Busting 4 Alumni Networking Platform Myths
It’s no secret that I am a massive proponent of alumni networks and alumni engagement platforms. For over a decade, I’ve been the CEO of the market-leading provider Graduway and during this time I have acquired multiple companies in this space, and we enjoy a close strategic partnership with EverTrue.
First, a disclaimer. Alumni network platforms are not a perfect solution that will answer every need that an alumni professional can ever have. If you have that expectation, then you will be disappointed. Engaging alumni is tough. Furthermore, alumni network platforms do not replace the need for face-to-face programming, or indeed passionate and talented staff.
However, if used in the right way, alumni network platforms can be a game-changer in how resource-limited institutions can scale their alumni engagement.
Concerns around alumni network platforms usually fall into one of what I call ‘4 Myths’.
Myth #1: Alumni Don’t Need a New Destination Site
“Engage alumni where they already are on Facebook & LinkedIn as they’re free!”
The assumption behind this claim is that somehow there is an easy way to engage alumni on existing social media. Sure, your alumni may be on Facebook, but are they in your Facebook Group, and are they engaging there?
The reality is that on social media platforms, you are in constant competition for the attention of your alumni. Companies are pouring thousands of dollars into targeted ads to steal your alumni’s attention on the feed, not to mention the endless stream of posts, event invites, and cat photos from friends to compete with.
Truly engaging alumni on existing social media platforms requires a huge financial investment on your part to gain their attention and keep them coming back. Moreover, any engagement data on social media platforms is owned by the social media platform, not you – this is a huge missed opportunity to measure, learn, and scale.
With a platform like Graduway, you’re providing a new destination site that partners with, rather than competes with, social media. We have access to private and public APIs of companies like LinkedIn and Facebook. This means that it is super easy for your alumni to register, sign-in, build profiles, and connect with others.
Furthermore, we are leveraging an institution’s incredible brand as part of the destination site to drive higher engagement.
Rather than compete for their attention on mainstream platforms, building your own branded engagement platform allows you to ‘own’ the conversation. You can provide value through mentorship, professional opportunities, connections, and an alumni network without having to compete with other content. And all engagements and posts on the platform are connected to your institution (including the cat pictures)!
Yes, to Higher Engagement. Yes, to Data.
Case Study: Tulane University – On-going engagement leads to 52% more giving
Tulane University is a prime example of engagement on social media vs their Graduway platform. Alumni who liked or commented on Tulane Facebook posts were 30% more likely to be donors. If they are a Graduway user, their likelihood to be a donor is 52% higher. With over 16,500 active users on the platform, that is a lot of engagement and a lot of giving.
Myth #2: The Platform Takes Too Much Time to Manage
“I don’t have the headcount to add a whole team to managing this new platform!”
True, when building an online community, you are going to need someone responsible for managing that community. However, it is not a huge headcount increase that some may suggest.
Most of our 1,000+ clients have dedicated 20% of one person’s time to managing the community – i.e. 1 day per week. While launching a platform does take extra work,once up and running, it can easily fall into the 20% range.
Importantly, having an alumni networking platform generates time savings, particularly in getting access to updated data records and the ability to scale career advisory and mentoring programs.
On a product level, Graduway has built-in features which minimize the time needed to manage the communication, with automatically generated notifications and digests going out to users, and a dedicated customer success team to provide best practices and technical support.
So, yes, you need to dedicate ideally 20% of someone’s time but we will figuratively ‘hold your hand’ every step of the way.
Case Study: Kent State Athletics – Small Team, Big Impact
Kent State Athletics has a 1-person team dedicated to helping former student-athletes navigate the complex transition from athlete to the world of careers as alumni. Through the power of the platform, they are now able to scale their reach and impact with a centralized platform promoting thousands of jobs, continuing ongoing engagement and utilizing engagement statistics on their platform to provide up-to-date data to better plan strategically.
Myth #3: Alumni networking platforms are expensive
“I don’t have the budget!”
Alumni network platforms are not expensive. If you take the full budgets of alumni relations (including people), a platform will cost you far less than 5% of your budget and in many cases less than 1%.
The opportunity cost of trying to reach as many alumni is incomparable. If you do a couple fewer events each year and instead leverage your alumni engagement platform the cost typically is under $5 per alum per year.
Case Study: Brentwood College School – Maximizing Resources for Maximum Impact
After considering hiring an extra member of the Alumni Relations team to increase their impact, Brentwood College School chose Graduway as a much more cost-effective tool to scale their engagement. With a small Alumni Relations team, they were able to nurture and grow their Alumni Relations programming to include a student-alumni mentorship initiative, regular e-newsletters & an easily accessible directory that empowers our graduates to make their own connections – all without having to hire another employee.
Watch our latest webinar on The Secret to Making the Most of Your Limited Resources with Brentwood College School on GraduwayTV.
Myth #4: Isn’t the Alumni Engagement Superficial?
“We want deep relationships with our alumni!”
The biggest criticism of alumni network platforms is the ‘quality vs quantity’ argument.
Even though it is true that an alumni networking platform will bring in large quantities of alumni, what happens next? Is this at the expense of cultivating a smaller number of high quality alumni relationships?
Alumni network platforms can deliver both high quality and a large quantity of alumni relationships. Ultimately, the alumni network platform is a tool that you need to manage.
Let’s use an example of a restaurant. You cannot open a restaurant and not tell anyone about it. Even if you have the best chef in the world, you need someone marketing, managing, cultivating relationships, stewarding relationships, etc.
If you implement any platform and walk away, then of course you will not see the full potential of the network realized.
On the other hand, with limited input, if you invest in your alumni network then you will see a huge return in both your quality and quantity of alumni interactions.
Your alumni network platform, with careful management, can become the ‘favorite restaurant’ for large numbers of your alumni. It can deliver on both quality and quantity of alumni engagement.
This criticism does however reinforce the need to select a vendor that can provide the full customer success support needed to ensure you get the maximum benefit from your alumni networking platform, with limited time investment from your school.
Case Study: Manchester Grammar School – Creating Deeper Engagement
Since launching their platform, Manchester Grammar School has seen a sustained increase of engagement year-over-year by 78% from offering students and alumni genuine value, which has kept them coming back and connecting with each other and the school.
The case for alumni network and alumni engagement platforms rests on the fact that they are proven to disproportionately engage key alumni segments – from students, young alumni, disconnected alumni, to donors and major gift donors.
However, the case for alumni network platforms must be made in the context of alternative investments you can make to deliver similar engagement levels with similar resources.
Were you to do an analysis and rank your alumni relations expenditures, I think you would be unlikely to find a better return on your investment than purchasing an alumni network.
For the ability to scale your alumni engagement, very little beats an alumni network platform.
To misquote Winston Churchill, ‘Never has so much engagement been owed by so many alumni to such a small investment.’
To learn more, please download my Whitepaper ‘The Case for Alumni Networking Platforms.”