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My normal 10 minute commute took an agonizingly 5 additional minutes this morning. It was a stop and go 5 minutes as I patiently waited for cap and gown decked out youngsters to race across Magnolia and then South College Street. A few of them smiled and waved to acknowledge having dodged becoming a Pathfinder hood ornament as they steadied their mortar board cap with one hand, waved with the other and ignored the crosswalks to get to their photo destination (NOTE: they haven't used the crosswalks for four years, so why start this weekend?).
These soon to be graduates were racing to get to the most photographed building in the State of Alabama, Samford Hall. There they would add to their digital memories of the last 4 or 5 years by smiling, posing and hugging their friends for the throng of camera phones.
Over the next few days (and weeks), this scene will play out across the country with 'fill in the blank' building at 'your University'. It's common.
Do you know what else is just as common but sadly unfortunate?
The loss of all that customer data.
Yes, Alumni relations will try and intervene, but they will largely fail. The small plastic bags they hand out filled with flyers, mailers, postcards, trinkets and key-chains are all an attempt to hang on to that increasingly important customer data. Those same bags will be buried under boxes, bags and suitcases in the floorboard of the retreating graduates' cars as they stream out of town like the runners before the bulls of Pamplona. Scattered, gone....
It will be years before the University hears from half of this term's graduates. It will be even more years before less than 10% of them make a donation back to the University. And in between, there will be missed opportunity after missed opportunity for both sides. Aside from data captured during athletic event ticket sales, there really isn't an Alumni relations team out there that has figured out how to keep track of their constituents with consistency. I'm assuming your University has a CRM tool that shares data from Athletics with the larger pool?
There are some bright spots, and change is coming slowly thanks to Social Media. The teams who create vibrant, informative and entertaining social platforms to connect with Alumni are the ones who are reaping the rewards and seeing change. The ones who are still in "reporter" or "broadcast" mode aren't. It's the have and have-nots in this digital battlefield. Where are you?
I hope you didn't wait until graduation to ask for, or give your customers a reason to "Like" you on Facebook. Surely you used Twitter as a real-time interaction tool and snagged the follow of your students before they crossed the stage? No? Shame on you. Now good luck with those crosswalks while you wait for your Alum to return.