Last Thursday afternoon, I was meeting a handful of the team members behind Switchboard in their lovely office in Portland, Oregon as part of a personal trip to a new city. The next morning (still in Portland, still three hours behind my usual work world, still on vacation), I received the following note from Ben Jones:
In which Around the Square [our monthly alumni email newsletter] gets sent out on Ma’ayan’s day off, generating 40,000 questions in her inbox.
He wasn’t kidding. My inbox was flooded with Asks and Offers of all shapes and sizes from alumni of yore and of recent days. They made me smile! They made me hopeful! And above all else, they made me want to help out all the Obies. As a community manager for the Oberlin Switchboard, my guiding rule is that every post gets at least one comment, even if it’s simply a thank you. The Oberlin Switchboard works because of the human switchboards that help it out. If that doesn’t describe my community networked job here in Oberlin, I don’t know what does.
Even in the past few weeks, we’ve seen some pretty excellent successes, both things that have happened to me and things that are being shared on Switchboard:
While a bit old (it’s from May, but it’s still fantastic and worth sharing!) Griff ‘14 found a temporary home for his chickens and turned the whole experience into a learning opportunity for a toddler.
Ida ‘14 is connecting with students and alumni left and right to talk about her passion, linguistics! Ask her things. She will bubble excitement and learning at you.
Lena ‘14 successfully fundraised her way to a year abroad in Tanzania. I gave to her project, and received a lovely handwritten thank you note in return!
For me, the grandest successes are the ones just waiting to happen, that is, when someone other than a community manager comments on a post with a resource or two that begin to open the doors to opportunity. Like:
Alum Andrew from the Harvard Graduate School of Education offering to connect our Oberlin undergrads starting an educational non-profit with his HGSE educational policy grad students.
Staff member Jacquelynn with a possible part-time gig for an local arts/theater educator alum.
Alum Brandi looking for advice and places to look for work in higher ed admissions/event planning brings two generations of alums out to heed the call.
A lunchtime offer from alum Daniel to roadtripping alum Isabel in Durham, North Carolina.
One of our oldest Switchboard users, an alum named Marjorie, asks for assistance hanging some draperies in her home and receives delightful interior decorating advice.
And that’s just in the last week. YEAH!
Some pretty cool numbers so far:
In the past week, our number of users on Switchboard doubled (we’re closing in on 500!), and more importantly to me: 10% of our users are students who graduated this year (even though that’s only 5% of the graduating class that signed up), and a quarter of our current Switchboard users are graduates from the last five years. Our oldest registered user is from the class of 1953 (ahh! GO YOU!) and our youngest registered user is joining us here on campus this fall (yay!).
Overall, Switchboard’s been visited by thousands of folks in the past week. 4700 unique pageviews and 7600 pageviews overall? Cool. Folks are spending around a minute on each page, which to me translates to reading and absorbing rather than just clicking about, and they’re taking in around 5 pages per session, for a whopping 5 minutes spent on Switchboard. These asks and offers are quality content, so I suppose we should expect this. Also, out of all of those pageviews, there are a lot of specific entrances (which translate to Actual People Visiting A Page) to Switchboard: a little over 1100 individuals visited the main Switchboard hub last week and began exploring from there, and if you add in visits to specific posts shared through experimental small scale distributing via social media (read: me and my networks), we introduced a good 153 others to the site as well.
In the past week, 33% of our visitors are returning, which to me means that there wasn’t just value once, but value again… or curiosity is getting the best of us and we’re visiting the site to see what else is happening as things get going. And since this past week was also a first introduction to Switchboard for many of our users, the 67% of visitors being new makes a lot of sense. Hi everyone new! Come back and see us soon! (For real, please do. From the variety of asks and offers and the caliber of the responses we’re seeing in return, this is a place to keep on your radar.)
Of those thousands of new people, 185 folks read the helpful blog post I wrote to introduce all the cool details of Switchboard to Oberlin and the world. Yay! Informed humans!
Two final observations
Two elements that popped out to me in our analytics: the specific search pages are really valuable! I posted a link to the search page for posts that talk about music to our conservatory alumni group and we had 53 people start exploring Switchboard from that angle, and another 20 or so people explored it on their own! Additionally, we also now know what search is currently highest priority for our current Switchboard users: jobs/internships. We had 48 people search for that category just in the last week. Protip: if you have a job or internship to offer or that you’re looking for, you should post on Switchboard.
And because there’s always room for improvements: one thing that we need to work on is getting our new Switchboard participants to customize their email alerts. That’s a committed level of engagement, because it says, “Yes, I am going to pay attention to these specific posts that come up for sure.” We’ve had 26 folks do this so far, which is definitely a start. I think this might be the most useful element of Switchboard in terms of making your own experience work for you. Perhaps the next big push we do to introduce Switchboard touts this feature in particular, which will serve as a reminder to current participants to set some up and encourage potential Switchboard users to define their relationship with the platform.