Stewardship is the bedrock of every online community.  If people are seen, heard, and supported in connecting with the community, users will pay all of that forward to the community.  This ultimately creates a well-spring that will support continued success and engagement in your community; we’ve found that users are six times more likely to help other Switchboard users if they receive support themselves.  This is the power and value of Switchboard in fostering an online community.  

While stewardship by your community members is an important goal with your Switchboard, Switchboard stakeholders and administrators are crucial in the stewardship of the community in the early development stages of the Switchboard.  Without a combination of modeling stewardship on Switchboard, as well as actively stewarding early users towards positive engagement, being heard, and successes, Switchboards miss a fundamental piece of community that drives perpetual posting, commenting, and activity.  Even after a Switchboard has reached a point where the community primarily supports asks and offers, stewardship by stakeholders and administrators is extremely valuable and useful, as they hold institutional knowledge that is extremely valuable to the community and needs to be disseminated so it can be archived and searchable by the community.

All in all, getting in a rhythm of stewardship best practices will allow you to more easily foster your Switchboard through active stewardship of the community, as well as teach other stakeholders and administrators about stewardship best practices that positively benefit the Switchboard and, most importantly, the community.

Stewardship Best Practices for Asks/Offers

All stewardship best practices for asks/offers are grounded in providing bread crumbs for users.  This means that you’re not doing everything for folks who post, rather providing a step in the right direction so they feel empowered an optimistic to follow through.  Whether providing a few names of people that could be good to connect with, a helpful resource to look into, or casting a slightly wider net for the post, simple bread crumbs for users to follow are what make Switchboard so valuable and helpful.  Below are best practices successful Switchboards use to foster stewardship and success, and they all ess

1.  Write a genuine “Thank you” on every offer.  

Users that write offers are giving something to the community, often job or advice opportunities, and thanking them acknowledges their generosity.  You would never go without thanking a donor, so why would you go without thanking an offerer?  Here is a wonderful example of this in action.

2.  Cross-post the ask/offer to another social media space, like Facebook or LinkedIn, and write a comment letting the author of the ask/offer know that.  

It shows the author of the post that the community is trying to help and is opening new doors that help may come through.  For example, you’d share an offer from the Switchboard about a job opportunity in a relevant Facebook group, after which you’d write a comment like, “This is a really cool offer.  Thank you for posting it here.  I’ve also shared this offer in a notable Facebook group to help cast a wider net for you.”

3.  Sharing post with another person/department and saying so in a comment.  

This best practice is exactly like the one above, except instead of sharing the post in a social media group, you’re sharing it with specific individuals/departments.  For example, you’d share an offer about a really cool internship with your colleagues in Career Services, after which you’d write a comment like, “This is a really generous offer.  Thank you for thinking of the community.  I’ve shared it with my colleagues in Career Services, as they are eager to hear about more opportunities they can share with students;” here is an example of this happening for an offer.  This is an excellent example of an administrator providing a resource for an asker.

4.  Tag existing Switchboard members that could be helpful in a comment.  

If you know of someone off the top of your head, or if you find users in the Member Directory that could help, tagging other users does two really important things.  First, you’re providing useful bread crumbs for the post author to follow.  Second, you’re notifying the people you tagged that they’ve been tagged, so they’ll come to see what’s going on and engage from there.  Ultimately, you simultaneously place the impetus of going further on the post author and provide a safety net for the post author of people that know they’ve been pinged and come to connect with the post author.  Here’s another example of this.

5.  Provide some helpful resource on posts, especially asks.  

In helping people feel like their time on Switchboard isn’t wasted, there is always an opportunity to write a comment that provides a resource that could be helpful for an ask/offer.  For example, if a student is asking about ideas for summer internships, you could write a comment that has information about an upcoming campus event geared towards that.  Do not, however, just write about LinkedIn.  Saying something to the effect of “Have you tried a LinkedIn search yet?” comes off as out-of-touch and patronizing, which doesn’t land well with users putting themselves out there.  LinkedIn is ubiquitous enough that they will have tried that, but if there is a particular group or aspect of LinkedIn that your community may not be aware of, that would be appropriate to include in a comment.  Here and here are two great examples of this.

6.  Help the post author yourself if you can.  

Stakeholders and administrators have a wealth of institutional/community knowledge, and they may often be able to just help someone directly.  If this is the case, just help the post author.  It’s quick and easy, and the knowledge you share that was once just in your brain is now archived in the Switchboard and searchable by the entire Switchboard community.  In essence, you’re directly downloading your brain into the Switchboard when you help users and provide that information in a comment.  The second comment in this post is a prime example of this.

Stewardship Best Practices Behind the Scenes

1.  Bulk messaging in Member Directory

There is a wealth of potential in using the Member Directory for stewardship:

   A) Filtering users to surface your recent sign ups that haven’t engaged yet allows you to select these folks and send a bulk message that encourages them to interact on the Switchboard.  

   B) Filter the directory by new users that have engaged by giving at least 2 hearts and sending a bulk message thanking them for doing so and nudging them to engage more with posts beyond hearts.

   C) Filtering the directory to surface young alumni that have posted at least 1 offer to thank them for their generosity and gently encourage them to interact with other posts.

2.  Thanking/encouraging top contributors

Your top contributors are special people who care deeply about the community and show their commitment through higher levels of engagement on the Switchboard.  While folks aren’t just doing this to receive thanks, showing gratitude for their time and commitment shows them that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed and are valued greatly.  When people are shown gratitude like this, they are energized to maintain their activity, which benefits the health of the Switchboard and, most importantly, the community.

3.  Creating goals around stewardship in Goals

Holding stakeholders and administrators accountable around stewardship is an important part of ensuring that stewardship consistently takes place.  Creating simple goals in the Goals section of Insights is an easy way to identifying what stewardship actions you want to prioritize and having that be something that is visible to all stakeholders/administrators.

   A) For example, you could create a response rate goal that holds administrators accountable to ensuring that a clear benchmark is met.  A common benchmark of healthy Switchboards is a response rate of 80% or higher.

   B) You could create another goal of sending a bulk message monthly to new users that haven’t engaged on Switchboard yet to ensure you’re stoking those folks into participating sooner, rather than later.

Action Items

  1. Send a bulk message to your newest users from the past 30-60 days that haven’t engaged yet nudging them to participate.  
  2. Find recent posts that haven’t had any traction and employ at least 1 Ask/Offer Stewardship Best Practice.
  3. Create at least 2 goals in the Goals section of Insights around stewardship
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