GovLoop’s Catch-22

Was scrolling through the GovLoop member pages the other day. Not stalking…just doing a little research on how the site is being used. In poking around, I stumbled on at least half a dozen profiles of friends and colleagues that I hadn’t realized were on GovLoop. That was cool. The downer was that only a few showed any recent activity. Since I know these folks and how much they have to offer, it seemed like a lost opportunity and a good topic to blog.

I know users want to see GovLoop really hit full stride. A recent GovLoop survey asked when Gov 2.0 would take off. The answer will likely have a lot to do with good word of mouth…the more the better!

But the experience of some of my colleagues highlights a basic Catch-22 for GovLoop and other sites. To use GovLoop effectively and really tap into what the community has to offer, you need some familiarity with it…which means you have to hang out long enough to figure a few things out. But many new folks will only come back to a site a handful of times and some will only visit once, unless the site can really “hook” them. So the question is, what can GovLoop offer newbies to stick around long enough to turn initially curious visitors into knowledgeable, regular users who can take full advantage of the site? Its a meaningful question because its not just their loss if new folks leave, it’s also ours.

What can we learn from Facebook and Twitter? One of the reasons for Facebook’s incredible popularity, not just in attracting but keeping a broad range of users beyond the early-adopter crowd, is that once you spend a little time on the site — making a profile, inviting friends and choosing a few applications — a lot of information finds you. For example, Facebook brings friend updates to your homepage without lifting a finger. Similarly, on Twitter, once you follow a person you think is interesting, their tweets appear on your homepage. Like it or not, people are coming to GovLoop with higher expectations based on their Twitter and Facebook experiences.

GovLoop has a lot of great content but some of the functionality isn’t there yet. For example, although I can follow groups that I’ve joined and get new posts automatically, as of this posting I can’t get auto updates or feeds on my homepage from other GovLoopers who are friends. Because it takes more work to stay connected, new users may not realize that a lot is happening related to their interests. You often have to go find it on GovLoop, rather than expecting stuff to find you.

How can we tilt the odds in GovLoop’s favor? For high value and sheer fun, I’d suggest new functionality on profile pages to show friend updates and feeds. What’s your idea? How will it help build the community and patch in new members? Speak up…I think GovLoop’s brain trust is listening.

p.s. As usual, the backstory on why I started this blog is (here)

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Adriel Hampton

Joshua, you should definitely join the Community Leaders group here. You’re ideas are great. One very easy way to encourage participation is to do a lot of friend requests and post on the walls of folks soon after they join. A robust welcoming committee is key to this site, because unlike Facebook, we are generally talking much headier issues that take some encouragement to draw folks into.

Joshua joseph

Good point – totally agree on the welcoming committee thing. I heard Steve R. describe it as the difference between showing up at a party where someone draws you into a conversation vs. one where nobody notices you’re there. Still would like an easy way to browse what good stuff you and other friends are up to without having to check all your profiles on every visit.

Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Thanks for sending me to your blog entry, Joshua. Very insightful! You’ve really hit on something here. One of the features on Facebook that I find most impressive is the whole “here are some people you may know” concept based on who’s in your address book and who you have as mutual friends. You’re right- it’s much easier and more user-friendly when the information finds you. Thanks.

Joshua joseph

Thx, Jay. I think the GovLoop brain trust is working on making it easier for desired info to find members, but apparently the platform doesn’t readily enable this…yet.