I recently stumbled across an old ‘Friends’ episode which is super relevant for anyone running or thinking about alumni networks and would like a few alumni networking tips.
It’s the Friends episode where the characters Ross and Chandler join their respective school’s alumni networks for the first time. They then impersonate each other in the network and post inappropriate profile descriptions and updates – even pretending Ross has died, to see how popular he is. I have posted the relatively ‘clean’ clip below.
The antics of Ross and Chandler tie into a common concern expressed by schools – although they all want to maximize alumni engagement, they are concerned at what alumni will do with this freedom of expression.
What if alumni post inappropriate content about themselves or others on your alumni app or alumni directory?
What if alumni start a discussion that is critical of the school in some way?
What if a recent graduate is too aggressive / familiar in their messaging to an important donor or senior positioned alum?
In short, the flip side of higher alumni engagement and alumni networking could mean some of the risks outlined above, so what is the answer?
Well, the answer is not excessive controls where every single comment or posting must be vetted and checked prior to publication. This would kill engagement. The answer is also not about restricting free speech.
Yet there are ways to minimize this risk while keeping your network active and engaging alumni and here are some of my alumni networking tips:
1. Control access – it sounds basic but an obvious first step is to ensure that only real alumni have access to your network. This includes ensuring all users sign up to your privacy statement and terms and conditions of usage.
2. Student training – your highest risk group may be graduating students. Before inviting this new batch of alumni to join the network, why not provide them with a short training on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of using the network including how best to approach more experienced alumni.
3. Supporting alumni privacy – each user should have the ability to control their own personal data that is shown about them in the network and to opt out of being messaged if they want. Also provide alumni with options to indicate where they are willing to help other alumni and how best to connect with them so as to guide interactions.
4. Retrospective controls – finally your school must have the ability to remove any offending materials quickly and if necessary to exclude misbehaving users. This is a must have on all alumni software.
My experience of working with many school networks is that in reality alumni can be trusted and misbehavior is very rare / non-existent. Although many schools have a natural fear of giving up some control to make room for alumni engagement, there are ways as outlined to mitigate this risk and that is one of my crucial alumni networking tips.
Finally, the best control in a network is ‘self control.’ Meaning most of your users will fear being perceived by others in a negative way and hence will control and moderate their own behavior. Remember this is not an anonymous network which is probably the greatest control of all.
Trust your alumni! You can encourage alumni engagement while sleeping easy at night