer, threaded conversations that they can’t do on Twitter. If you’re not currently on the SPYam network, you can join here.
In addition to Twitter and Yammer, you can join different SharePoint groups on LinkedIn and Facebook and partake in discussions there.
3. Do something bold and daring
Back in June I participated in the EUSP Hunger Games Challenge, where myself and four other SharePoint developers competed to see who could build the best RSS feed reader solution in SharePoint. We had only ten days to build our solutions, which sounds like a lot but keep in mind we had to find time to code outside of our full time jobs and family commitments that were already scheduled (Father’s Day, anyone?) It was very grueling and challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. I didn’t win the challenge, but I learned a lot and it was a ton of fun.
So you’re not a developer? No problem, there are other bold things you can do. Create a video tutorial series on a topic you have knowledge about and post it to YouTube; conduct an online webinar; or interview SharePoint professionals that you admire and write about or post videos of your interviews.
4. Become a speaker
Writing will only get you so far in the SharePoint community. If you really want to be considered an expert, you’ll want to start speaking at conferences. You can and probably should start out small, however. Consider starting out by speaking at your local SharePoint user group meeting, then at a SharePoint Saturday. These events typically have much smaller audiences and are great for getting your feet wet in the speaking world. After that you can submit abstracts to the various major conferences that are put on throughout the world.
Is the thought of public speaking daunting to you? Even the most introverted people can be successful at speaking. Bing or Google will find you many tips for overcoming nervousness and anxiety, as well as putting together great presentations. Also you can study the techniques of presenters you admire. I find myself doing this often when I attend conferences, taking the best parts away from the various speakers that I enjoy watching and visualizing myself implementing their tactics.
5. Emulate/copy other thought leaders
Everyone has heroes, role models, or people they admire. Growing up for me it was athletes like Walter Payton and Michael Jordan due to their incredible work ethic and fierce competitiveness. Many people aspire to be like the people they admire, and this holds true in the business world as well. There are many SharePoint thought leaders that have emerged who I admire very much. Some of these leaders include Dux Raymond Sy, Marc Anderson, Mark Miller, Christian Buckley, Laura Rogers, and Jeremy Thake, among others.
They say that imitation is the best form of flattery; I believe it’s the easiest way to attain a goal you wish to achieve. Why recreate the wheel when you can do what others did to get to where you want to go? I’m not saying copy or steal their content, or do exactly what they did verbatim; what I’m saying is do some of the same things they do: share and tweet great content, speak at conferences, create a video series, interact with them via social networks (but please be careful not to stalk!) Now you will probably never see me dance to Gangnam Style or sing SharePoint is Nice Nice Baby like Dux, however I do like how he makes himself approachable and available to anyone who has a question, which is something I can try to do.
6. Volunteer without expecting anything in return
There is a great book called “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann which is basically a story about a man who was a real go-getter in the corporate world, who worked very hard and fast, but it seemed like the harder he worked, the further away his goals appeared. It wasn’t until he started to give, without expecting anything in return, that everything just started to fall into place and good things happened.
If you write, or volunteer to speak at SharePoint Saturdays, or participate in user groups, or spend hours answering forum questions with ulterior motives, you’re not going to get very far. However if you freely give of your time without expecting anything from anyone, opportunities will literally just fall into your lap. For example, I’ve been given free copies of software to test out, I received a press pass to attend a prominent SharePoint conference last summer, and I’ve had the opportunity to take on some freelance writing projects since I’ve been active in the community. I certainly did not ask for any of these things, and never even dreamed that these kinds of opportunities would arise.
7. Be active in local user groups and SharePoint Saturdays
A great way to meet other local community members is to attend, speak at, or volunteer to help at your local SharePoint user group or a SharePoint Saturday. I’ve had the opportunity to attend and speak at the Iowa SharePoint user group in Des Moines. I don’t make it as often as I’d like because it’s nearly a 2-hour drive one way. Perhaps a project for 2013 would be to start a user group closer to home.
I’ve also had the privilege of attending SharePoint Saturday Twin Cites twice – the first time as a volunteer and attendee; the second time as a speaker. I met so many great people and also learned a little about SharePoint while I was there. If you’ve never attended a SharePoint Saturday, I’d highly recommend it. According to the SharePoint Saturday website, “SharePoint Saturday is FREE, open to the public and is your local chance to immerse yourself in SharePoint!”
8. Be a reporter
One thing I enjoy doing when I attend conferences is to write reviews of some of the sessions I attend, or even report on the conference in general. It’s a great way to remember what I learned but also to share that knowledge with people who could not attend. I like how Jennifer Mason tweets real-time commentary from the events she attends. It’s almost like being there yourself.
You can also attend webinars put on by the community leaders that you admire (even if you already know the content that they are presenting) and tweet about it, or better yet write an article about it. Those that didn’t have a chance to attend can read about it later from an unbiased attendee.
Another thing you can do is retweet SharePoint events, conference sign-up requests, speaker calls, others’ new blog posts and articles, anything related to the community. You’ll become known as a trusted source of community information (in fact, you may even be mistaken for an organizer of an event or the author of the article you tweeted about from time to time).
9. Build your personal brand
At the SHARE Conference in Atlanta last year, I attended a session presented by Jeff Willinger that focused on how a person could build their own personal brand in the online world. At the beginning of the session he asked how many of us had set our LinkedIn headlines to “[My Title] at [My Company].” Almost all hands went up, mine included. He then explained how the headline should be a description of who you are, and not who you work for. After the session I changed my tagline to “SharePoint Architect, Developer, Evangelist, Branding, User Empowerment, Writer, Speaker.” Shortly after that, I started to get many more connection requests.
I also think it’s important to make sure that all your social channels are consistent with regards to photos and information. For example, my profile pages for YouTube, SlideShare, About.Me, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. all use the same profile and background photos (where applicable), and my bio is very similar if not identical across all of them. I think of these profile pages as marketing or advertising pages for myself; and by taking the time to be consistent across all of them, it shows that I’m professional and thorough, and it lets people know exactly who I am.
Christian Buckley put together a great eBook titled Inside the SharePoint Community: 4 Strategies for Building Your Personal Brand that has tons of great tips for becoming more involved in the SharePoint community and building your brand. It’s great; I highly recommend reading it.
10. Comment on other blogs
This is one that I haven’t done as much as I’d like, and I’m going to try to do it more often in 2013. Commenting on another person’s blog tells the author that you liked their content enough to take the time to write a response vs. just clicking a button to share it on Facebook or Twitter. This seems to be somewhat of a lost art. Before social networks got big, this was probably the primary way to interact with bloggers and people in the community. I’d like to see more people commenting on blog posts in the future. It’s a great way to preserve the conversation surrounding the article, and oftentimes you can learn as much if not more about the subject by reading the comments.
Get started now!
If you would like to become more active in the SharePoint community, this list should give you some ideas to get started. Remember, even the veteran leaders of the community were unknowns when they started, so if you’re hesitant or don’t think you have much to offer, don’t let that stop you. Just jump right in, the water’s warm!
What are some other things you’ve done to contribute to or stand out in the community? Please share in the comments.