Example Microsoft Communication Site tile layout for header

Communication Sites. A great new enhancement for Microsoft SharePoint

When Microsoft launched SharePoint everyone started using it for document storage.  Then they realised it is also great for easily creating web pages so information can be shared with text and imagery.  This developed into ‘Intranets’ and publishing sites where getting communications out to the business started to become really beneficial.  These projects were often expensive and whether some delivered an ROI is open to debate, but at the time organisations needed a way to communicate information quickly and easily.

If I look back over time, nearly every design I worked on focused around the same basic information including news, events, people, etc.  Microsoft have thought about this and introduced another awesome update to SharePoint Online in the form of Communication Sites.

What are Communication Sites?

Microsoft sell this as a great way to share information in a visually compelling way and I think that best sums this up.

Let’s look at this from the perspective of a business user who wants to quickly find out about something in an organisation. How appealing is reading through pages of text?  With Communication Sites, we now have a modern interface to display all types of content, including a lot of imagery, enabling more user-friendly presentation of information.

Image showing Microsoft SharePoint Communication Sites Tiled layout

 

How do they work?

Let’s start looking in more detail at what is now available. In the first release we can already see page design options and web parts to add, which adapt based on the design layout.  In fact, adding imagery has never been easier as we don’t have to worry about renditions or re-sizing images. Communication Sites take care of this for us.

We can create new pages and link to sites but some of the hidden functionality is very clever. When creating a link it reads the information on a page and presents imagery and text from the destination.  A good example is the new link web part which, when connected to another site, captures the first image, page heading, text and displays them in the link.

 

Example of image display when linked to another site

Can it replace my current Intranet?

I admit when they first announced Communication Sites I was initially a little sceptical about what it can deliver.  But using them and working with clients it has now become apparent that this is a valid option when replacing an ageing Intranet. In fact with one client this recently proved a very quick and effective approach.

But I wouldn’t just start building up these sites without first thinking and planning around what their role is.  Otherwise users can have too much of a good thing. They do require some thought on how best to use these rather than new modern team sites.

Where can I get SharePoint Communication Sites?

It’s worth making very clear these are only available in SharePoint Online. So, anyone hoping to see them appear in SharePoint 2016 anytime soon, that won’t be happening.

But if you’re running either SharePoint Plan 1 or above, including a full Office 365 licence, then these are now available in all tenants.  Also worth remembering is that this is a solution developed and supported by Microsoft as part of your licencing plan. So when they update this, and they will, you will see even more improvements and options.

This was highlighted at the recent Microsoft Ignite event where, next year, the ability to group multiple Communication Sites in to a ‘Hub’, will introduce shared navigation and other new features.

Frequently asked questions on SharePoint Communication Sites

Do they replace Publishing sites?

They don’t replace Publishing sites as these are still an option available when looking to build bespoke branded solutions.  Some scenarios will mean you look at using Publishing sites, but others can now easily be accommodated by Communication Sites.

Are they part of Office 365 Groups?

No, when you create a Communication Site this is a single SharePoint site with the purpose of sharing information for everyone.  A SharePoint Team site will create an Office 365 Group which includes collaboration functionality.

Can you brand Communication Sites?

Yes, some branding can be applied but currently this is restricted to the colour schemes Microsoft have made available.  Our recommendation is to brand the Office 365 banner and build in corporate imagery into the sites you build.

How can Silversands help?

We understand the importance of getting to the heart of the matter and talking to the right person with a clear agenda. We are offering a complimentary 1-2-1 Skype session with one of our top specialists in this field. This will give you an opportunity to ask any questions that this blog raises or start a conversation about how to get the best out of Microsoft SharePoint Communication Sites within your organisation.

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