Most have encountered some version of an alumni network before, and been challenged to do much with it. We graduated with a degree from an accredited university, ready to change the world. But then we realized how tough a job market it is out there. And that’s where the power of the network (a built-in benefit of that degree) comes into play. But oftentimes, it’s extremely difficult for alumni to use this network.
Let me tell you my story.
I was halfway through my Master’s at an acclaimed business school. Ever since the GMAT days I had heard “the network, the network…” touted as one of the greatest benefits of my degree. With a desire to move on from the family business but not sure where to start, it was time to put it to the test.
"Alumni Spotlight" - Done Right?
After the non-social sign-in rigamarole, I got my personal password that I would never remember, but would need to be changed every 90 days. When I finally succeeded in logging in, I found write-ups on several ‘featured’ alumni. Why were these alumni chosen? I wished I had access to these people while I was in school figuring out my path. It would have been great to know if they were close enough to meet for a coffee and how to reach them. Instead, I suspected this was simply a section to stroke the egos of the latest top donors. Of more use would be a wide variety of accessible profiles, with stories akin to Roadtrip Nation.
No Smaller, Local, Relevant Groups
Next I took a look at the groups page, to see which were located in my area. There were none, and the few groups that were listed were simply links to different sites. I couldn’t create my own group, everything was controlled by the administration. What happens, I wonder, when an alum wants to do 'rogue networking' and start, for example, a group of alumni that are technology entrepreneurs and all live in the same town?
The Whole Directory, Please
Next I took a look at the alumni directory, knowing that I should be able to get more value here than Facebook or LinkedIn could deliver. Here’s why:
- LinkedIn and Facebook don’t provide location information that is specific enough to find potential mentors or start online/offline groups
- LinkedIn doesn’t have the complete alumni database, and several steps are required to start a conversation
- Cold-emailing a fellow alumnus with a static LinkedIn messages doesn’t leverage the warmth of our shared educational background
The directory is a huge benefit of any degree. It's not limited to current connections or friends, and is a well you can always return to. It's almost karmic. But I wasn't able to use it in the manner I’d hoped. I couldn’t create my own lists, email more than one person at a time, or post jobs for everyone to see.
But I was determined, so I spent the morning sending 50 individual emails out to alumni in my area who worked in my industry. The outcome was an incredible networking event where several who attended actually got jobs and clients. It was then that I knew I had to start 360Alumni.
Using my alumni network should have been so much easier. My experience reflects what hundreds of thousands of alumni go through every day - some of them think to use their alumni networks but when they try, they realize it's easier to take a general networking approach.
If You Want to Fix this for Your Alumni...
Over the last year we’ve seen many fresh, new companies enter the alumni relations space, and they all have their own angle. Some offer opt-in networks instead of directory-based solutions, some are dependent on larger social networks, some are mobile-only solutions, and some are focused on a narrow scope such as membership management, events or fundraising.
How does a visionary Alumni Relations professional choose the best option?
- Trust your instincts. You know your alumni best.
- Listen, survey and engage with these alumni.
- Look at your own experience as an alum. If you didn’t go to the school you work at, contrast your personal alumni experience and needs to what you know about the alumni experience at your workplace.
- Define success, including specific metrics and dates for milestones in connecting more alumni, engaging them, and earning their support. Work with your stakeholders to plan and commit to the smaller steps required to achieve these goals.
- Recognize that there is no magic bullet. Building a community takes time and patience, and sometimes takes place one conversation at a time.
- Do your research and speak to others in the industry. A solution that is used by many may not be the optimal solution for you. Understand the successes others have had with their platform, and pain points they’ve encountered in setup, engagement, etc. CASE is an excellent place to start (check out their email discussion groups if you become a member), as is the Alumni Relations Professionals group on LinkedIn.
Make it Your Mission to Empower Alumni
Alumni want to and NEED to make use of the network they’ve invested in. If they don't, how will you stay relevant in their lives? The great news is that alumni care about their school and will usually help other alumni when approached (again, karma!). The challenge is giving them the tools to succeed, then educating them about all the ways they can use the network to get better jobs, find mentors and partners, and help others.
As a starting point, instead of asking how alumni have helped you (how much money they’ve donated, how many have attended events, etc.), ask how you’ve helped them lately. If there hasn’t been much to date, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Fight the Good Fight
We know you’re out there… frustrated knowing your school’s network has real value to offer, but feeling as though your current tools aren't delivering. But if you offer a network that you’d want to use - that is alumni-friendly, inviting, easy to access, and removes the barriers to networking - they’ll return the favor and you'll uncover incredible gratitude for your efforts. Fight the good fight. You’ll be amazed at what that network can do.
360Alumni is an online, cloud based platform built to help your alumni connect to each other, and your organization. Our broad feature set includes an interactive alumni map and directory, a robust job board, groups and events, crowdfunding tools, email marketing and more.