“When you think of your community as a “who” – people versus an entity – it helps you figure out how best to serve, and provide the right tools and resources to help people get what they need and do what they need to do.”

Becky Benishek
Online Community & Collaboration Strategist

When we were working to launch The Tent, the online communication and collaboration platform for lay and professional leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), we first had to find a name. The Tent was built in Yammer, the Microsoft social enterprise network technology, and people found the Yammer name to be a distraction. Ultimately, we wanted the name to describe what we were providing, a place to find information and community online, and we wanted it to be catchy. Memorable. Maybe not too hokey.

We considered calling it the Knowledge Network. That name worked fine for the department that already existed in our organization of the same name, but it did not quite work for the new online network we were creating.

We considered calling it The Lobby, a place where people connect and share information. Not Jewish enough. We considered calling it Solomon’s Net. The wisdom of Solomon on the internet, or maybe a seafood restaurant. No, that wouldn’t work either. We considered The Ark (where the Torah [the really important information] is stored), or The Chavurah (circle of friends).

We finally decided on calling our online network The Tent, which recalls chapter 18 of the Book of Genesis, when Abraham welcomed three strangers to his Tent. We wanted our network to be a welcoming space, and we wanted a name that could connect easily to sentences like “Did you look for that information in….?” “I’ve got a great idea, I’m going to post it in…” “I’ve got a problem at my synagogue, I’m going to look for a solution in….” We wanted the name to be easy. We wanted the name to be memorable.

But there were problems right away. “The Tent? What does that mean???” I was asked more than once. “What is the difference between The Tent and Yammer?” people would ask, confused when they saw both names on the screen before them. Somebody once said to me “The Tent? That’s dumb.”

Dumb and confusing though the name might have been, I was sure that after some time had passed, and people got used to the name, and used to being able to find meaningful information and community online, the name would become just that, a name. Something accepted. Something understandable. When our leaders needed information or community, they would just go to The Tent.

We saw growth right away. We saw thousands of new users activate accounts and get engaged, we saw people become deeply appreciative of the community and resources they found, and maybe we missed an important opportunity along the way.

During the launch and initial promotional efforts, we kept whispering the word to ourselves “Empathy.” We need to be empathetic in hosting The Tent, because a catchy name is not going to be enough to get and keep people engaged.

We need to think who our users are, what their perspective is, and what they are trying to do:

1. They are volunteer leaders of their congregations with very busy full time jobs trying to find information fast.

2. They are clergy and professional leaders of congregations who deal with unexpected demands on their time on a daily basis hoping to connect with others who share concerns and interests.

3. They are older people who might be a feeling a bit intimidated by current technology, who just want to feel a part of the conversation.

4. They are younger people who are hoping to learn more about their role and the community through a strange technology platform they are being asked to use.

The words of my colleague, friend and teacher Becky Benishek at the beginning of this article resonate for me. It’s not enough that we found the great Yammer platform for our online community. Yammer lets us share resources and engage in conversation in ways that are transparent, collaborative and generative. It’s not enough that we found a name that speaks to who we are as Jews working to create welcoming spaces both at the Movement level and at the congregational level.

So we tried to make The Tent as comfortable and user friendly as we could.

  • We named our discussion groups so it would be very easy to determine what they were. Communications to talk about emails, bulletins and websites. Temple Administration to talk about facilities and operations. Technology to talk about software and hardware. Leadership and Governance, The Presidents’ Lounge, Membership and so on.
  • We asked URJ staff to include “(URJ)” after their name in their Yammer user profile. Sometimes our members like to know they can reach out to a member of our staff. We wanted to make that easy to do.
  • We try to name files in Yammer using a uniform naming structure so that if a user is looking at a long list of file names, they would have an immediate idea of what each file is without having to open it up.

Because ultimately, a name is just a label, and a platform is just technology. What really matters is the people coming to the space you have created, and being able to find what they need to find, who they need to find, and feeling good along the way.

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