Keep your team in the loop with modern SharePoint pages for news

SharePoint Modern Series

We’re diving back into our series on the modern SharePoint experience with a look at how to create and disseminate team news in your modern SharePoint environment.

Other posts by Jasper about the modern SharePoint experience:

Modern news is one of my favorite features to stem from the modernization of the SharePoint experience. During the classic SharePoint years—an era I refer to as the dark ages—if you wanted to create a newsfeed of any sort in SharePoint, you had to build your own solution, complete with custom page layouts, master pages, web parts and loads of CSS.

This all changed with the introduction of modern SharePoint news, which comes with all sorts of benefits, including:

  • User-friendly interface
  • Multiple layout options to suit your design needs
  • Out-of-the-box news archive
  • Digest-style email distribution
  • Ability to comment on, like, and save news posts for later
  • Integration with the SharePoint mobile app

There’s a ton to cover when it comes to news in SharePoint Online, so let’s jump right in!

To create a news page, go to the action bar:

As you can see, there are two news options to choose from:

  • News post, which creates an internal news page on which to display news items
  • News link, which publishes a link to an external source

Let’s start with the first.

How to use the News post option to share news in SharePoint Online

Start by giving your page a name, or topic header. Then, select the pencil icon to customize the look and feel of the title area:

When it comes to the layout, I recommend using either Image and title or Color block—both options are great for making your news posts really stand out.

You can then add an image from any of the following locations:

  • Your local device
  • A SharePoint library
  • The web (either directly from Bing’s search results or via a URL)

One location that’s not on the list (yet!) is a centralized image library for each SharePoint site. This upcoming feature will give you a bit more control over the images available for your users to publish.

Determining the right size for your banner image can be tricky. Keep in mind that the image you choose will be resized and displayed in both the page’s title area and the News web part. Microsoft should enable a preview to give you a better idea of how your image will look in either location. This article from fellow MVP Tracy van der Schyff takes a closer look at the topic.

In a couple clicks, your title region should look a bit like this:

Next up is assigning additional properties through the Page details pane on the right-hand side:

End users only have the option of assigning a topic, while site owners can add additional properties to a news post. This can be done by adding SharePoint columns to the site pages library. Learn more about page properties in this Microsoft documentation article.

Now it’s time to choose which page layout and web parts you need to build your news post. Click the + symbol on the left side of the page:

This is where the experience is completely new and improved. In the days of classic SharePoint, you pretty much had to hire a developer to create custom page layouts. In modern SharePoint, you can do it all yourself, but you’re restricted to the six built-in options shown above. From my experience so far, these should be enough to fulfill all your news creation requirements.

Once you’ve settled on a layout, it’s time to start adding web parts. You can’t use your favorite classic SharePoint web parts anymore, as they’ve been deprecated and are no longer available (see this documentation page for a more detailed comparison of classic and modern web parts). You must choose from the ones built into the tool:

Microsoft regularly updates the web parts library and frequently adds new ones to the list (see the SharePoint roadmap for more information on upcoming releases). Interested in creating your own modern SharePoint web parts? Learn all about the SharePoint framework here.

When you have your content ready, simply click Post news to quickly create your news page:

The process is incredibly easy, and you can preview your changes in real time—gone are the days where you had to check out, check in and publish to even see your changes.

Once you’ve published the news post, it’ll automatically be displayed on the home page of your SharePoint site, where your colleagues will be able to view it, leave a reply, like it, or save it for later. Posts that are saved for later can be accessed via SharePoint home:

Saved news posts are also available within the SharePoint mobile app, but more on that later.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an option to delete a comment; you can only disable comments on a per-page basis.

How to share news in SharePoint using the News link option

Found an interesting article online that you’d like to share with your colleagues? Use the News link option to start creating your post:

When you enter the article’s URL, SharePoint automatically retrieves an image, a title and a description, which you can modify right away. Are you using page properties? Just click on Edit news link details:

Assign a topic to your article via the Page details pane. The one downside of external articles is the absence of comments and likes. Clicking the news link simply opens the article in a new tab.

News web part

The news web part has undergone many changes since its initial release. Site owners have a wide selection of options for displaying the news posts:

You can get creative with the different layout options. In the following example, we combined two news web parts with the carousel and list (compact) view:

Did you notice something? The New button, for creating a news post or link, isn’t available. This saves up valuable space, and you can already use the New button located in the Site action bar. The only downside is that you can’t customize the title.

News archive and digest

Once you create or add five news items, a link to the news archive will appear.

Be warned: The link to the archive isn’t available when you decide to hide the title and New button of the news web part, or when you have fewer than five news items. Use the SharePoint search box to search for old news posts within the archive:

You can use the Email a news digest option to send a news digest to your recipients:

Your recipients receive the news digest in their inbox:

Other noteworthy features of modern SharePoint news

News templates

Unfortunately, you don’t currently have the option to create your own news templates. But don’t despair: this feature was confirmed to be on the roadmap during Ignite 2018. Until then, you have to use the Copy of this news post option, which you can access via the Details view of a news post.

Mobile experience

Modern SharePoint news pages are out-of-the-box responsive and integrated with the free Microsoft SharePoint app. This is huge! Not too long ago, you had to hire a developer to make your SharePoint pages responsive and usable on a mobile device.

Want to publish a news post from outside the office? No problem at all! The SharePoint mobile app lets you update your team on the go.

Page approval and scheduling with Microsoft Flow

Modern SharePoint news pages are integrated with Microsoft Flow, which allows you to set up an approval process. You can either use the out-of-the-box approval flow or create your own custom one. Learn more about page approval and modern SharePoint news pages here. Unfortunately, there isn’t an option available to schedule news. This is a tough pill to swallow for long-term users, as news scheduling was possible back in classic SharePoint.

Adopting modern SharePoint news pages

Teaching your business users how to work with the new SharePoint web parts and page layouts is essential for adoption success. This is definitely a lot easier than it was with classic SharePoint. Not only is the interface far more intuitive and user-friendly, but Microsoft also has a lot of valuable training materials available, such as the following:

I highly recommend making use of these materials, which are frequently updated with new content as it becomes available.

Once again, the SharePoint mobile app serves as a major adoption booster. Each time a news item is published, a notification is sent to all users, which is an excellent way to bring people back to your SharePoint portals. That said, your business users do need to accept the notification and install the SharePoint app. Another adoption boost is the news digest feature, which we mentioned earlier in the post. Again, it’s a great way to bring people back to your SharePoint.

Governing your modern SharePoint news pages

Your governance plan for SharePoint news pages should focus on the following areas:

Mobile devices

Modern SharePoint news pages and mobile devices go hand in hand. You create news pages on the go or receive notifications about new posts. These pages could contain sensitive information for the outside world. We discussed the use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management in a previous post; the same advice applies to SharePoint news pages.

Anticipating updates and new features

SharePoint Online is part of Office 365 and maintained by Microsoft. Your Office 365 tenant, and, eventually, your modern SharePoint Online news pages, are automatically updated whenever new features or patches are released. I’ve seen a lot of new web parts and features arrive. You can’t opt out: the updates and new features will be part of your tenant, like it or not. This is where targeted release offers support. By enabling targeted release for your tenant or a subset of users, you’ll receive new features or updates before they’re rolled out in the standard release cycle. This gives you a bit of time to start testing and preparing your adoption materials. You should also keep an eye on the message center in your SharePoint administration center.

Page properties

Before you start using page properties, make sure you have a taxonomy strategy in place. It’s always a best practice to provide your business users with a centralized taxonomy to be used whenever there’s a need to assign properties to a news post. In SharePoint Online, you can set up a taxonomy via the managed metadata feature.

Maintaining the pages library

The pages library contains your site and news pages. One column is labeled Promoted state. The pages with the value 2 are for news, and those with the value 0 are site pages. Apply a filter and create a view to make it easier for business users to work with their news pages.

Looking forward

Modern SharePoint news pages are here to stay. That’s for sure. Are they perfect? Definitely not! But the steps Microsoft has taken since the feature was first released are impressive—and according to the roadmap below (from Ignite 2018), it’s only going to get better.

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