Alerts are automatic, customizable email notifications that let you know when changes occur to a specified list item, list, file, or document library in SharePoint. SharePoint tells you when someone creates, changes, or deletes something you care about. Alerts are basically a way to “follow” something in SharePoint. (Just don’t mix that concept up with the actual Follow function in SharePoint. More on that in a future post.)
You can subscribe to alerts on any individual list item, folder, or document, or an entire list or document library. You choose which changes you want to know about and whether you’re notified immediately, or sent a daily or weekly summary.
Watch the video below or continue reading for the best SharePoint alert info you’ll find around.
Why alerts are useful
Alerts let you move into a more passive state. You know longer have to waste time going after lists and files to check whether they’ve been edited. You can depend on SharePoint to do the work for you. Get wide-ranging alerts or very specific ones: SharePoint lets you choose whether to sign up for a blanket alert on any changes in a given list (as a way to keep control on the status quo) or an alert specific to one list item, file, or folder (weeding out extraneous and unnecessary notifications that you don’t actually care about).
They’re also useful because you can sign someone else up for an alert if they’re not likely to do it themselves. That way you can keep your entire team on the same page when it comes to ongoing work, reviews, or status updates. When you sign a colleague up for an alert, it’s not secret; they’ll receive an email indicating they’ve been signed up (and begin receiving alerts when applicable). And you’ll ensure that there’s at least a communication method that should keep them in the loop.
- Document review: Alerts are great for document authors who have sent their files out for review by colleagues or management. You can enable alerts for the file(s) under review so SharePoint will tell you when someone has made edits or provided comments to your document. Whether you’re waiting on someone to complete a peer review or you’re biting your nails in anticipation of your CEO signing off on your most recent proposal, the alert is a welcome ping so you know you can take your work to the next step in your process.
- Quality control: Say you’re the owner of an announcement list that has high visibility in your company. Perhaps it displays content on your intranet home page. Others have edit access to the content but may not be the strongest SharePoint users. Signing up for alerts will let you know when changes are made, which pings you to maybe — just maybe — double check that the changes were okay.
- Calendar notifications: Although I see SharePoint Calendars as a bit of a disappointment, they can be extremely useful. Set up a central events calendar to keep track of big-picture things going on at your company. Or start an out-of-office calendar so you know when your colleagues or direct-reports are out of the office. Then… sign up for alerts to those calendars so you know when events have been added or changed. That way you’ll be told when something changes. You won’t stumble across a change unknowingly the next time you visit the calendar.
- Surveys: Get an alert when someone completes a Survey you oversee. Let’s say you have a feedback survey on a SharePoint site that you own. The worst thing you can do is let submissions fall into a black hole. Your customers took time to tell you what they thought! By signing up for an alert, you can get notified the second they press the submit button. Or, if you get a lot of submissions, get a daily or weekly round-up instead.
How to do it
- Create an alert for a list item, file, or folder.
- Create an alert for a list or library.
Note: For Survey alerts, go to the Survey, then click Actions > Alert Me. (Surveys haven’t really been upgraded since SharePoint 2007, so their functionality is a tad outdated; they don’t incorporate the Ribbon structure.)
- Change an active alert.
- Cancel an alert for yourself.
- Alerts for other people: When you create an alert, you can include anyone else in your network on the alert. This can be helpful when your colleague agrees they can benefit from the notification, but doesn’t know how to sign up or doesn’t care to. You can sign them up so they’ll get the notifications anyway. Just be careful: make sure they agree to the alert before creating it. Keep in mind that you can’t undo the action of signing someone else up for an alert; the Site Owner has to do that.
Alerts are site-specific, and that’s it
There is no central place to see all of your active alerts. You can only see your active alerts per SharePoint site. To view your active alerts in any site, go to the ribbon of any list or library, click the “List”, “Library”, “Calendar”, etc. tab, then click Alert > Manage My Alerts. From here you can delete your alerts. (You can also create alerts from here, but I have no idea why you would.)
If you have a lot of alerts and want to unsubscribe from some of them, the fact that you have to go site-to-site is very annoying. (If you’re transferring jobs internally, this becomes relevant to you.) So you have to figure out where your alerts are coming from. The best potion is to open either a recent alert email or the confirmation email when you signed up for the alert and find the link to the list/library or the site in the email. From there, update the frequency of the alert, delete it, etc.
It would be great if Microsoft offered a list of alerts per user not per site. We’ll see what happens in the future.
Duplicate (and even triplicate, etc.) alerts are possible if you forget you already have an alert set and create a new one. Double the emails (and confusion, likely). I still don’t get why SharePoint doesn’t turn down creation of an exactly identical alert on the same item for the same user. I can understand if you want to get an immediate notification of a change in a library and a weekly update on all changes in that library. This definitely has merit. But having two alerts on the same item, both of which notify you immediately should throw an error rather than double the emails.