Busting 4 Alumni Networking Platform Myths
I am, it’s no secret, a massive proponent of alumni networking platforms.
I have been the CEO of the market leading provider, Graduway, for 10 years. During this time, I have also acquired 3 separate companies in this space plus our recent strategic partnership with EverTrue. So, I know the pros and cons of these platforms.
Let me start with a disclaimer. Alumni networking platforms are not a perfect solution that will answer every need an alumni professional can ever have. If you have that expectation, then you will be disappointed. Engaging alumni is tough.
Furthermore, alumni networking platforms do not replace the need for face to face programming or indeed passionate and talented staff.
But, if used in the right way, alumni networking platforms can be a game-changer in how resource limited institutions can scale their alumni engagement.
Concerns around alumni networking platforms usually fall into one of what I call ‘4 Myths’. With your permission, I would like to address each in turn:
Alumni Don’t Need a New Destination Site – ‘Engage alumni where they already are on Facebook & LinkedIn as they’re free!’
Response: The assumption behind this claim is that somehow there is an easy way to engage alumni on existing social media.
But take a moment to think – your alumni may be on Facebook but are they on 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 in 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 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 – a huge missed opportunity to measure, learn and scale.
Low Engagement. No Data.
With a platform like Graduway, yes it’s a new destination site but we partner rather than compete 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 networking 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
Let’s take Tulane University as an 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.
How Much Work Is It Going to Take to Be Successful? – ‘I don’t have the headcount to add a whole team to managing this new platform!’
Response: Yes, when building an on-line community, you are going to need someone responsible for managing that community.
But it is not the 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. Launching a platform does take extra work however, once up and running, it can easily fall into the 20% range.
There are some large institutions with dedicated teams to this as they see the value, but you do not have to. The more you invest in the platform, the greater the value you will receive but it needs to be done in balance with your other priorities.
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 minimizes 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 practice 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 – through their weekly digest which sends out updates and relevant professional information – and they are utilizing engagement statistics on their platform to provide up-to-date data to better plan strategically.
Read more about how Kent State Athletics are scaling with Graduway here
Alumni networking platforms are expensive! – ‘I don’t have budget!’
Response: Alumni networking 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.
Do a few less events each year and instead leverage your alumni networking platform!
If you look at the expenditure per alum that is actively engaged, then the cost typically is under $5 per alum per year. Not a huge expenditure.
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 here https://graduway.tv/scaling-resources/
Isn’t the Alumni Engagement Superficial!? – ‘We want deep relationships with our alumni!’
Response: The biggest criticism of alumni networking platforms is the ‘quality vs quantity’ argument.
Namely, even though it is true that an alumni networking platform will bring in large quantities of alumni, what happens next? Also, is this at the expense of cultivating a smaller number of higher quality alumni relationships?
Alumni networking platforms can deliver both high quality and a large quantity of alumni relationships.
Ultimately the alumni networking platform is a tool that you need to manage.
To use an example of a restaurant to illustrate my point. 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 networking platform with careful management can become the ‘favorite restaurant’ of large numbers of your alumni. It can deliver on both quality and quantity of alumni engagement.
This criticism does however re-enforce the need to select a vendor that can provide the full customer success support needed to ensure you get the full benefit from your alumni networking platform but with limited time investment from your school.
Case Study: Manchester Grammar School – Creating Deeper Engagement
Since launching their platform, Manchester Grammar School has seen sustained increase of engagement year over year by 78% by offering students and alumni genuine value which has kept them coming back and connecting with each other and the school.
Hear how Manchester Grammar are increasing engagement here https://graduway.tv/case-study-manchester-grammar-school/
The case for alumni networking 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 networking 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 networking 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