A strong online presence is vital to any attempt to get a community to adopt a new platform, but an offline presence can make the connections users form online tangible in a more powerful way. Some community managers use meetups to build community. We insinuated ourselves into our college community’s daily routine with public “office hours” held twice weekly in the library lobby.
(That’s Brent holding office hours. Note his positive demeanor and our tasteful sign.)
In our ongoing quest to convert community members into Switchboard users, office hours were a must. They projected the message that, no matter what the time or need, Switchboard is there to help.
We also regularly used our office hours as the staging ground for larger efforts, like the Valentine’s Day project pictured below. (We took on Valentine’s Day as the adopted holiday of our Switchboard. Grounding our Switchboard in the community calendar well complemented our efforts to ground it in our community’s space.) It’s a lot easier to get someone’s attention when they expect you to be there.
Most importantly, our office hours made Switchboard a part of the landscape, so to speak. Our community’s Switchboard wasn’t abstract anymore; it wasn’t only a website. It was present in the real world, and members of our community could ask us questions and make recommendations. Our being there to help and receive feedback helped the community feel ownership of Switchboard. We weren’t administrators—we were public servants.
The face-to-face interactions we had with members of our community, the traditions we founded and relationships we forged, taught us that Switchboard is less about interface than it is about love. (The two, of course, aren’t mutually exclusive, perhaps even the opposite, but you get the point.)