First impressions last a long time, and that is definitely true about Switchboard.
If a new user first sees posts with activity, their first impression is usually that the Switchboard is a place where the community is active and supportive and that the Switchboard is worth their time.
The same holds true for the balance between asks and offers. If a student signs up for Switchboard and first sees that the main feed is primarily offers, they may not feel like they can post an ask if they have a need or a question. There may be offers that resonate, but the absence of more asks creates an impression that asks may not get traction, hence why there are so few. Whether or not this is true, this is how a new user that is a student may feel. Or if an alumna signs up and sees that the main feed is almost entirely offers from other alumni, she may not feel like there are any students she could interact with because few asks are available.
On a different note, if a new user that is an older alumna is curious about non-professional posts and sees that the main feed is composed of primarily asks from students about informational interviews, if none of them resonate her first impression may be that non-professional posts tend to go unnoticed and aren’t valuable or supported by the community.
Striking an equal balance of asks and offers, as well as an equal balance of posts within posting categories, ensures that the Switchboard leaves a positive first impression on new users that the Switchboard is worth their time, supportive, and representative of the community.
Fortunately, a balance between asks and offers tends to occur naturally and achieving this balance is easier than it might seem.
What does a balanced Switchboard look like?
While the tone and vibe of your Switchboard are not static, there are characteristics that can determine whether your Switchboard has a healthy balance to support continued community engagement and growth. These characteristics include:
an approximate 1:1 ratio of asks to offers.
a diversity of posts from the various posting categories on your Switchboard.
flurries of one type of post (e.g. posts about housing around the end and beginning of the school year) that are tempered by different types of posts.
What can cause an imbalance?
Imbalances on the Switchboard can be caused by an array of things, but in particular:
Seasonal needs of the community can disrupt balance (e.g. housing requests from students preparing for internships after the fall term)
An imbalance in the ratio of users (e.g. having three times as many students as alumni or a 6:1 alumni to student ratio)
An imbalance in who Switchboard is being promoted to (e.g. only alumni have been hearing about Switchboard for the past 6 months)
An imbalance in how community is being encouraged to participate on the Switchboard
What if the balance of the Switchboard is noticeably off?
While achieving a healthy balance on Switchboard is a moving target, there are simple strategies that can be employed to bring the Switchboard back into balance.
Craft a call-to-action message to promote specific types of engagement on the Switchboard to the community from specific parts of the community (see the marketing kit for examples).
Bring specific groups of the community together to adjust balance of not only users, but content on the Switchboard as well (e.g. War Room with just alumni to post more offers if there are too many students, or host a big group of students if there are too few students on and engaging to post more asks)
Healthy Switchboards tend to have an alumni-to-student ratio of between 2:1 and 3:1. If this ratio is off, focus on adopting whichever group will bring the ratio back to somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1 of alumni to students.
Alumni and students should always be the two most numerous groups on Switchboard. Other affiliations should always be noticeably fewer than alumni and students.
Use social media to encourage the community more frequently to participate in specific ways or around specific topics
Message existing groups/segments of users on the Switchboard to post around a specific topic
What to keep in mind around balance of asks and offers on your Switchboard
It is influenced greatly by the ratio of users on the Switchboard.
It’s important because it influences impressions of the Switchboard, especially first impressions.
It is not set in stone and can be shifted using an array of strategies at any time during the year
Survey the balance of asks to offers to determine how close to 1:1 ratio your Switchboard is.
Survey ratio of users to determine whether user ratio in a healthy place.
Analyze recent posts to see if there is an imbalance
If there are any imbalances, create next steps to correct them and input these next steps in Goals in Insights.