Young Alumni: From Engagement to Giving: The Inner Workings of Successful Virtual Social Networks

By Meyers, Harriet | University Business, February 2017 | Go to article overview

Young Alumni: From Engagement to Giving: The Inner Workings of Successful Virtual Social Networks


Meyers, Harriet, University Business


To keep Stanford front and center in the minds and hearts of its graduates, the university's alumni association--like other institutions--is investing time on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The big attraction: instant, interactive, daily engagement--especially with young alumni. "Social media is the digital water cooler," says Adam Miller, Stanford University Alumni Association's director of digital and data services. "Many young alumni are at work when they engage. They need a few minutes to check in and have some fun with their Stanford people."

Graduates become more social media savvy with every class, and it won't be long before all alumni are literate in these platforms, says Dana Peterson, vice president of product development at Alumni Monitor, a division of Corporate Insight, which tracks the alumni online user experience. "Social media offers an effective way to keep the party going and explode your reach," he adds.

The Pew Research Center Social Media Update 2016 confirms that Facebook is still the giant on the social media block, attracting 68 percent of all U.S. adults and an impressive 79 percent of online Americans--more than double the number of visitors to other platforms. Three-quarters of Facebook users visit daily. Alumni organizations are taking note that eight in 10 users are college-plus educated and nearly nine in 10 are 18- to 29-year-olds.

As private and public universities experience a decline in state and federal resources, "college presidents are under increasing pressure by their boards of trustees to cultivate donations from a larger base--and social media is perfect for that," Peterson says.

In the past few years, he's seen small and large schools take a programmatic approach to using social media, with behind-the-scenes planning, goal setting and sophisticated content development. Social media platforms now offer richer functionality to target messages to specific alumni segments, build alumni communities, engage young alumni and up the ante from engagement to giving.

Building the network

Ten years ago, Texas A&M's alumni organization considered using a proprietary social media platform, but decided to meet people where they were. Today, its Facebook group has 75,000 Facebook followers, and there are another 45,000 on Twitter, with participation growing 15 percent to 20 percent annually.

A Young Alumni Advisory Council helps attract recent graduates to the online communities. These 30 volunteers add a millennial perspective to activity on the young alumni-focused Facebook and Twitter accounts. "The goals--humanizing our brand and driving people to our website--are the same for all alumni, but for young alumni the messaging is a little more trendy," says Kathryn Greenwade, vice president of Texas A&M's Association of Former Students. For example, a post may call for "mannequin challenge" video shares (which, for those who don't know, involve staying frozen as a song plays).

"It makes sense to have other young alumni help monitor and post messages, often at night when people their age are on social media," she adds.

Interactive contact drives engagement while putting a face on the alumni association. Aggies are encouraged to post pictures of their travels and their children and offer advice to new students. Feel-good, heartwarming posts evoke pride in the institution, bring dedicated followers into the community and encourage interaction between alumni, says Greenwade.

The engagement efforts paid off in November on the alumni organization's "Pay It Back Day," which had a goal of raising $100,000 via emails and social media posts. Social media ambassadors (alumni volunteers who promote posts) messaged their friends, and as each donation rolled in, they posted a picture of a student thanking the donor. "The shared messages went viral, and we raised more than $240,000 from 1,800 donors," Greenwade says. …

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