A university campus is a hub of fond memories and experiences.
While students likely learned a thing or two about industry topics and set themselves up for career success, they also built a relationship with their college that grew to ingrained loyalty.
For universities, the love and commitment of your alumni can be a powerful tool for fundraising opportunities, marketing and brand awareness. However, if you want to tap into those benefits, you need to find a way to maintain the relationship you own with your students even after they receive their degree.
Once upon a time, most of the best practices for alumni engagement revolved around direct mail campaigns, phone calls and student reunions. Now the digital age means universities can engage with their alumni on a more consistent and modern basis.
If you’re ready to take your school’s marketing strategy into the digital world, here are seven alumni engagement best practices you should keep in mind.
Looking for additional insights on higher education social media? Watch our higher education webinar to get the latest in the industry and have your questions answered!
1. Collect Useful Information About Your Alumni
When brands engage with customers through social media, they use buyer personas to help determine who they’re speaking to. It also helps with what kind of content brands need to produce to resonate with their target audience.
Making meaningful connections with your alumni requires higher education institutions to perform the same due diligence. What makes your alumni tick and what sort of content do they respond best to? Knowing the answers to these and other questions will allow you to tailor your alumni engagement strategy for each segment and persona. A few ways a university or college can gather important details about their alumni include:
- Monitoring hashtags and keywords that are used in relation to your institution.
- Tracking the type of content that gets the most attention from your campaigns.
- Using alumni surveys to uncover important demographics about location, gender, jobs and more.
O'Hare looks good in orange & blue 🔶🔷
This LED-illuminated 7 feet by 6 feet Block I statue is stationed in Terminal 3 in O'Hare International Airport.
— University of Illinois (@Illinois_Alma) January 29, 2020
2. Create Persona Maps for Each Alumni Group
Once you’ve collected important data about your students, you’ll be able to segment them to better speak their language. For instance, if you’re a designing a campaign for the class of 1992 or alumni of your college of business, ask yourself:
- Do they prefer podcasts or blog posts?
- Do they like to interact through live video?
- Are they more likely to connect through Twitter or LinkedIn?
- When do they spend most of their time online?
- Are they engaged by visual content?
- What kind of jobs do they have now?
- What subjects were they interested in while at school?
By looking at alumni preferences, the University of Michigan discovered that Instagram content would allow them to connect with their audience’s preference for visual content as well as highlight other notable alumni.
3. Use Tools to Monitor Your Alumni Engagement Strategies
Managing a social media campaign can be a complex experience for any brand. Since the only way you determine whether your campaigns are successful or not is to monitor their performance, you’ll need a tool that helps you to continuously learn from your efforts. After all, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for delighting your students and alumni.
For instance, Sprout Social’s social media management software helps universities measure engagement habits of followers. This means you can determine whether your alumni followers are spending more time on Twitter or LinkedIn.
In fact, Dartmouth College drove a 3,803% increase in engagements on major networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram through Sprout’s Smart Inbox. The university specifically saw more than half a million engagements on Instagram alone since using Sprout! Learn more about Dartmouth’s success with Sprout here!
Once you know where your audience is spending their time, and what content they enjoy the most, you can begin to adjust your alumni engagement strategy.
4. Use LinkedIn to Promote Networking & Learning Among Alumni
LinkedIn is a professional social network designed to bring people together in the working world. Since the focus of your alumni post-graduation is finding a job that suits their new qualifications, LinkedIn is a major platform to utilize to show you still care about their progress.
One alumni engagement best practice idea is to create and moderate groups or communities for graduates based on colleges within your university or overall alumni association. These groups allow alumni to connect with people from their discipline or beyond who may have connections to businesses you’re interested in.
Few things drive alumni back to their alma mater quite like the search for a new career. While your university might offer listings on your internal database, 79% of today’s applicants are using social media for their job searches. Alongside creating career groups on LinkedIn, you can collaborate with your career services department to offer training sessions too.
Just some of the useful training resources you could provide for your students might include advice on:
- How to act in an interview
- How to find a mentor
- How to change careers
- How to use LinkedIn to ask for an employer referral
- How to network through social media
- How to create your personal brand
5. Use Twitter for Brief Updates & Shoutouts
Everyone loves being in the limelight. Social media is a great place for universities to sing the praises of its graduates. This is a powerful way to encourage more engagement with the college brand. Not only will you get to interact with your previous students, but you show potential students your graduates make something of themselves.
The University of Southern California frequently updates their LinkedIn page with alumni stories, for instance:
However, when you’re trying to enhance your alumni engagement strategy, your shoutouts don’t have to be related directly to the things they accomplished as a student. Fast paced platforms like Twitter are perfect for celebrating a student who just married their college sweetheart, for instance, or are making big notable strides in the news.
Additionally, platforms like Twitter can also be useful for universities who want to keep their alumni informed about what’s going on with the college. A quick update means you won’t risk boring them with long-winded articles and blog posts.
6. Use Instagram to Romance Your Alumni Engagement
It’s no secret that one of the primary purposes of universities trying to engage with their alumni is for fundraising opportunities. However, asking your alumni for donations too early could damage your reputation by making you look too money hungry. After all, a large portion of your alumni are still paying back their student loans.
According to a CASE article, great fundraising campaigns include a stage called romancing. Romancing your alumni means not only reminding them of the wonderful moments they spent on your campus, but giving them an insight into how their involvement in your fundraising campaigns impact the future of your university.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, Instagram campaigns help you to interact with students emotionally–before asking them for money. Share snaps from the years they spent at the university and highlight before and after pictures showing positive changes alumni funds have made to your campus.
People love to see the transformative effects of their investments or donations and Instagram is a great platform for keeping your alumni in the loop.
7. Give Your Alumni Reasons to Share Content
Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool. Nothing generates nostalgia more than a personal story or picture from someone who also took your class when you were at university. User-generated content is a wonderful tactic for universities who want to improve their chances of engagement with alumni.
But a challenge you might face is that recent graduates are busy pursuing their careers to worry about alumni marketing campaigns. Besides simply offering your students a chance for a retweet or share, consider offering more.
Thank you to all our alumni volunteers and student leaders who attended #PSUCapitalDay!
Hear from Alumni Association President Steve Wagman as we wrap up the rally 🔽 pic.twitter.com/c2HeeFYyns
— Penn State Alumni (@PennStateAlums) March 13, 2018
A study found that 55% of alumni organizations don’t actively focus on giving their graduates any benefits. This could be the reason why it’s so hard for many schools to continue connecting with students in a lucrative way after they’ve graduated.
If donations are your end game, avoid reaching out to recent graduates who are still paying off their student loans. You might have better luck reaching out to key alumni in your alumni association who then in turn can individually reach out to other alumni as a way to build a network. Or, try enticing your alumni to contribute to your word of mouth or social campaigns by offering them personalized rewards. For instance, offer alumni a discount to a football game or provide exposure to help their personal brand for a story about their alumni experience.
Even a small token can be enough to encourage your graduates to start sharing their tales. As soon as they do, your social platform will become more engaging with alumni. Not only will it appeal to existing students who want to learn from their predecessors but also investors looking for evidence of your university’s potential and prior alumni searching for ways to relive their glory days.
There are several opportunities to engage with alumni through social media. Knowing which platform your target audiences prefer, as well as creating content and imagery that will capture their attention, will be crucial. Test these different alumni engagement best practices and strategies by using a social media management platform. Try a 30-day free trial with Sprout and see how you can better engage with your current students and alumni alike.