community August 20, 2020

The Loop, August 2020: Community-a-thon

Here at Stack Overflow, we recently held our first Community-a-thon event. We wanted our employees to learn more about the SE network and how it feels to use it so they can get a better sense of what it's like to be a user here.

Here at Stack Overflow, we recently held our first Community-a-thon event. It ran for four weeks, between June 16 and July 13. The impetus for the event was the realization that while we have many employees who spend a significant amount of time on Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network sites (either while on the job or during their free time), even more spent little or no time on the network and had a very low level of experience with our sites and communities. In addition, we found that many of our employees who were using our sites have moderator powers or lots of reputation, so they don’t remember what it’s like to create a new account and have to start earning reputation and privileges from scratch.

To put this into numbers, looking at a thirty-day period ending in May, approximately 73% of employees had visited at least one main site on the network. But only around 25% of employees had any form of engagement on any site, and less than half that many had posted, commented, reviewed or edited a post.

As members of the Community and Public Platform teams, we spend lots of time on the sites, and wanted to find a way to encourage others in the company to become more familiar with this foundational and essential part of our company. This led to the planning of the Community-a-thon event, which had the following goals:

  • Improve empathy: Increase the degree of identification with the SE Network sites and communities, their tools, challenges, motivations, and dedication, for both experienced and less experienced users.
  • Participation targets: Aim for a very high percentage of employees to engage on a site during the course of the event, and achieve a higher level of employee engagement on the site one and three months after the event compared to rates before the event.
  • Product familiarity & feedback: Help employees to know more about and to experience the way that the public platform product works and collect a meaningful amount of feedback from participants relating to their experiences.

How the event worked

The event was open to all Stack Overflow employees, regardless of previous network experience. We publicized the event internally and reached out to all employees to encourage participation. Knowing that starting fresh might pose difficulties for newer users, and also to encourage cross-team collaboration, we offered the option for newer users to request a more experienced user as a mentor and solicited from more experienced users to act in that role.

One of the goals of the event was to encourage staff to engage on and gain exposure to different sites. More experienced users could optionally create new accounts to use during the event, and all users were provided different avenues to submit feedback related to all aspects of their experience.

Additionally, we devised a point system that added a competitive aspect to the event. The system awarded points based on consistent activity and engagement on different sites, posting content that received upvotes, participating in chat, and submitting feedback (for more details on the points system, please see our feedback post on MSE. An internal leaderboard was published 2-3 times per week during the event (with separate sub-boards for more and less experienced users and for team pairings). We also encouraged our employees to send feedback along the way on a weekly basis to ensure that we were capturing their experiences, positive and negative throughout the contest. We also highlighted top posts and good pieces of feedback on our internal Slack.

Following the event, all participants received a custom sticker, with top ranking staff from each category in the competition receiving a limited-edition holographic sticker (see the image above).

Some Stats

We had a very large amount of participation during the contest and saw active participants across all teams (including most members of our senior leadership team, who took an active role in encouraging participation) and departments, all levels of tenure, and all levels of SE network experience. Here are some stats that we compiled after the event.

  • Total company participation: around 80% (78.4% to be exact)
  • A total of 428 questions and answers were posted on 44 different main sites.
  • A total of 138 main sites visited and 84 meta sites were visited.
  • The most popular sites for posting questions and answers during the event:
    • Stack Overflow (181)
    • Parenting (27)
    • Seasoned Advice (27)
    • Gardening & Landscaping (24)
    • MSE (16)
    • The Workplace (15)
    • Arqade (14)
  • For the dozens of participants who filled out both pre- and post-event surveys, every single one expected to use the network at the same or at a higher level than before, and almost every single one had the same or an improved perception of the network, its sites, and community members.

Feedback

We received over one hundred pieces of feedback both during and after the event from participants about their experiences. While we had lots of general feedback expressing appreciation for the event, by its nature much of the granular feedback focused on areas where participants felt that the user experience or features on the site could be improved. Some of the most common areas of this type of feedback were:

  • Missed engagement opportunities
  • “Why was my question closed?”
  • Question and answer guidance
  • Reputation & privileges
  • Profiles
  • Questions asking experience
  • New user workflows
  • Education about badges

We have spent some time going through all feedback received and are looking to include some of the areas raised for consideration in our product planning moving forward. While there are some overlaps in the areas being reported on here compared to our ongoing site satisfaction surveys, an event like this does present a unique opportunity to collect meaningful feedback from new users engaging on the sites for the first time (a user group that is traditionally underrepresented in our opt-in user surveys and in self-reporting on the meta sites).

Looking backwards and forwards

Now that one month has passed since the end of the event, we are able to report on whether this event has changed our overall employee engagement on the network. This is what we have seen:

  • The percentage of employees who visited any main site in last 30 days went from 72.76% (before the event) to 86.84% (19.3% increase).
  • The percentage of employees who had engagement on any main site in last 30 days went from 24.51% (before the event) to 36.40% (48.5% increase).
  • The percentage of employees who commented, posted, reviewed or edited content on any main site in last 30 days went from 12.06% (before the event) to 19.74% (63.6% increase).

Based on these numbers and the overall feedback from within the company, we think that the event was a big success and will hopefully have a lasting effect on encouraging more network participation (and empathy and identification with our Community) from staff across the entire company. We are already starting to plan the 2021 Community-a-thon and have committed to doing this annually moving forward!

Special thanks to everyone who pitched in with the organization of the event: Jon Chan, Tim Post, JNat, Joy Liuzzo, Des Darilek, Stephanie Cantor, and Yaakov Ellis. 

If you are interested in hearing more about the Community-a-thon, please listen to Podcast 263, which features Yaakov & Stephanie as guests.

We would be happy to hear your thoughts and questions relating to the event on the feedback post on MSE.

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Podcast logo The Stack Overflow Podcast is a weekly conversation about working in software development, learning to code, and the art and culture of computer programming.

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