Defining success is just one of those things. We all talk about it, we all know that we need to have some form of it in our lives, and we all define it differently based on who we are, where we’re at, what we’re hoping to achieve, and how we’re tackling our lives. Worth a read at this juncture: this post from last year on defining and measuring success, as described through a viral Tumblr post prompted by a bulletin board at the career center.
I take stabs at defining success all the time because my work demands it. But measuring success isn’t as simply quantitative as a number (x number of people saw this, hurray), but is exceedingly more complex when the goal isn’t numbers, but something more qualitative, usually demonstrated understanding or achievement in actions and words (x number of people understood something and did something about it). I could say that Switchboard is successful because nearly 1500 returning folks came back to the Oberlin Switchboard this month and nearly half that amount came to Switchboard for the first time, and that all those people spent quality time reading and writing on the site (nearly four minutes). But Switchboard successes are more nuanced and deeper than that. A platform that is all about human connections has to measure the quality of those connections with feeling, and more importantly, with words.
Which is why I really like this question I received from a new Switchboard user a few days ago: What counts as a Switchboard success? Switchboard has a great little checkin attached to each and every post where a user can share if the post did something good, expected or unexpected, for themselves or for their community. You’re encouraged via email to share a success two weeks after you make a post, and the successes stay forever with that post as a testament to something that works for you.
My simple response, while mostly unhelpful, is that success is how you’d like to define it.
Okay, I know, that’s not any fun. I just avoided the question. But like any qualitative response, there’s more than one benchmark we can look for, and it comes from you, dear users, not from us.
Here are a few options on how to define (and hopefully develop a culture of shared) successes on Switchboard:
A success is moving forward one step. If you got a connection, check! If you had a good conversation with someone, check! If you had a conversation that lead you to another good place, check! If you get a job or internship, major check!
A success is defined by the scope of your Ask. Did you want advice? Did you get advice? Then success. Did you want to find five people who can possibly help you? Did you find five people who can possibly help you? Then success. I really like the examples set by Zach, who asked about podcasts and got a lot of great ideas from Obies and from Ida, who wanted to talk to Obies about linguistics and did just that.
A success can also be something as simple as just updating the community on your progress. If you think about each post as a support ticket, a success can mark the closing of something timely, or serve as a good checkpoint for current and future readers. I like these examples from Naomi and Rajul, both related to housing.
A success also confirms the awesomeness of the humans involved. Getting what you need feels good, and saying a public thank you is a great way of starting to show appreciation. I really like the example from Saksham regarding a successful connection with a helpful alum and Lena, who successfully fundraised her way to a post-graduate opportunity (this one has a double success, because Lena wrote a great followup thank you note in addition to her posted success and I wanted her to know that I got it).
When you flip the switch to Offers, successes can go two ways: the person offering makes the connection, and the person on the receiving end of the offer gains something too. My favorite example of this is still Griff’s fabulous offer of garden prep and lawn fertilizing with bonus eggs and Kira’s acceptance and joyous success of her kid loving the whole process. Benefits on either side of the connection are great!
My final word on success: define it as you will and continue to share your progressive successes (and definitions) with us as you proceed.
You can take a look at some recently logged successes to see if some of them fit your idea of success and perhaps inspire a similar success for your own posts, or prompt you to make your own post.