How to Use LinkedIn for Alumni Engagement

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article on how alumni offices are using LinkedIn.

As the online networking site gains popularity (259 million members and counting), alumni relations programs are using the free tool to enhance their engagement efforts. With LinkedIn, programs can update alumni employment and contact info or see high-level statistics on where and in which sectors alumni live and work (see example below from my alma mater, the University of Miami). As a more direct engagement tool, alumni career services offices have long offered alumni training webinars on how to use LinkedIn effectively in their employment search.

Miami profile

While some alumni programs fear LinkedIn’s free perks may detract from the exclusive networking benefits offered through their paid membership programs, it’s not a tool to disregard. Like email, Facebook, and much more, LinkedIn is one of the many tools in the evolution of alumni engagement that can help our programs fulfill their historic role – connecting alumni to the university and each other.

We asked BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication, Justin Ware, for the top 3 things alumni professionals and programs can do to make the best use of LinkedIn, given limited time and resources.

  1. Use your personal “brand” to share your institution’s content: LinkedIn is unlike most other social networks (Facebook and Instagram, for example) in that its content is heavily weighted toward a person’s professional interests. If you’re reading this blog, you likely work for an alumni association or related organization, so your community of connections on LinkedIn expect to see content about or from your alumni association, via your personal profile. This gives you free license to use your profile or personal “brand” to talk extensively about your institution – something that is less appropriate on more personal, family- and friend-focused networks like Facebook. Of course, this only works if you are connected to your institution’s alumni via LinkedIn. Reach out and connect with as many alumni as you can on LinkedIn and share the best content your alumni association has to offer via your profile. Your alumni connections will see it and interact with it, because they expect to find that type of content, from you, on LinkedIn.

  2. Identify advocates or online ambassadors: Highly active and social media savvy LinkedIn users often link to other social networks via their LinkedIn profiles. Just below the header on their profile (the area that includes their profile picture), one can find links to Twitter profiles, blogs, email addresses – you can get a real sense of just how active and influential your alumni are across social media by the networks they list on LinkedIn. This is important as you build online ambassador programs, since identifying truly active and influential advocates is a crucial component of an ambassador program.LinkedIn box
  3. Create communities to help your alumni network: LinkedIn’s groups are an increasingly common space for users to gather and exchange ideas. Create a group for your alumni where they can openly discuss items relating to your institution. If such a group already exists, contact the administrator and ask how you can help. DO NOT try to shut the group down against the administrator’s will unless the group is severely detrimental to your alumni association’s mission or highly offensive.The group you create or join could be a professional network space that connects employers with potential employees or mentors with mentees; it could be more focused on initiatives at the institution; or it could be an exchange between alumni about the news of the day, athletic events, other on-campus events. Think about what your alumni would like more of from your alumni association and deliver that via a LinkedIn group.

Jamie Hunte and her colleagues at Bentz Whaley Flessner help colleges and university build and grow great alumni programs. Learn more about how we can help your program by clicking here.
Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Learn more about how he helps clients use social media to enhance their engagement efforts by clicking here.


Football Giveaway + Social Media = Increased Alumni Engagement Online

The University of Iowa Alumni Association (UIAA) launched a Football Weekend Giveaway with a stellar grand prize: club seat tickets for the Iowa vs. Wisconsin football game, entrance to the UIAA Tailgate Party, a two-night stay at the Iowa House Hotel, and $100 gift certificate to a downtown Iowa City restaurant. In addition, UIAA members have an exclusive opportunity to win a $250 Hawk Shop gift certificate.

Alumni and friends enter to win by “liking” the UIAA’s Facebook page and completing an entry form. Participants can enter once a day and submit bonus entries by tagging the UIAA in an Instagram photo showing Hawkeye pride with #onceahawkeye in the caption.

This online campaign has a lot of potential. To increase their social media following, UIAA has targeted a younger alumni audience with a highly desirable offer. And, they’ve incorporated a premium for alumni members (the exclusive opportunity to win the Hawk Shop gift certificate), communicating even in this small way the value of the UIAA membership.

We spoke to Dylan Hendricks, UIAA Web Editor, to find out the goal of this online campaign, the response so far, and what advice he has for other alumni programs who might take a similar approach.

What is the goal of the campaign? The primary goal is to grow our social media following on Facebook and Instagram, to encourage alumni engagement through social media, and to promote alumni membership.

What response have you seen so far? Overall, people have been very excited about our giveaway. This is the third year that we are running this campaign, but the first that we incorporated Instagram. We thought people would enjoy showing all the ways they show their school pride, and we have been thrilled with the results so far.

What advice would you offer to others considering a similar approach?

  1. Make sure the prize is really something your alumni want or need—we have always had success with working with local partners to sponsor our giveaway, which allows us to offer a better giveaway package.
  2. Make sure everything you are doing is mobile friendly. This year we have seen a large spike in the number of alumni who are engaging with us primarily through their tablet or smartphone.
  3. Focus on one segment as your ideal target audience. Our giveaway is open to everyone, but we added Instagram this year as a way to try to engage with more young alumni. We have been more than happy with the response.

Need to Track Your Alumni Instagram Account?
BWF social media consultant Justin Ware says: “Measure, measure, measure. No social media strategy is complete without the ability to test your activity. To do so requires access to useful and meaningful metrics. For Instagram users, a good and affordable (free) option is Statigram.” Read Justin’s intro to Statigram on BWF’s Social Philanthropy Blog.


Alumni Relations and Development Work Hand in Hand for a Big Success

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Alumni Association has a lot to be proud of. Earlier this month, the association partnered with its development colleagues to launch UMassGives, an online fundraising campaign that raised over $80,000 in just 36 hours.

The alumni association staff played a key role in recruiting alumni to be online ambassadors, or influential Internet users who were vocal online supporters of their alma mater.

Beyond increasing support for UMass Amherst, the campaign raised the alumni association’s visibility and social media presence and demonstrated its commitment to serving the university, . We asked Elena Lamontagne, Director of Alumni Communications and Marketing, and Moira Gentry, Associate Director for Alumni Communications, for a behind-the-scenes look at the alumni association’s role in the campaign. Read their answers to our questions and see our colleague Justin Ware’s campaign wrap up video below.

  • How did the UMassGives campaign fit in with your strategy for alumni engagement via social media?
    Our social media strategy is to be a support mechanism for campus partners and an information resource for our alumni. The UMassGives campaign allowed the Alumni Association to inform constituents of the impact of giving for important university initiatives, thereby achieving both goals. It also raised our visibility and social media presence, as it demonstrated our commitment to serving the UMass community.
  • How did the alumni association help identify online ambassadors?
    It was a team effort. We asked all our staff to identify alumni volunteers with strong communication and social media skills that would be a good fit with this effort. We then approached our loyal and passionate alumni with a proposal to become an online ambassador and the rest is history!
  • What trends did you observe (if any) in participation by age group or other demographics?
    Overall, the campaign was slightly younger and more female than our regular social media followers (which tend to be male and a bit older, so the campaign was probably more toward the median).
  • How did you measure your success?
    We measured success by the number of new Likes and Follows and by the engagement levels such as RTs (retweets), favorites, shares, etc., We also tracked the results of our boosting others’ signals to help them win the various challenges. We really think we helped the Permaculture Initiative to win!
  • What would you say to those alumni programs that might be hesitant to participate in a fundraising campaign?
    Alumni Relations and Development really have to work hand in hand to communicate the university’s goals and to provide alumni with opportunities to be involved in the life of their alma mater. The UMassGives campaign demonstrated a coordinated effort across campus to achieve a specific goal, and our alumni were excited to be part of it.

Using MOOCs to Engage Alumni, and Other News and Ideas

Schools Use Free Online Courses to Engage AlumniGraduates in Cap and Gown
Beyond a cost-reducing measure, can Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) be a tool for alumni engagement? This article explores the potential for MOOCs to add value for alumni both as learners and facilitators. Referenced in the article is Harvard’s  The Ancient Greek Hero course, in which 80 alumni served as online mentors and field experts in a class of 10,000 students.

University Engagement: 5 New Ways to Think About Alumni Engagement
Changes in the communication landscape and the college experience in general require colleges and universities to reframe their alumni engagement approach. In this post, Jay Sharman, Founder and CEO of TeamWorks Media, offers 5 new ways to think about your alumni communications strategies.

5 Ways to Use Pinterest to Engage Alumni
As the third-largest social media site, Pinterest offers a unique platform for online engagement. From showcasing notable alumni to “pinning your alumni pride,” here are 5 ways schools are already using Pinterest to engage alumni online. For more tips, see our colleague Justin Ware’s blog post: “Pinterest For Nonprofit Work Done Right.”

Words for New Alumni
What did our newest alumni hear at their commencement ceremonies? The Chronicle of Higher Education offers this roundup of inspiration from 11 schools this commencement season. And don’t miss Business Insider’s “23 Of The Best Pieces Of Advice Ever Given To Graduates.”

Harvard Alumnus Donates $125 Million, Again
A Harvard Business School alumnus who gave the university its largest gift is making a second $125 million donation to the school to fund a bioengineering institute.


The Best University Holiday Greeting Videos

YouTube_LogoHoliday greeting videos are a great tool for bringing alumni, donors, and friends back to campus virtually, but the holidays aren’t the only time for video greetings. Think about other times during the academic year to engage your constituents through an up-beat, celebratory message, like the beginning of the school year, homecoming, the announcement of a special award or prize, or the kick-off or conclusion of a capital campaign.

The best holiday greeting videos share a few characteristics, as BWF’s Director of Social Media, Justin Ware, describes in this short video.

Here are some examples from 2012 to fuel your imagination as you create your own holiday greetings. 

The University of Minnesota integrates the M symbol with images that portray its various colleges.

The University of North Texas communicates the importance of students  in an engaging way.

SUNY Albany makes use of a digital pop-up book with the sights and sounds of campus.

The University of Connecticut captures the energy and enthusiasm of the marching band and school mascot.

Ashland College has an interactive feature that keeps the viewer engaged.
Ashland’s interactive video

Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences uses a digital slide show that viewers can share.
Weinberg’s shareable slide show

If you’d like to share your institution’s holiday greeting video, please share the link in the comments section below this post. 


Using Social Media to Unlock Your Alumni Magazine, and Other Headlines in Alumni Engagement

Using Social Media to Unlock Your Alumni Magazine
The right social strategy can help your print magazine do its job year-round. Cameron Pegg of Griffith University looks at how some universities are using social media to extend and enhance the reach of their magazines.

CASE Celebrates 100 Years of Alumni Engagement
In 2013, CASE will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Association of Alumni Secretaries. They’ve assembled a host of related articles and resources, including one of our favorites, John Lippincott’s list of 10 common mistakes in the field of alumni relations.

Pro Bono Volunteers Bring More Than Free Advice
The Chronicle of Philanthropy explores how nonprofits can use pro bono support strategically by considering long-term needs, developing a system for quality control and consistency, and creating a method for finding the professionals who can  best help.

260 Alumni + 332 Students = a Thriving Externship Program
In its 16th year, the MIT Alumni Association’s Externship Program will connect students to alumni-sponsored externships this January.

Video Is the Best Way for Athletic Departments To Engage Alumni
Brandon Costa, Senior Editor of the Sports Video Group, explains why video is key for keeping alumni fans fired up.

Nebraska Alumni Association Features Master’s Week
The Association collaborates with the Chancellor’s office and collegiate units to honor and engage distinguished alumni.


How to Develop Your Social Media Strategy for Alumni Engagement – Part 2

In my last post, I outlined how to engage your online ambassadors as you develop your online and social media strategy. Now I’ll describe the components that make up a good strategy.

After (or better yet, before) you’ve forged strong relationships with online ambassadors, your strategy will serve as your road map for anyone in your organization charged with managing the conversation with your members and other constituents online. The strategy is a document that clearly communicates what your alumni association is trying to accomplish online and how you’re going to do it. Post it online so that it’s available to your conversation managers 24 hours a day (the Internet never sleeps).

The strategy should include the following:

A social media strategy should serve as your organization’s online road map.

Goals What are you trying to accomplish? Put this in writing and make sure everyone knows AND understands your goals.

Realistic Look at Resources In a perfect world, you’ve hired a full-time online and social media manager (eventually, they’ll be as commonplace as communication directors …or maybe they’ll be the communication director). However, if the decision to hire a social media manager hasn’t been made yet, you’ll need to make do with what you already have. Often that means forming a committee of current employees to manage content and conversations online. For a great example of where that’s working well, have a look at this video on UNC’s social media committee for development.

Resources might also include any capital investments you make. For example, do you want to invest in high quality camera gear? Maybe you have the budget to invest in a green-screen studio for your organization?

Tools Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest? What are you going to use to get your message across? It helps your conversation managers if this is clearly established and put in writing.

Tactics (a.k.a. your Content Strategy) This is a crucial component to your online and social media strategy. This is what an alumni relations officer will refer to at 5 pm on a Saturday when they’re trying to answer a time-sensitive question from a prominent alum via Twitter. Your tactics will instruct conversation managers on what they should post and when. What makes for good video content? What photo galleries are most popular? What items should be avoided at all costs? Part of your content strategy will already be determined by what your audience tells you they want. The rest should be focused on how you’re planning on working your messages into that content that meets audience demand.

Method of Measurement This is a crucial component that will tell you whether what you’re doing is working or if you need to change course. And there’s nothing wrong with changing course. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why you measure your strategy’s progress toward reaching your goals. The best online and social media strategies are the result of multiple revisions over time. Even if you get it right the first time, your audience’s needs and wants will change and you need to be ready to change with them. Keeping track of your strategy with multiple methods of measurement will help you do that.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. For more on Justin, click here.