I’ve been putting this theory to the test during my stay here in the USA by trying to connect with various people who are doing interesting things with digital media. One of the people I was keen on talking to is Steve Ressler, founder of Govloop (a social network for government employees). When I spoke a couple of weeks ago to Washington State’s social media network, it turned out that one of the members of the network knows Steve and he put us in touch.
Founded in 2008, Govloop has grown into an online community with over 65,000 members. These are mostly people working in US federal, state and local government, but there are also some international members. I joined the site in early 2012 and have been fascinated to watch the community grow and to follow some of the discussions. Govloop is mentioned as an example of good practice in Don Tapscott’s book Wikinomics. It’s an interesting case to study for those of us who are involved in trying to build online communities in Europe.
Steve was kind enough to spend some time talking on the phone with me from his base in Florida. I was particularly interested to hear from him what community management techniques he has found work best in terms of driving engagement and interaction. Based on our conversation, here are some tips that I think may interest colleagues in Europe.
In a nice analogy, Steve compared joining an online network to arriving at a party where you don’t know anyone. It helps to make people feel at home and give them the confidence to join a conversation if someone is there to show them around. When they sign up, new members of Govloop receive a series of three emails welcoming them and providing practical tips about how to get started. There is also good signposting on the site that suggests “things you can do right now” as well as pointing users towards the most popular content.
Generate useful content
Govloop has evolved from a kind of “Facebook for government” into a “knowledge network for government”. Although there is plenty of space on the platform for user-generated content (blogs, discussion forums etc…) one of the main attractions is the analysis and expertise provided by the Govloop team itself. These include well-written and researched guides on issues from customer service to the power of analytics in government. The Govloop team has also produce a series of informative infographics on subjects from telework to cyber security.
Organize scheduled opportunities for interaction
One of the biggest benefits of Govloop in my experience is the regular series of webinars and online training courses offered to members. Recent sessions have covered topics from big data to “bring your own device”. These scheduled opportunities provide a clear added value to membership and act as a focus for interaction. They also help to reinforce cooperation between Govloop and its partners in government and other sectors.
Invest in community management
Like a garden, online networks need constant care to achieve their full potential. Putting a platform online, no matter how much you have invested in functionalities and usability, is not enough. Allocating sufficient resources to community management is a vital investment if you are serious about building and maintaining genuine interaction. In addition to Steve, Govloop counts on the support of 5-6 staff in research, community management and email marketing roles, plus dozens of volunteers who act as “online mentors” by supporting members and stimulating interaction.
Use email effectively to maintain engagement
As I’ve tried to argue in previous posts on this blog, email is still far from dead. In my experience, email alerts and newsletters still play a vital role in keeping people engaged with an online platform. Govloop does a great job with this. Many of the emails come in the format of a personal message from Steve himself. The subject line and titles are well drafted to catch your attention, give you a clear idea of the main point and a link to the site if you want to read more.
Other European colleagues might be interested in joining Govloop, so that they can have a look at how the platform works and access the features and content. It would be nice to see some of you there!