Williams switchboard connects students, staff, alumni, faculty

Screenshot 2014-11-04 18.32.09 copyThe College launched Williams Switchboard, a website that allows users to request or offer goods, services, lodging, rides and more this year. The site is open to students, faculty, parents, alumni and other members of the College community.

Switchboard is a startup company based in Portland, Ore. The company, which launched in July 2013, caters to a variety of communities including five college campuses: Oberlin College, Portland State University, Willamette University, Reed College and Williams. In order to use Switchboard, the College pays a flat annual fee of about $5000.

“Switchboard was created as a response to the inability of databases and social media to fully meet the needs of higher education communities,” Aria Joughin, community manager of Switchboard said.

“We wanted to create a space where people could ask for what they need and offer what they have to a community they trust,” Joughlin said.

The website lets members post either an ask or an offer, which is then visible to everyone on Williams Switchboard. Members can also limit results by typing in key words or tags in the search bar and can respond to posts by commenting or directly messaging other users.

“For students, there has been WSO [Williams Students Online],” Angela Schaeffer, director of communications, said. “But there hasn’t been anything for the whole Williams community.”

Schaeffer explained that Switchboard is intended as a “complement” to WSO. WSO currently allows students to post announcements, exchange requests, lost and found items, jobs, rides and other services.

Schaeffer added that Switchboard is also different from daily messages; the platform allows users to make much more specific and individualized offers and requests.

The Communications Advisory Group (CAG) first started discussing plans to find a suitable website for this purpose about a year ago.

“We were looking for a way for folks to get connected, particularly when someone is new to the Williams community,” Danielle Gonzalez, assistant director of human resources, said.

The Office of Human Resources collaborated with CAG, Alumni Relations and the dean of the faculty’s office to find an appropriate platform.

“We sought out a platform that was not only functional, but one that had a real human component to build community and real connections,” Gonalez said.

According to Gonzalez, the Alumni Relations Office identified a need for improved networks between alumni and between alumni and students. The new site allows alumni to advertise job and internship opportunities.

As of press time, Switchboard had 650 users, with alums making up the largest portion of users, according to Francesca Shanks, a social media specialist at the College. There are 282 alums, 179 staff members, 105 current students, 41 faculty, 26 spouses and partners, 10 parents and seven friends of the College.

In the first few weeks, the most common requests have been for hosting and housing, Shanks explained. For example, several alumni took advantage of this option to find lodging during Homecoming. In addition, many users have advertised goods and services such as dog walking.

“I definitely think it’s been successful, especially since we have only been marketing Switchboard for a couple of months,” Shanks said.

Since Williams Switchboard’s launch, the College has promoted the website with a daily message, social media announcements and tabling at the Health and Wellness fair and in Paresky.

In the coming months, Shanks hopes to see more student participation on Switchboard.