Tips for getting started with SharePoint hubs


If you’re on SharePoint Online and haven’t started exploring the use of hubs yet, it’s time to invest. SharePoint hubs are a key component of your intelligent intranet strategy, alongside home sites, branding, navigation, and site scripts.

Hubs provide a familial, logical tie between your SharePoint sites. Hubs unify site branding, provide a common hub navigation experience, roll up news and events, and provide a way for your users to find interrelated content quickly and easily. Hubs also support the dynamic nature of your organization. As departments re-org and your company structure changes, simply associate your SharePoint sites to new hubs and your branding will update automatically.

Hubs will require a re-examination of your information architecture and SharePoint site planning strategies. To help you with the transition, check out my list of getting-started hub tips.

1. Embrace the new “flat” world of SharePointTo embrace SharePoint hubs, you need to let go of the old hierarchical model for organizing sites in nested site collections. Modern SharePoint sites are flat, existing in their own individual site collections. SharePoint hubs allow you to assemble these flat sites logically into families and make use of hub branding, unified navigation, and content roll-ups. And best of all, hubs prevent the age-old struggle of migrating SharePoint sites between physical site collections.

Hubs also change the longstanding trend of using departmental site collections as a quick and easy method for organizing SharePoint sites. The dynamic nature of hubs (and the quickness and ease with which you can change hub site associations) gives you the flexibility to organize your SharePoint sites more creatively.

2. Let your users chart your course. I recommend analyzing your users and their content needs before you start mapping out the structure of your hubs. Consider how your users will draw connections between your content, how they’ll approach finding the content they need, and why they care. Key questions to ask:

  • How do your users classify content? If one of your employees changes their name, where would they go to find information on submitting a name change? Would they start by searching HR policies? Looking for tax forms? Or contacting the Legal department? Learning how your users think about content will help you determine its best logical “fit.”
  • If you had the ability to target content to key employees, how would you do it? Hubs are being enriched with great audience targeting features that enable you to dynamically target content for key users. As you design your hub strategy, keep your audience targeting needs in mind. A simple way to define key audiences is to lay out your content, associated hub, and the audience the content will be targeted to (as shown below).
    audience targeting
  • Branding & common navigation. Hubs provided a unified look and feel and a common hub navigation bar. Simply put, which sites do you want to have joined with a common brand and navigation bar? And which sites will your users want to see together? Breaking down your hub site associations to this level will help you differentiate your site and hub alignment.

3. Learn how mind-mapping can help you map your sites to hubs.  Hubs require us to build logical links between our SharePoint sites based on the subject matter and audience. Tying sites together by department or organizational division is no longer enough. We must account for how users will think about the content stored on our sites and how they’ll connect content from different sites.

Mind-maps are a great tool for drawing and designing your hub site relationships. Mind-mapping is the visual representation of thoughts, discussions, and ideas. While strategists and information architecture practitioners have advocated using mind-maps for years to capture group conversations and decision-making processes, the new flat architecture model for SharePoint makes mind-maps a perfect methodology for outlining the logical ties between your SharePoint sites.

If mind-mapping is a new concept for you, start small. Try building a mind-map while you watch Microsoft Ignite 2019 session videos. Once you get the hang of mind-mapping, it’ll be easier to apply the concepts to your SharePoint information architecture.

Mind map example 2

4. Consider a naming convention for your hubs. If you’ll be using hubs throughout your organization, you may want to consider a naming convention that clearly identifies each hub as a hub. Let’s say, for example, you have a hub for Legal, another for HR, and a third hub for Marketing. How do you want to refer to each hub? Examples may include:

hub naming conventions 03

Using a common term for each hub (e.g.  spot, inside, or about) enables you to clearly differentiate hubs from your other SharePoint sites. I recommend finding a term that fits the culture, style, and brand identity of your organization. You’ll want to educate your users and SharePoint site owners about your new naming convention so they recognize your hub sites.

5. Consider how you’ll govern the use of hubs in your organization. Hubs can only be created by Office 365 global administrators or SharePoint administrators. Since hub creation is centrally controlled, you’ll need to consider how your new hubs will be created. Will site owners request hubs via a centralized form or via email? Will there be an approval or review process to ensure new hubs are appropriately scoped and named?

There are many additional governance questions to consider for your hubs:

  • How will you ensure duplicate hubs aren’t created?
  • How will you manage your number of hubs?
  • Will you require a minimum number of associated sites for each hub?
  • Will you set up permission guidelines for associated sites?
  • Will you define roles & responsibilities for your hub site owners? Will hub owners require anything of their associated site owners?
  • Will you audit your hubs on an annual or semi-annual basis?

I recommend a practical governance model that takes into account the key use cases for hubs in your organization. If you’re working in a large enterprise, for example, you may need to put governance precepts in place to ensure you stay below the 2,000 hubs per tenant limit that Microsoft has in place. If you’re working in a small to medium-sized organization, a 2,000 hub site limit may be a non-issue and require no governance oversight.

6. Determine whether you’ll incorporate a home site as part of your intelligent intranetHome sites serve as the landing site for your organization, bringing together personalized and organizational news, events, conversations, content, and video on a single SharePoint Communications site. Incorporating a home site along with your hubs will require additional information architecture planning. Check out Microsoft’s home site planning recommendations to get started.

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