The VPM Blog

Staying Connected with College Graduates: Social Media and Alumni

Posted by Haley Haas on Sep 29, 2014 8:30:00 AM

College_Social_Media It is no secret universities and colleges have joined in on the digital revolution, implementing new social media tactics to engage students and prospective students. But what about engaging graduates that want to become involved in their beloved alma mater?

Since the beginning, alumni relations departments have sought to stay connected with graduates. They spend most of their time hunting down success stories of accomplished graduates and spending precious dollars on annual magazines – all to build connections and inspiration that will ultimately translate into donation dollars.

Most development officers believe their alumni want physical, printed magazines and mail-outs, having no real interest in digital communication from their alma mater. While monthly mailers, and magazines are fine and dandy, it is time to catch up with the times.

In a recent study conducted by the Council of Advancement and Support for Education (CASE), they found that about 84% of social media used by educational institutions are directed to engage alumni.

We did our own survey back in 2012, in collaboration with a prominent regional University; we surveyed over 25,000 alumni and faculty asking them the question:

“Is social media important to them?”

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 your marketing and communication plan be reconsidered, revamped, and revitalized.

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 print update or 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, here are a few of the most popular sites to utilize.

Facebook:

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 in 2012 found that 90% of recent alums, 79% of mid-career and 85% of late-career are on Facebook and wanted regular updates. A 2014 CASE study found that 90% of Facebook usage for educational institutions is directed to managing and communicating with alumni.

Alumni relations and development are typically 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 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. Focus on image rich, people-centered 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:

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 2012 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:

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 and 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 professionals 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. 
  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.

YouTube:

YouTube is slowly becoming a more prominent social media outlet. In the 2014 CASE social media survey they found that 56% of content colleges and universities are putting on YouTube is geared toward graduates. Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Keeping your YouTube account current with videos about major events on campus, or promoting upcoming events can help to get alumni involved.
  2. Highlight alumni events in creative, visually appealing videos to help captivate and engage alumni.

Instagram:

Instagram is one of the most popular social media sites, and should be utilized to get alumni to become more involved in their alma mater. According to this CASE social media survey, 32% of colleges Instagram’s posts are geared to alumni.

  1. Updating your colleges Instagram site with only top notch pictures can improve alumni relations.
  2. Encourage alumni to tag your college’s Instagram in their personal photos involving your college.
  3. Be active on Instagram and comment on graduates pictures and posts.

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.

Learn more tips on how to keep your colleges social media platforms the best they can be in our blog College Marketing Ideas in the Digital Age: Social Media and also check out the FREE eBook below that details the core services of inbound marketing. 

5 Core Services of Inbound (updated)

 

photo credit: giulia.forsythe via photopin cc

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