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Alumni Affinity

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Research carried by Dr Ronald Burt of the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business indicates that whilst attachment to an institution declines over time, connections with other graduates inhibits this erosion.

This research is a great read and begs an interesting question…

If online social networking websites such as Facebook continue to enable graduates to maintain and recover university friendships, will alumni affinity towards the university improve with little or no assistance of alumni professionals departments?

Can you afford to sit back and hope that it does?

Attachment, Decay and Social Network appeared in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 22, issue vi, (September 2001), pp. 619-643.

Attachment, decay, and social network [PDF]

Virgin leads the way

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Companies such as Virgin Radio continually demonstrate what digital success looks like to their staff. They have a plasma screen in their office devoted to a number of key statistics about their community.

Should Alumni professionals be doing something similar too?

If you have a spare minute I would strongly recommend that you give the Virgin Radio Website a visit.

You can see a scrolling activity wall with information about what the station’s listeners have been doing on their website. The Virgin team uses this information to assess their performance and improve what they do.

A lot of University alumni communication is now conducted in digital form. Perhaps it’s time Alumni teams started tracking everything all their communications like Virgin do, and only then make decisions on the resulting analysis.

Key statistics for an alumni department:

  • The number of graduates using your website right now, over the last 24 hours, and during the last 7 days
  • The number of alumni registered on your website
  • The number of alumni you are in touch through other communication channels
  • The total number in your alumni community
  • The most popular news stories and events, emails, and blog posts

What other statistics would be useful to you and your team?

Would it be useful to review these statistics every week as a team?

What goals could you set to improve on them?

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A study published by comScore indicates that Bebo, Myspace, Facebook, and other social networking websites have grown up to 366% over the last 6 months.

Whilst Alumni professionals might not be able to compete against the shear scale and ongoing momentum of these new websites, but they do stand to benefit considerably if they join and embrace them.

With the right student and alumni stakeholders rooting for you, your team has the opportunity to build a very large Alumni network using applications featured on these social networking websites.

Facebook and LinkedIn are certainly worth having an Alumni presence on, as in my experience these contain the most university alumni. At the very least you should have a facebook & LinkedIn group devoted to your alumni department, so that graduates can find you and your team.

Which social networking websites does your alumni department have a presence on?

A recent comScore study, suggests that podcasting is most effective for 18-24 years old alumni, who are twice as likely to download one as anyone else.

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What successes and failures has your alumni team had with podcasting?

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Over the past few months I have started using Facebook more and more as my primary method of keeping in touch with people. I used to email friends and colleagues when I wanted to get in touch. Now all of my contacts are on Facebook, I just send them a message on there. They often respond quicker than they would have by email.

I think that Facebook will slowly become the place where I do ALL of my communication with my friends.

If this type of usage grows, young alumni may soon only use email to communicate with old people and business contacts.

What implications would this will this have for your alumni communications strategy?

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Unless you’ve had you’ve been on a very long holiday, you might of noticed an increasing amount of media coverage devoted to social networking websites such as Facebook, Myspace, & LinkedIn.

Whilst it’s tempting for the sceptical ones among us to dismiss this media coverage as hype, I really believe that social networking websites are here to stay. If this is true, this poses a number of very real opportunities and threats to alumni associations and their teams.

Like you, I have a social network made up of family, friends, colleagues, and other connections. This social network is an integral part of my life that helps me do things like find new jobs, friends etc… University alumni are no different from you or I.

In the real world, a social network is only as useful and valuable as the people and connections that you are aware of within it. Even between myself and good friends, the dissemination of this information is slow and often incomplete.

So how have social networking websites changed this?

Social Networking websites enable members to make friendship connections between family, friends, and colleagues public.

When you become a ‘friend’ of another member, they become a part of your network, and you become a members of theirs. This connection enables you to see who your friend knows, and who their friends friends know.

So what does this mean?

You are no longer a stranger to a much wider community of people and are able to see connections that would otherwise remain hidden. You can use these connections for what ever reason you chose. This is the essence of social networking.

When my ears turn bright red and feel hot to the touch, my friends often remark that someone must be talking about me behind my back. If I wanted to find out what they were saying, you may be surprised to find out that it’s certainly a lot easier these days.

Websites such as Blogpulse, Technorati, and Google Alerts can deliver you blog and website postings featuring your Institution name or other key words.

If you’d like to listen to what your alumni are saying about you, or for that matter what they are getting up to, these websites are definitely worth using. Finding stories for all your publications has got a whole lot easier!

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