3 ways to track user activity in SharePoint 2013

3 ways to track user activity in SharePoint 2013

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One of the most common things we hear when it comes to SharePoint projects is problems with user engagement and adoption. Time and time again we hear statements from project teams like: "We spent all of this time and money on our new SharePoint solution but no one is using it!" or "Users tell us they love SharePoint, but they are only using a tiny portion of the features we built for them".

Whilst the phrase "Build it and they shall come" is a good one, it isn’t actually true, not when it comes to SharePoint projects at least. Driving adoption and engagement is simply hard, and requires a lot of work over a long period of time. We have covered this topic many times in the blog, but this time round we wanted to look at a slightly different angle.

First step: Knowledge
We believe the first step in the journey to great user engagement is actually knowledge. Knowledge of what users need, knowledge of what users want, and detailed knowledge about how users interact with systems.

Armed with this knowledge - things like popular pages on an Intranet, or most commonly used SharePoint functions - a SharePoint project can address real user needs and requirements.

This kind of knowledge capture is useful in two specific scenarios:

  • Tracking user behaviour is useful on existing or soon to be replaced systems. It is another means with which to collect user data, another means with which to analyze business requirements. It can answer questions such as: What content do users find useful, what pages are popular, what features do they engage with and for how long, what devices do they use to access content and when?
  • The second scenario involves new systems. Once something has been built and deployed, user tracking and be used to tweak what is on offer. Used to answer some of the same questions above, this time user tracking can be used to tweak and hone a system as it is being used.

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Tracking user activity in SharePoint 2013

So we know user tracking and activity reports can be useful in a number of scenarios, but what support does SharePoint offer for this type of functionality? Lets look at three approaches:

1. SharePoint's built-in reporting functionalities
3 ways to track user activity in SharePoint 2013
SharePoint 2013 offers a mix of usage reports and auditing logging, both of which can be used to build up a picture of how users are interacting with a system.

Usage reports include popularity trends for content within a site collection (like sites, lists and libraries, and items) and shows unique user data as well as user ‘views’. Popularity reports can also be ran for data within search queries, capturing how users are searching on the system.

SharePoint also supports more formal auditing of SharePoint activity. Actions that can be audited include: opening documents, downloading documents, checking in/out, viewing list items, viewing list item properties, and more.

Out of the box audit reports include:

  • Content modifications: What changes to content have been made?
  • Content viewing: What content has been viewed by users?
  • Deletion: A dedicated report to content that has been removed from the SharePoint system

All reports in SharePoint can be exported to Excel, and manipulated further if required.

2. Google Analytics
3 ways to track user activity in SharePoint 2013
Google Analytics is considered the gold standard of the web industry when it comes to tracking user data. Many companies use Google Analytics in combination with SharePoint's inbuilt reporting functionality to generate more detailed analysis.

The power of Google Analytics comes from just adding a code snippet to your templates and pages. Once done you have the ability to track behavior and easily view reports on the flow of user interactions with each page.

The one drawback is none of this data is specific to SharePoint. Google Analytics cannot track SharePoint specific data, nor can it understand when users interact with SharePoint specific features.

3. Talk to users
3 ways to track user activity in SharePoint 2013
It may sound simple, but this is a step that can often be overlooked. Simply talk to users, engage with them, and ask them what they need or don’t need. Often projects will over complicate tracking and monitoring, when in reality all they need to is sit down and chat to the user base in question.

Those with large user bases will also want to look at SharePoint social features, or those of Yammer. Often a Yammer group, or even simple discussion board, can be a really good way of gathering user opinions and feedback in a order way.

Engagement is hard, tracking activity is not
The user engagement and adoption puzzle is a hard one to solve. At its most basic it requires a good upfront system, designed to solve the problems of its users. But it also requires regular ongoing work to ensure users stay engaged. This post has looked at tracking user activity, which is a third element to consider. Ultimately you need a balanced mix of all three to be confident of delivering the best possible experience to end users.

Miguel Bernard
Miguel Bernard @sharegatetools

Strong of years of experience, Miguel is a damn good developer. He takes great pride in sharing his hard earned knowledge through Sharegate blog to make your life simpler.