Getting Good Answers to Your SharePoint Questions

This post was cross-posted on NothingButSharePoint.com on 4 May, 2011.


When someone new contacts me through my blog with a question about SharePoint, I’m usually game to help. (Though saying *please* is always a really nice thing. “You have to tell me…” or “give me the answer now…” isn’t so great.)

If you contact me for the first time (at least that I can remember – sometimes it’s not so easy to keep all the real names and handles straight, especially over time), I’m likely to preface my reply with this:

First off, thanks for turning to me with your question.  I’m happy to try to help, but you should really use the MSDN Forums (e.g., http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/sharepointcustomization), SharePointOverflow (http://sharepoint.stackexchange.com/), or the EndUserSharePoint.com Stump the Panel (http://www.endusersharepoint.com/STP) to get the fastest answers.  I’m very active in each and I’m just as likely to see your question.  Additionally, others can benefit!

It doesn’t mean that I won’t give you a quick answer, but asking your question in the publicly available forums is always a better idea. By doing so, you’re contributing to the corpus of useful content available to *everyone*, including me and your future self. (I can’t tell you how many times I find something I’ve forgotten by Binging and finding my own answer to someone else’s question.)

Here are some additional suggestions. Yes, these are only suggestions. I don’t own any of the forums, of course, nor do I own the Internet, the use of hashtags, or your behavior. Do what you will, but try to be a good Netizen about it.

Do some research before you ask your question. Asking something without doing any work first is sorta lazy. There’s so much content out there about SharePoint that it’s overwhelming, but getting good at using Bing or Google to find answers is a skill which every SharePoint professional must have.

Each of the forums above (plus many others) has a sort of “personality”. I encourage people to try to consider the personality of each forum site for each question they may ask. For instance, if you have a really hard admin question, Stump the Panel is probably not the best place for it.

Another thing I’d suggest is that you choose a channel, post your question, and then BE PATIENT. You’re asking people you may not know to answer your question FOR FREE. Someone will get to it when someone gets to it. *Don’t* post the same question in multiple channels at the same time. If you do post in multiple places, it is very likely to mean that some number of people will waste their time answering a question which has already been answered elsewhere. Instead of posting multiple places, choose one, and tweet the headline with a link to the post, using the #SPHelp hashtag if it’s urgent. That’s going to get you the most eyeballs in the shortest time.

Speaking of the #SPHelp hashtag, I worry that it will become overused, and therefore worthless because of all the noise there will be in the channel. That’s basically what has happened to the #SharePoint hashtag. Recruiters, spammer, and all sorts of people have flooded the channel so much that just following #SharePoint has become sort of a worthless pursuit. In my case, I only watch combinations of the #SharePoint hashtag with other terms, just to screen out the noise. So my suggestion for the #SPHelp hashtag is to use it when you need urgent help, and that’s it. I don’t think it makes sense it add the #SPHelp hashtag to a tweet about a new blog post of yours, for instance, unless you believe that everyone reading the post is going to save endless headaches and is of an extremely time sensitive nature. One instance I can think of might be the CUs which broke SharePoint. That was definitely news everyone could use.

Finally, here’s something I tweeted the other day:

Answering other people’s questions isn’t just a great way to give back to the community; it’s also a great way to learn about SharePoint. I can’t even measure the value I’ve gotten in earning all of the points I have on the various forum platforms. Almost every time I answer a question, even if it is one I’ve answered before, I think about the topic in a new way. If you do decide to answer others’ questions, be sure that you know the answer. Don’t just shoot back with a different question or an observation unless you believe it’ll help solve the problem. Worst of all is to give an answer that is just plain wrong. If you *don’t* know the answer, please, please, please, don’t make something up! There’s actually less of that out there than I used to see, but anything more than none is still too much.

If you aren’t the type of learner that can get as much out of reading and/or answering the forums as I do, consider more formal training. Yes, I’m on the faculty of USPJA and a part owner, so I’m biased, but I think it’s an excellent and affordable way to boost your SharePoint knowledge. There are many other great options out there as well. But try answering questions on the forums. Earn valuable (well, valuable as far as cachet, anyway) points!

Building Your "Personal SharePoint Brand"

Someone asked me this today through LinkedIn:

I’m getting more and more into the SharePoint sphere and am looking to increase my exposure to both the technology and its members. If you’ve any suggestions on any open projects or communities that I can contribute to to further both aims, I’m more than happy to receive them.

If you have similar goals, I’d recommend hanging around and/or contributing to:

I’m associated with all of these on some level, so I may be biased, but I think each is the best game in town for specific things. For me, one of the best learning mechanisms is to try to answer forum questions.  As you do this, you’ll also be building up credibility (And points that can be exchanged for valuable cash and prizes! Well, OK, just points.) and seeing what other people are struggling with.  This is basically how I came up with the idea for SPServices, and the reason that I am rich and famous now.