People need to participate and engage regularly for a Switchboard to be truly successful. This sounds painfully obvious, but the success of other platforms institutions have used and continue to use has been often measured by the number of people who sign up the platform and very little else; think of the LinkedIn group that has thousands of people where hardly anything is happening. The flaw with this mindset is the notion that little more than an invitation is needed to create a community that supports and engages with one another, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
The heart and soul of any community is what the people who are a part of it are doing. Not only do they need to be present, but they need to engage with one another for value to be created. Some of this engagement will happen organically, but there are many opportunities to inspire and encourage your community as a stakeholder to go beyond signing up and being active members of the Switchboard. These efforts by stakeholders over time will create a core of active users that will support continued engagement on your Switchboard through not only active participation on the Switchboard, but driving perpetual adoption and marketing of the Switchboard as they derive real value from the Switchboard and share their excitement with the community.
What is “Activity?”
Activity on Switchboard comes in many forms and provides varying levels of value. While some activity is better than no activity, supporting and encouraging activity at various levels as a user or administrator is straightforward and simple, as shown below:
Thanking users for generous offers, especially offers about job opportunities, advice, and hosting.
Expressing excitement for a user’s post (e.g. “I don’t know of anyone that could help, but I think your ask is really cool!”).
Administrators primarily commenting on posts. This is good because it is providing value for users on the Switchboard, but a heterogeneous mix of users engaging and administrators is preferable to the community. Students and alumni don’t always want to hear from administrators, but something is better than nothing.
Private messaging. While this is direct activity between users, which is great, the privacy of it means that other users can’t benefit from the information that is being shared. It isn’t archived for the rest of the community anywhere.
Thanking users for generous offers and cross-posting their offer in other institutional resources to cast a wider net. This provides a conduit to the Switchboard and gives people who come a purpose in interacting with that offer, as opposed to just signing up.
Providing some next steps that might be helpful for a user in a comment (i.e. starting a bread crumb trail). It can be difficult to find the perfect next step that completely satisfies the needs of all users that post, but users want to feel supported and have positive momentum. Providing a few resources to consider or a contact or two that might be helpful to check out is valuable for users posting asks and offers.
Posting a transactional ask/offer. While this may not be valuable for some of the community, these types of posts provide an entry point for many users to interact on Switchboard. If those users that are interacting have a positive experience, they will continue to interact on the Switchboard when they have other needs or offers. For example, a student responds to an offer for a mini-fridge, which goes well, keeps up with things happening on Switchboard because of that positive interaction, and then a few months later reaches out to another offer about an internship in the summer.
Tagging multiple users that are on Switchboard in a comment. Not only does this alert the tagged users to check out the post you wanted them to see, but it also provides the author of the post the ability to reach out themselves if they want. This also provides the author of the post bread crumbs they may not have had before to pursue, as opposed to suggesting a ubiquitous resource they’ve probably already used (e.g. searching LinkedIn).
Posting an ask or an offer around jobs/internships, advice, and hosting. The community wants to interact with something, and these types of high-value asks and offers are exciting for the community and are where this energy to interact can be channeled.
Sharing a post with your network outside of Switchboard with an invitation to sign up for the Switchboard and interact with that specific post. This activity not only helps bring new people to the Switchboard, but it gives these folks a job to be done when they sign up, instead of just simply signing up.
Bringing stakeholders together for a War Room to support asks and offers en masse. This simultaneously provides value for authors of posts and an opportunity to further educate stakeholders on how to enhance their engagement on Switchboard.
You can learn more in the Stewardship Best Practices lesson.
General strategies to balance adoption and activity
As important as it is to adopt new users, there are simple, clear strategies you can implement to ensure that you’re not just inviting people to the Switchboard, but encouraging meaningful activity that will lead to new users returning in the future. Here are some strategies you can use to accomplish this:
Don’t market to everyone right away. If you have a small core of active users and a handful of administrators encouraging activity on your Switchboard, a premature massive push for new users puts you into a precarious place in supporting and engaging the vast majority of those new users. Instead, invite a number of folks that your core of active users and institutional stakeholders can feasibly manage so as many new users as possible can be engaged without too much stress.
Every post should have activity. All people have two important needs: to know things and to be known. In other words, people want to be heard, so when new users post asks and offers those new posts need some form of public activity. No one wants to feel like their post is floating in the ether. You should always strive to ensure at least 80% of all posts have responses to signal to the community that content, and most importantly users, are heard.
Work to lay valuable bread crumbs for new users that post. New users that feel heard and have positive momentum early on will see the Switchboard as a place that is worth their time moving forward. Over time, doing this for as many users as possible builds a foundation of active users who will carry the torch for you and will support the community through comments and other means.
When inviting the community to join your Switchboard, be sure to include a clear call-to-action. An inert invitation to simply join the Switchboard will bring new people to the Switchboard, but little else. Giving the community a job to be done along with signing up is a tried and trued method of balancing adoption with activity.
After inviting new users, working to generate positive traction as soon as possible is golden. If users feel heard and that they’ve got something promising to pursue, if often doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out perfectly. Users appreciate that they got some good leads and that they were heard, which signals to them that the Switchboard is worth their time moving forward.
Take 5-10 minutes to reflect on what you’re taking away from this lesson.
Share this module with 5 other stakeholders
Plan a War Room after next SB promotion to support new activity
Establish a recurring event in your calendar to check/support Switchboard activity at least once per week.