CRM 2011 Dashboard with Activity FeedsActivity feeds, also known as a “wall” or “what’s new,” are a great feature in Dynamics CRM 2011 introduced with the November 2011 update rollup.  Activity feeds create a social “wall”, similar to Facebook or other social networks.  Users can follow records (such as an account, contact, opportunity or any other record type that the administer sets to work with activity feeds).  When certain actions occur on those records (such as an opportunity being won) a post is automatically made to the “wall” of that record (visible as the first tab on the record form).  Users can also comment on a record wall (for example, a user could comment, “My neighbor is the CEO of the firm for this opportunity – touch base with me for some ideas on how to win this one”).  Any posts made to the wall of a record you are following are also visible on your main “what’s new” wall – very similar to how status updates of your friends in Facebook show up on your individual Facebook wall.

It is hard to overstate how important this functionality can be to a business.  If you’ve been working with social applications for a while, it is fairly natural to learn how to use CRM activity feeds.  If social networking is new to you, then you should take the time to learn more about activity feeds.  Click here for an overview.

But there is a problem.  Just as with any new approach to doing business, it can be difficult to get users to adopt this powerful new feature.  When working with some clients, I’ve heard comments like, “I already check email, voice mail and use instant messaging to exchange information – this is just another place that I have to remember to go.”  And I tend to agree with that.  Even though the “What’s New” wall is just a click away in the CRM menu, it requires remembering to discipline yourself to go to yet another part of CRM to make sure that nothing is slipping through the cracks.  So here are 3 ideas to help you get broader adoption of activity feeds across your organization.

1. Start with an Activity Feed Pilot Group

Don’t install the activity feed solution, provide an hour of training, and expect to see usage take off.  Rather, start using activity feeds with a small pilot group of users that are excited to integrate it into their daily work. Form a task force to discuss them and provide a bit of training, and meet every few weeks to review usage, discuss issues, and fine-tune how you have them configured.  Ask your task force to not only use activity feeds, but to think about why you would use this rather than another mode of communication (such as email).  You’ll find that this group develops best practices specific to your organization that you can use in training other users.

 

2. Integrate Activity Feeds into Dashboards

CRM 2011 Activity Feed Web Resource SettingsAnother way we have found to aid with improving the adoption of activity feeds is to integrate them directly into your dashboards.  As you probably know, dashboards are more than just charts – they are an interactive tool that users can access to organize and manage their entire day – without having to navigate to all the various areas of CRM.  With that in mind, dashboards are a centerpiece of most of our implementations, so integrating the wall into the dashboard that they already use everyday means less clicking around to get them using activity feeds.  The image near the beginning of this blog entry is a demonstration of adding the activity feed to a dashboard that we use within our business.  Since the What’s New section is a web resource, it is fairly simple to add this to an existing dashboard.  Follow the instructions below to create a personal dashboard with activity feeds (if you want to roll this out across the business, then you’ll need to create a system dashboard):

  1. Go to the dashboard you want to integrate activity feeds into.
  2. Click “Save As” in the ribbon menu and name the new dashboard (you could also modify an existing personal dashboard, but this runs the risk of making changes that you cannot easily undo – I prefer to start by creating a new dashboard and then, once I’m sure I no longer need the old one, I delete it).
  3. On the ribbon menu, click the “Web Resource” button on the Insert section.
  4. Choose the resource named, “msdyn_/PersonalWall.htm” – see the nearby image for other properties to set on this form.
  5. Position the web resource such that the user can see it clearly on their dashboard.  Depending on screen resolution, it should take from 1/3 to 2/3 of the width of the dashboard, and it should not be taller than can fit onto a single screen (lest the user has to use 2 scroll bars to navigate the wall).  This will take a bit of experimentation to get the settings right to fit in with your selected dashboard and screen resolution.

3. Create Groups

One last tip: create a “Groups” custom entity that individuals can follow.  That way, people can choose a specific interest that they want to follow.  For example, in our business, we have people who focus on Dynamics CRM, SharePoint, Salesforce.com and Business Intelligence.  We also have things that we want to publish for everyone to see.  So we’ve created a group for each of those things, we ask everyone to follow the “Everyone” group, and to also follow the other groups of their choice.  This gives everyone a way to communicate with each other around their specific areas of interest and expertise without having to read through irrelevant information that is not important to their job.  You’ll also need to create appropriate security groups to manage this new entity.  To help you along with this, I’ve created a custom solution that you can load into your instance of CRM.  To request it, contact us, and in the comment box request the “C5 Social Groups” solution – we’ll email it to you within a day.  Always remember to test out any new solution (including this one) in a test instance of CRM prior to rolling it out to your organization.

 

With those tips in mind, you can quickly get your organization down the path of adopting activity feeds in CRM 2011.  Happy virtual socializing!