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SharePoint Online 2013 New Features: Community Sites

As an Office 365 subscriber, you have (or will soon have) access to the latest version of SharePoint – 2013. This upgrade adds many new features and capabilities to your SharePoint sites. Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing with you some exciting changes you can expect to see in SharePoint 2013.

Before we dive into an awesome new template called a community site, let’s talk about the upgrade first.

If you’re wondering why you don’t yet see these features in your SharePoint site, please let me explain.

Every Office 365 customer will be moving to SharePoint 2013. There’s no escaping it.

When will this happen? Well, it depends on Microsoft’s migration schedule. If you’re a new Office 365 customer – meaning you signed up after February 27th, 2013 – then the features we’re exploring are already available to you. You’re using SharePoint 2013.

However, for the majority of Office 365 subscribers (including myself), we are in the holding pattern. Once your server has been upgraded, Microsoft will notify you of the available upgrade. You can postpone it for 60 days, or push it through immediately. If you fail to manually upgrade your SharePoint sites, Microsoft will do it for you.

So until then, let’s capitalize on this waiting period and learn as much as we can about SharePoint 2013, okay?


Now on to the fun stuff.

Community Sites

The discussion board feature in SharePoint 2010 was weak. Very weak. That’s why I was so excited to start using the new and vastly improved forum that comes with SharePoint 2013.

If you’re wondering how something like this might be useful for a small business, let’s discuss some the benefits of using a Community Site.

  1. Everyone has access to same content. Gone are the days when you have to email a distribution list to get a consensus on a topic.
  2. The conversations are stored for future reference. Wouldn’t it be easier to review discussions in SharePoint than to try and remember which folder you saved that old email in?
  3. Knowledge can difficult to pass between employees. Everyone has their own domain, and people are unwilling to share. It doesn’t have to be this way, but sadly this is usually the case. Communities encourage and reward users for engaging with their colleagues, making intellectual property easier to capture.


Alright. Now let’s take a look at a Community Site and discuss how it works.

SharePoint 2013 New Features Community Site 1


When someone wants to start a topic or ask a question, they need to choose which category fits best. In this demo site, I’ve added a category for SharePoint and for Office 365. You can associate an image with your category like I’ve done below.

When you hover over a category, the total number of discussions and replies are displayed. You can also sort by which categories are most popular using the “What’s Hot” link.



Starting a new discussion or conversation is simple. Users provide a subject and body, just like in the old version of SharePoint.

There is a new option to clarify whether or not the new discussion is a question that requires an answer. If it is, moderators can mark replies as the best answer to that question.

Why would you bother doing that (you say to yourself)?

Well, people will engage with others and answer questions because that allows them to achieve higher status within the community. Keep reading, we’re almost to the fun part.

Replies and Likes

Within an active discussion, any members of the community can reply or like a comment. Site Administrators can mark a reply as the “Best Reply” to validate employees that are providing good content.

Take a look at a this conversation about SharePoint 2013 (of course I chose that topic, what else would I talk about?):


As you can see, I started a conversation, a got a few “likes” for opening this discussion. Liz replied with her opinion (which I liked), and I replied back to her. Larry did the same.

Did you notice the blue badge next to our names? I hope you did because that’s my favorite aspect of the new community site. Gamification has been improved to allow admins and moderators to reward active users with badges and reputation points.

Reputation and Badges

Reputation is a great addition to the community experience. It allows experts to be identified within an organization and helps people assess the value they bring to a particular community. All around a win-win.

Notice a few things about my reputation:

  • I’m a Ninja. 
  • I have a reputation score of 80.
  • I’m only 20 points away from achieving the next level.


I pointed out the badge title and reputation score because these are customizable for your organization. In other words, you decide how many points it takes to get to each level, what will be most highly rewarded and who deserves a badge.

Here are some of the options you can configure for rewards and reputation:


Finally, let’s look at how you bring multiple communities together.

Community Portal

Another template that is available with SharePoint 2013 is called the Community Portal. This Site Collection template automatically rolls up all communities onto one page.

The Community Portal:

  • provides a landing page for users to view any active communities,
  • allows users to search for a community,
  • displays a preview about the purpose of the community,
  • allows users to visit or follow the community.


That does it for the first post in my SharePoint 2013 New Features Series.

Hopefully you’ve been inspired by how easily you can bring collaboration to your organization.

If you’re already on SharePoint 2013, I’d love to hear how you’ve started to use these new features. If you’re still waiting for upgrade, don’t fear! It will be here before you know it.

Next time we’ll explore the new Site Mailbox feature, which lets you email files directly to SharePoint Online.

About the Author
I help small to medium sized businesses realize the power of SharePoint in the cloud.
  1. Darrell Webster Reply

    Great blog Oliver. I’ll be following this series. I might be missing something obvious, but how do I subscribe to your blog?
    When I look at what the new Communities site offers, I’m left wondering what advantage is there in using Yammer within the new SharePoint. What do others think?

    • Oliver Bartholdson Reply

      Thanks Darrell. Integrating Yammer with SharePoint will definitely provide a better social experience than SharePoint 2013 alone. How big of an impact will it have? Who knows. Most likely it will only add significant value to large enterprise organizations. Personally I would like to exploit of all SharePoint’s new social features before implementing Yammer.

      To subscribe to my blog, just enter your email address in the footer of any page. Thanks again for your feedback!

  2. asantiago63 Reply

    Hi Oliver,

    Informative post. Can you extend or customize the community template (for example adding a calendar)? If you create new lists such as calendar, can you add links to the navigation or add a web part to the homepage?


    • Oliver Bartholdson Reply

      Thanks for the feedback! You can customize the community site to include calendars and other types of lists. The Community Site can be edited the same way you would edit any other SharePoint page. Give it a shot and let me know how you make out.

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