The cardinal rule of social media marketing is that you shouldn’t spend resources promoting your product/service, but instead add value to the members of your community by providing meaningful content. Your relationship with your community is established and expanded upon by your ability to add value to your members.
So, if I’m selling you mascara, I’m not spending my time saying “buy my plumping-thickening-defining-fantabulous-gigantic-lash-factory-in-a tube”, but instead I give you information on “how to rock a smoky eye,” “how to apply false lashes,” and of course, the new trend sweeping across an eyelid near you: defined lower lashes.
You rarely see a brand screaming “buy me, buy me!” online anymore (this is a good thing). Interestingly though, this morsel of modern marketing theory hasn’t carried over to alumni organizations (colleges, universities, fraternities, sororities, etc.) looking to drum up support (donations, volunteer hours) via Facebook and Twitter.
The downfall is that alumni organizations are missing a huge opportunity to generate new sources of cash and volunteer hours from an automatically captive audience. While consumer and business brands spend months expanding their communities and gaining traction, alumni organizations can quickly build their follower count because most alumni are willing to solidify their online connection with little consideration. Despite the ease of access to their audience, alumni organizations are really dropping the ball when it comes to leveraging their communities to achieve the goals of their organizations.
Let’s face it, it isn’t as if these organizations don’t need new contributors. Universities are no exception to the decrease in non-profit giving that has taken place over the past few years. Moreover, it’s not just the cash, people are giving less of their time and many alumni organizations depend heavily on volunteer support to drive their initiatives forward.
Although engaging with alumni online is crucial to generating alumni support, I don’t think that current efforts are going to generate the results that they are looking for. Here are my thoughts on how increase alumni engagement and generate an outstanding ROI:
1. Stop banking on sentimentality. If an alum connects with the university online (lets say, “likes” the college or alumni group on Facebook), it is safe to assume that he or she has fond memories of their college experience. Asking alumni to share favorite memories from their college days is completely boring, and any interesting memories that could be shared, won’t. Interesting memories are either inside jokes that aren’t relevant to the masses or potentially detrimental to the personal brand.
2. Think about what is important to your audience and provide useful content. Who are your alumni? Engineers? Doctors? Attorneys? Designers? Scientists? Offer industry or other relevant content (perhaps created by a fellow alum). What do they want to read or know about? A few years ago (ok, more than a few, but who’s counting?), Kappa Alpha Theta published an article in the Theta magazine about identity theft and how to prevent it from happening. It wasn’t about Theta, but it was useful information that Thetas (among other North Americans) were dealing with. Alumni organizations should be publishing this kind of content.
3. Showcase your alumni talent at all levels. Start a blog and recruit alumni to serve as guest bloggers on a myriad of topics. Republish interesting content that alumni are posting on their personal and corporate blogs. Think about what kind of content your alumni want to learn about and be the gateway to that information. Don’t leave out the up-and-comers, sometimes those are the most interesting stories.
4. Create commerce. Create an ongoing conversation that encourages alumni to connect with one and other and do business together (I’m not talking about an alumni specific online community). Many alumni organizations spend a ton of cash publishing an alumni directory and think that they are achieving this, but is entirely ineffective. Your primary goal as an alumni organization should be to get people shaking hands, and this can start out online. If my membership in an alumni group made me money, I wouldn’t think twice about forking over the cash to make sure that those efforts continue.
The biggest take-away for alumni organizations: the transaction is over. Tuition was paid, fun was had, and the degree was received. I’m not going to donate money or time because I had a great time pomping the homecoming float or learned how to say “flying buttress” in German class ten years ago. If alumni organizations want to receive donations, they will have to give before they get.
Photo Credit: Shiladsen