Staying Connected with College Graduates: Social Media and Alumni
Most Universities are beginning to use social media tools to engage with students and prospective students. They see the value with connecting with millennials across the digital world. This isn’t news. But what about for engaging alumni – those who didn’t grow up with internet and mobile access?
Since the beginning, alumni relations departments have sought to stay connected with graduates. They spend most of their time personally chasing down success stories of accomplished graduates and spending huge chunks of a shrinking budget on annual magazines – all to build connections and inspiration that will ultimately translate into donation dollars.
Most development officers (usually a Boomer or Gen-X’er) tout their huge email list (most of which are tertiary junk collectors) and hold onto the longstanding idea that their alumni want physical, printed magazines and mail-outs, having no real interest in digital communication from their alma mater.
We had our suspicions. So, in collaboration with a prominent south eastern university, we surveyed over 25,000 alumni and faculty asking them the question:
Well, it turns out that it is, even for older alumni. Almost ALL alumni (early, mid & late career) wanted digital communication in the form of email, social media and electronic newsletters.
What does this mean? There is a lot of wasted, ineffective communications going on. It’s time that your marketing and communication plan to be reconsidered.
The power of social media can be harnessed to support alumni relations efforts, including alumni giving.
Social media, mobile and explosive growth in the digital world calls for a new type of interaction – one that resembles the shift from broadcast mass marketing to relationship building.
Alumni will be more likely to give back to a school that provides a sense of community that still feels familiar and relevant. Most alumni aren’t interested in the once-a-year update (annual giving phone-a-thon).
Social media has enabled us to capture more of these stories than ever before, allowing us to listen to what folks are really saying online and build a lifelong community of engaged constituents. This eliminates some of the guesswork associated with traditional alumni relations – which allows for increased ROI and hyper targeted development campaigns.
Reconnecting with lost alumni and re-establishing a lifelong bond with graduates after they move away and abandon university email is only a few clicks away. The explosion of social networking provides a myriad of ways to utilize social media and mobile technology for alumni relations, but we’re going to focus on the big three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
First, let’s debunk the common misconception that far off alumni are not interested in communication via Facebook. ~79% of ALL FACEBOOK USERS are over 25 year old. Our own study found that 90% of recent alums, 79% of mid-career and 85% of late-career are on Facebook and wanted regular updates.
Alumni relations department and development is headquartered on campus – close to all the current happenings that far-off alumni love but don’t see. Facebook is the perfect place to build momentum and foster pride with Alumni groups that reinforces the emotional connection they have.
Content on Facebook plays best as a story that is centered around common rallying points shared by students, faculty and alumni. This includes everything from alumni accomplishments, student profiles, and campus news to tailgate party pictures, interactive questions and trivia – each building community around the around shared experience.
Your ideal content mix can only be determined by a test-and-learn strategy. But here are a few tips to help get you started:
1. Keep it personal. Facebook is about personal storytelling. Avoid lofty language, press releases and broadcasted updates. Focuses on image rich, people-focused content that educates and delights your target audience.
2. Introduce you page with email marketing. Utilize your email list. Let them know what you are doing online and capture those who don’t go looking for you.
3. Syndicate news, stories, and valuable content from industry or other universities.
4. Run unique giving campaigns using Facebook apps and off site landing pages.
5. Experiment with Facebook social ads. They offer specific demographic segmentation by gender, age, location, job, interests, and more.
Twitter is a microblogging platform for descriptions of “things, people and events you care about,” and is a phenomenal tool for establishing thought leadership amongst a growing business community. In our survey, we found 52% of recent, 35% mid-career and 18% of late career alumni are on Twitter. Here are a few strategies for your attack plan:
1. Update your alumni with the schools current happenings. The will be more likely to give back if they feel affinity with what is going on.
2. Engage alumni in two-way conversation. Ask questions. Provide useful content and thought leadership, and reply with the use of hashtags. Build conversation around industry work and research that is already being done by faculty and students.
3. Create separate accounts for each department. General, broad sweeping accounts are not personal. Alumni feel the strongest ties with the college they graduated from. The more you can hone in on a specific sub-group, them more you meaningful engagement you will get.
4. Use Twitter Lists to group together like-minded followers. An
obvious application for alumni relations would be for the alumni office to create a list of alumni known to be using Twitter.
5. Twitter is a searchable microblogging platform. Use is to listen and respond to what others are saying about you and relevant industry news.
6. Use Twitter to create awareness for annual giving campaigns. Direct solicitation will fall flat, but 140 characters is enough real estate to create interest and drive followers to a custom landing page.
LinkedIn is a platform that allows your alumni to stay connected professionally and route current students to successful alumni in their fields of interest. We found that 68% of recent alums, 67% of mid-career and 60% of late-career are on LinkedIn – all higher than the national average.
1. Utilize LinkedIn groups to provide alumni with a place to ask questions, share ideas, tools and career resources. Engagement is largely taken over by users, and naturally takes less upkeep than Facebook and Twitter.
2. Connect mid-late career alums with current students. Social media allows for collaborative peer-to-peer communication that benefits everyone involved, including the university. Current students get access to mentors and business professional who can help grow their ideas and talent, and alumni gain intimate access to the brightest students – recruitment opportunity.
3. Consider building a LinkedIn landing page on your website to explain the group. Promote it through email marketing. Track click-through rates and utilize built in analytics.
4. Create advocates of existing and former employees. Connect the dots, and find out what your people are doing. Train and encourage them to connect with your department on LinkedIn and add their insight to the conversation. They are your most valuable advocates.
5. Encourage alumni generated content. You alumni base is likely to be chock-full of successful industry experts who have done incredible things. Ask for success stories, articles, blogs, awards and personal insight.
Alumni Relations: It’s time to embrace your calling. Social media is simply an extension of what you do best – staying connected with graduates. If you keep expanding your alumni network, you need to start recruiting leaders and communications / marketing talent that understand social and mobile media, and build some real relationships on alumni terms.
Want more? Next week, Don Crow will be doing a deep dive into digital development. In the mean time, we found a great crowdsourced collection of articles on alumni relations and social media.
You can find our survey results on this fancy higher education infographic.
Author:Micah Whitehead is the Social Architect and Co-Creative at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.