Real connections between users is the heart and soul of Switchboard, and while many of these will happen organically, stewards have the ability to grease the wheels to initiate connections that help people get what they are looking for with the Switchboard.  For stewards, not only does facilitating connections bring people together and create positive tractions towards what they are looking for, but it also models for the community what to do and think about when they see asks and offers.

Facilitating connections is very simple, and there are two administrative tools you can use to make this an efficient and effective practice.

Member Directory

The Member Directory is a treasure trove of data, and it can be used to find users to bring into posts that need some traction to get going.  In particular, this is a perfect way to bring users that have signed up but have been inactive into the game, as it were, which helps boost the number of engaged users that consistently return to the Switchboard over time.  

So, let’s say you see a post like this:

Asks like this aren’t uncommon, and the post author has provided enough details for a steward to be able to facilitate some connections that could be helpful.  The key detail here is the post author’s location, and the Member Directory makes it easy to parse out folks in the area this person is interested in.

To get to the Member Directory, click on the “Admin” tab in the upper right corner of the page, hover your mouse cursor over the “Members” option in the first drop-down menu, and then click on the “Directory” option from the second drop-down menu.

Once you’re in the Member Directory, the filters on the left side of the page will help parse out users.  For this case, the “Location” filter is the lowest hanging fruit, so typing in “Pittsburgh” should surface users that are around the Pittsburgh area.

As you can see, there are 7 members, all of whom are alumni.  Since there are a few, clicking on the first names in the list pulls up their profiles, which I used to find good fits for this person’s ask.  I also looked to see which users had already been active, and which hadn’t, so I could bring a mix of those folks into the ask.

Coming back to the ask, the next step is to tag some of the 7 folks from the Member Directory filtering results, that way we can give the post author some leads to reach out to, as well as notify the people we’re tagging.  This puts the ball into multiple courts at once, which is efficient and effective.  In this example, I tagged four folks to start a bread crumb trail, which ended up bringing one of those four folks to the conversation and continued the bread crumb trail.

The total time it took to go into the Member Directory, find a few folks, and tag them in a comment was less than 2 minutes.  It’s efficient, and often effective.  At a minimum, it shows the post author that the community is trying to help them, which is a feeling that is incredibly valuable and builds goodwill, like in the example below (I followed the same format just described for this example).

Insights - Users Map

Sometimes the Member Directory may not provide what you are looking for, so another tool you can easily and quickly use to find people for users to reach out to is the Users Map in Insights.  This map shows the location of all of your users by IP address (i.e. where they last were when they logged into the Switchboard).  

To get to this map, click on the “Admin” tab in the upper right corner of the screen, hover your mouse cursor over the “Insights” option from the first drop-down menu, and click the “Users” option from the second drop-down menu.

The map is interactive, so by clicking on a circle with a number in it, you will surface those alumni that are in that area.  So, for posts where seeing who is in an area and providing that information would be helpful for the post author, this is an easy way to find some folks to tag in a comment.  For example, the post below opens the door to bringing some folks from the San Francisco area into the conversation.  

Using the users map, I found some names and and opened their profiles to see if there were any folks that could be good to bring into the conversation.  

I found 5 folks to tag, and after doing so one of the tagged people responded to the post author.  The total time for this process was 3 minutes.  Again, takes very little time, engages the community, and provides real value to the post author, which builds goodwill that keeps users coming back and further engaging.

With these tools, you can easily and effectively support your community and not add significantly more to your plate.  Taking 5 minutes a day or 10-15 minutes once a week, you can foster your Switchboard in a meaningful way that has a profound cumulative effect over time.

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