Discussion boards provide text-based forums for users to discuss topics in a tiered response fashion. Each topic has a subject line, a body of text, and a flag to indicate if the topic is asking a question. Since SharePoint discussions are completely online, users can leave, return, and add their input when they’ve prepared a response. It’s easier to cite research, link to existing documents and files, and integrate other material on the site. Users can engage on topics which interest them, unlike a SharePoint survey where it’s an all-or-nothing inquiry with limited feedback options. Some users are not vocal in staff meetings or face-to-face discussions; online boards offer them a forum to share their thoughts or ideas. If your team has anyone with social anxiety, offering a discussion board can be a thoughtful way to get their insights without putting them on the spot.
To post a discussion topic, click the + new discussion icon, or go to the Items tab and select New Item. Fill in the blanks on the form and click OK. Your subject can be a question, an idea, a reference to a task or previous meeting – just keep it concise, and use the body of the message to relay the main point.
To respond to a discussion topic, click the title of the discussion. In the screen that opens, either click the Reply button or start typing in the Add a reply field. Users can reply to the original post or to other user replies, creating a cascading discussion that indicates when the responses were posted, by whom, and whose comment their replies reference.
Any SharePoint feature needs some structure and best practices (as I mention in my other SharePoint blog posts)! First, stay on-topic. Make the discussion easy to follow and to reference later. If you want to change the topic or ask a new question, create a new post! Administrators, keep an eye out for trolls and be prepared to intervene; this should happen less frequently than with open internet forums, since it’s a company SharePoint, but it can still happen. Also, provide some direction for those people who are used to very clear directives (keep your posts or answers to a certain length, keep it professional, etc.); this should be part of your site style guide. Finally, SharePoint is a collaborative platform – encourage your end users to post questions and ideas, and consider some form of incentive to take part…as long as they don’t feed the trolls!