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Alumni Relations: 5 Ways to Harness Social Media
April 1, 2012 - 9:08pm

An alumni relations department has the important responsibility of keeping alumni connected to the school in hopes that they will offer their ongoing support and commitment. Alumni relations can be a marketing department’s best friend. As discussed in a previous StratEDgy post, a strong alumni community supports marketing’s job of recruiting students and building strong brand awareness.  Another link between alumni relations and marketing is how they have been influenced by social media and technology. Andrew Shaindlin asked an interesting question last week, “Will the Internet Obsolete Alumni Associations?” citing that, “Alumni are organizing – without alumni organizations.”

Social media and other technological advances may necessitate a different kind of interaction between alumni and their institutions – one that mirrors the shift marketers have made from broadcast marketing to relationship building. Marketing has added an element of engagement to the mix, with the goal of creating content valuable to our target audience instead of simply shouting out our current offerings. And the fun is just beginning, because while all of this requires new skills and ideas, it has also ushered in new dimensions to some all-important roles. These apply to alumni relations departments, as well.

1. Momentum building.

The power of social media can be harnessed to support all sorts of causes, including alumni giving. An example from Middlebury College in 2010 is cited here: “Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for college advancement, says Twitter and Facebook are responsible for Middlebury's receiving an extra $1-million last year from an anonymous donor. The money came in response to a challenge grant intended to increase alumni participation.” They were able to surpass their giving rate goal at the last minute thanks to alumni sharing the challenge through social media.

2. Real listening.

We can listen to alumni in new ways, augmenting traditional surveys with what folks are really saying to each other on Twitter and Facebook.  It eliminates some of the guess work, which allows us to be more targeted with solutions.

3. Joining the conversation.

We don’t bear the burden of starting conversations ourselves; we can join what’s already happening. The key to participating in these exchanges is to meaningfully engage.  When it comes to social media channels, brash promotion of what we think our alumni want – or only giving them what we have readily available – are far inferior to the more delicate approach of actually providing useful content.

4. Amplified story-telling.

As has always been the case, alumni relations departments are privy to amazing stories of accomplished graduates – and stories create connections and inspiration. Social media has enabled us to capture more of these stories than ever before, and to share these stories more quickly and creatively.

5. Real-time connecting.

Typically located on the campus, an alumni relations department is in a distinct position to share the most current happenings. For example, Cornell shares pictures via Twitter to show what’s happening on campus at that moment. That reinforces the important emotional connection alumni may have.


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