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Higher Education Marketing

How To Build An Evolving Alumni Engagement Strategy

Date posted: September 8, 2014

alumni engagement higher education marketing

College admissions and recruitment teams have a lot of balls in the air. They’re launching email campaigns, optimizing websites, growing social media communities, scrutinizing Google Analytics, and generating cutting-edge content ideas. It’s no surprise that building alumni relationships often gets pushed to the backburner. Typically, colleges are more concerned with getting high-quality candidates through their front doors than ensuring their allegiance following graduation. And that’s why so many donation campaigns falter and alumni networks disintegrate.

An Engagement Strategies Group survey found that eight out of ten alumni refused to donate to their alma mater because they felt the college had not done enough to connect with them following graduation. Furthermore, they felt they’d paid enough in tuition and that the school didn’t deserve their ongoing support. Ouch. At home and around the world, alumni represent the success of your programs.  A well-nourished alumni network can provide links to industry, potential new leads, mentorship to current students, and of course financial support for your school. But none of this happens without effectively connecting and re-connecting with graduates. How can busy alumni coordinators make that happen?

Establish An Alumni Engagement Model

Developing a solid framework for engaging with alumni is an essential starting point for generating meaningful relationships with your school’s graduates. A well thought-out strategy provides structure, guides tactics, and facilitates effective measurement – which is crucial for gauging success and planning improvements. Networking guru, Beth Kanter suggests a preliminary model that looks something like this:

alumni relationships college personas

This model provides a simple starting point for conceptualizing how best to reach out to your institution’s graduates. But in order to make it work, schools will need to re-conceptualize their alumni as belonging to distinct groups – each with their own preferred ways of engaging with their alma mater, volunteering their time, or donating their money. Filling in this model requires a next step, which will sound strikingly familiar to most higher ed marketers:

Segmentation And Alumni Personas

Just like a recruitment target audience, your school’s alumni will naturally fall into several persona categories. Part of determining the “Quality of Alumni-School Relationship” is segmenting graduates in groups, and considering a range of factors that will determine how you go about connecting with them:

alumni school relationship marketing

Higher Ed Hero agrees that segmenting by well-developed personas is a crucial step, without which alumni coordinators are left with hit-and-miss, generalized approaches. The strategies your school uses to connect with recent grads will be quite different to those used to engage with more distant alumni. Accordingly, Calls to Action will vary depending on the strength of the college-alumni bond. Kanter recommends conceptualizing this bond along a “continuum” of engagement, which could range from connected to committed:

connected alumni engagement

Tactics for engaging your school’s alumni, including CTAs, email campaigns, and social media messaging will depend on their persona profiles and where they presently reside along the continuum of engagement. Just as in education lead generation and recruitment, targeted content is crucial for making fruitful alumni connections. What’s next? Sourcing that content from new and novel sources.

Crowdsourcing Content From Your Expert Alumni

Higher Ed Live asserts that for most alumni, attending a live event and contributing content to a school blog or website takes an equivalent level of commitment. And considering that the number of Americans relocating for work jumped 35 percent last year, crowdsourcing content from graduates may be your school’s best bet for engaging alumni who have moved out of state or overseas. Engagement experts Keith Hanon and John Arboleda confirm that increasing graduate mobility makes reaching international alumni more important than ever.

With a commitment of say, an hour a month, your college could ask alumni to contribute an update on “where they are now” in their careers – or how they believe their time at your college shaped them personally and professionally.  Consider also video content or podcast interviews with alumni. Dedicate some digital space to alumni willing to mentor current students online, answering questions about industry, and guiding their entry into the professional sphere.

Not only is crowdsourcing a savvy content strategy for schools looking to strengthen alumni connections, it’s also a flexible Nurturing Strategy (from our original Engagement Model) that accomplishes a number of important objectives:

alumni content marketing

Invitations to contribute content can be tailored to fit your alumni personas and their position along the continuum of engagement. CTAs could range from posting a picture and writing a brief bio, to contributing a monthly blog on industry trends and providing advice to students. Whether it’s a space on your school’s website, or a series of segmented LinkedIn groups, alumni-created content builds authentic communities. And the participants in those networks, no matter how far from your school they travel or how long ago they graduated, will always link the benefits of membership back to their alma mater – which creates the conditions necessary for generous giving.

 So before sending out a generic request for financial support or invites to the perennial networking cocktail, consider the foundational nurturing steps your school may have missed.  Have you connected with alumni meaningfully enough to avoid the donation “cold shoulder?”

What engagement model does your school use to generate committed and generous alumni?