Building community in a world hungry for social connection

The Union for Reform Judaism has been identified as a top three performer in SWOOP’s 2018 Global Benchmarking Report of Yammer networks. It’s a network focused on building community and connecting people. Some of the keys to URJ’s Yammer success include a community manager to facilitate the network and keep people engaged, with the help of SWOOP data, Working Out Loud and allowing the network time to grow and thrive.

People are hungry for real life, face to face connection and interaction. That’s the strong belief of Erica Holman.

When her rabbi suggested changing the time of Friday night Shabbat worship, Ms Holman knew she and her rabbi would need to work together to find the best way to schedule and host the social get-together over food and wine that follows the Shabbat service, known as the Oneg Shabbat.

“People want to an opportunity to worship, but they also want an opportunity to connect, socialise and create community. That’s what everyone in the world is hungry for right now,” Ms Holman said.

The rabbi asked Ms Holman, the president of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in East Lansing, Michigan, to conduct a survey of synagogues and find out how others schedule and manage their Friday night worship and Oneg Shabbat.

But Ms Holman knew a better way to connect with the almost 900 congregations affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). The URJ has an external Yammer network called The Tent. With almost 12,000 users, The Tent connects congregational lay and professional leaders across the United States, Canada, Australia and beyond.

“I realised, I don’t need to take a survey, I can just go to Yammer,” Ms Holman said.

“Why do I need to put out a survey to a self-selected group of people when I can get a wide variety of ideas in the best and most effective way?”

Ms Holman wrote the following message and posted on the URJ’s Membership group in Yammer.

The response was electric. Reply after reply after reply came flooding in, and they’re still coming.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Ms Holman said.

“I try to go in there to give a like or say; ‘Thank you’ back but it’s been particularly helpful because it solidified what I actually thought about human nature. People want to connect in person.

“I think it was the emotional tone that really struck a chord with people.”

Top Yammer post of the week

Ms Holman’s Yammer post came to the attention of Larry Glickman, Director, Network Engagement and Collaboration at URJ, when SWOOP Analytics identified it as the top post of the week on the URJ’s external Yammer network.

Each week, Mr Glickman uses SWOOP’s data to identify the top five Most Engaging Posts. He then shares the post on Yammer.

Larry Glickman, URJ’s Director, Network Engagement and Collaboration.

“I’ll tag those who were involved in that post or I’ll say what we learned from the post,” he said.

“We all want a sense of community at the end of the day and I think people feel that when they’re in the Yammer network.”

The URJ’s external Yammer network The Tent, which connects the URJ’s almost 900 congregations, was established in 2014 to replace an email list of more than 5,000 recipients.

“We first launched The Tent as a response to these email lists,” Mr Glickman said.

“We realised that we could do more. This is the age of enterprise social networks and knowledge sharing and collaboration – the day of email list serves has eclipsed.

“We really wanted to launch a site where our users could not only connect with one another but we could really host a meaningful knowledge repository online and people could make connections with one another and realise they’re not alone in the work that they do.

“We wanted to create this community online.”

A passionate online community

It was that community that helped Ms Holman. She said the responses to her post were full of passion about the importance of continuing this face to face connection after Friday night services. Members shared their experiences of switching Oneg Shabbat to before the service, others told of how they had cancelled Oneg and had then been forced to reinstate it.

“There was nobody who said; ‘Just don’t worry about it’,” Ms Holman said.

“Not one person that I read said that.”

Armed with the feedback from other URJ members, Ms Holman will conduct a survey of her congregation to agree on a regular service time each Friday night and decide whether to have Oneg Shabbat before or after the service. Either way, Oneg Shabbat will stay at East Lansing.

“People are hungry for social connection and validating the necessity of an Oneg and a time to enjoy each other is critical for our well-being,” she said.

It didn’t escape Ms Holman that she was able to use a digital collaboration platform – Yammer – to address a real-life collaboration issue and at the same time build new relationships online. For Mr Glickman, it was reassurance the network he oversees is connecting members and making a difference.

Introducing Yammer at URJ

When URJ launched The Tent external network in 2014 to connect lay and professional leaders across North America and beyond, Mr Glickman soon realised it wasn’t going to work without the help of URJ professional staff.

An internal URJ Yammer network was established for the 400 URJ employees.

“In order for our staff to be more comfortable in our external Yammer network, they needed to first see the benefits of a platform like Yammer by using it for our work. One wasn’t going to happen without the other one,” Mr Glickman said.

Some departments embraced Yammer and others not so much. It’s been Mr Glickman’s quest to encourage staff to utilise Yammer to share their ideas and knowledge.

He tracks it all in SWOOP.

SWOOP immediately provides real-time data on who is connecting with whom, which teams and departments are collaborating, it shows every employee’s online behaviours, identifies influencers, assesses the levels of engagement between executives and frontline staff.

SWOOP will track sentiment in the network, tell you when people are posting, find the hot topics, show the health of the network, the most engaging posts and give every employee tips on how to improve their online collaboration.

Facilitating URJ’s Yammer network to keep people engaged

To encourage staff to improve their online personas, Mr Glickman updates the internal and external URJ networks each month with new analytics so everyone can track the health of the network.

While he continues to use SWOOP to identify the Most Engaging Posts each week, Mr Glickman also plans to start a weekly post recognising the Most Influential People on the networks using SWOOP data. He hopes this will encourage individuals to independently log onto the SWOOP dashboard and check their online behaviours and personas.


Three keys to URJ’s Yammer success – a community manager, Working Out Loud and time

Asked the secret to URJ’s success, Mr Glickman pointed to three factors.

The first was URJ’s willingness to employ a community manager to grow the network, in this case Mr Glickman and his staff.

“I think it would sustain itself (without a manager) but I don’t know that it would grow as much,” he said.

“I’m just trying to keep people engaged and more and more, the staff is falling in love with it.”

One of URJ’s Working Out Loud circles.

The second factor is the fact URJ’s internal network has employed Working Out Loud Circles.

Working Out Loud Circles are small peer support groups in which you build relationships related to a goal, using simple structured guides over 12 weeks. Over that time, you develop habits and a mindset you can apply to any goal. The URJ team carried out their “circles” on video conference calls.

“We began our first Working Out Loud Circle with the express hope that it would help our staff be more accustomed to working in this more collaborative, transparent way – knowing that this feels good and this works and that would carry over to our Tent network,” Mr Glickman said.

“We just launched our 17th Working Out Loud Circle this month. People have really enjoyed it, they have really gotten a lot out of it and I think that our Yammer networks have really grown.”

Mr Glickman knows having executive engagement on both networks is the best way to draw more people onto Yammer and URJ’s executive leadership is increasingly embracing the kind of collaboration and transparency Yammer offers.

Mr Glickman’s final tip is to give the network time.

“You’re not going to get engagement in a month,” he said.

“You have to really be determined to make the space work or to at least give it time and to lead the way. If you don’t use the space wisely, nobody else is going to.

“We just didn’t give up. We are finding more and more teams throughout our staff organisation use Yammer as the place where they share information, where they connect with one another each week.”

Members of “The Tent” at URJ’s Biennial conference.


Mr Glickman keeps staff engaged on both networks by using SWOOP to identify top posts and track hashtags and trending topics. He also sets challenges in Yammer where, for example, he will encourage staff to make a post, tag three people and add at least two hashtags.

This always draws more people into the conversation, says Mr Glickman, adding that the more he tags people, the more replies he receives.

With such a huge external network to navigate, Mr Glickman has introduced “verified groups”, easily visible by the check mark, or tick, next to the group name.

“Users will know that it’s a verified group, their posts will get replies, the files will be named according to our file naming conventions, there will be hashtags, it will be a well curated space,” he said.

Yammer has become a valuable URJ’s onboarding resource for new staff. When a new employee opens their email inbox, it is empty. But by engaging on Yammer, they are in the thick of things from the get go.

“We have created a really meaningful legacy of information and conversation and resources in our staff Yammer network,” Mr Glickman said.

“So when somebody joins our team, boom, they can be locked in on day one.”

While it’s not always an easy role, Mr Glickman said there are moments when he realises the difference he’s helping make.

He had lunch with a colleague on the day he spoke with SWOOP.

“We were having lunch and she told me; ‘Every now and then, someone will respond to a post I make who is not on our team, someone I had never thought of before, and give us a fresh idea, give us new insight’,” he said.

“That’s what it’s all about.”