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Alumni are the brand ambassadors of an institute, they represent two identities, one side of corporate, where they work and another side of the institute, where they have studied from. Alumni advocacy can help institute to gain added advantages in fundraising, building brands, placements, event, and admissions. A vast alumni network can also help to redefine institute’s development process because it’s possible to feel quality through its alumni’s work exposure in corporate. This may be an easier starting point for institute when connecting with students. A devoted alumni network can provide financial value in terms of donations, and more importantly, the alumni themselves can also become brand advocates, employers, and evidence of the college’s growing reputation.

Background

Abbas was drinking his favorite Irish Black Coffee at Café Coffee Day in downtown Bangalore. The strong aroma of freshly grounded coffee beans was reinvigorating, making him nostalgic about his post-graduation days.  He noticed a group of 7-8 people sitting on his next table, having fun; reminiscing all the wonderful time they had during the college. Apparently, they were invited by their alma mater to give a pep talk to the graduating students about how to survive a recession. And then it hit him like a bolt of lightning. He had found the missing piece of the puzzle. Hurriedly, he finished his coffee and got to work.

By the time Abbas reached his office the next day, his mind was clear as a radiant sun. He realized that communicating and marketing with the college’s alumni is crucial to the institution’s success. Abbas Ali knew that creating a marketing strategy that engaged and stimulated the alumni was no easy feat, but in the end, it was totally worth the effort.

 Challenges

As Director of Placements & Corporate Relations at ISBR Business School, Abbas Ali was engulfed in some real-life problems –

  • How to strengthen the brand image of his college further?
  • Will alumni advocacy help institution in building brand?
  • What are the different strategies to be adopted to strengthen alumni relationships?
  • How to get reputed companies to visit for campus placements via alumni networking?

An institution like ISBR needed to engage its former students at all times, and Alumni engagement cannot be restricted to seasonal occasions. Universities must keep finding the trends of posting that will excite alumni interest. Abbas realized that by assisting alumni in getting right recognition of their talent, institutes can create a more valuable connection with their graduates and show that the association is based on care and affection. With this newfound insight in mind, he and his task team started to delve deeper into how they can provide value and engagement to their alumni network.

Strategic Approach

Abbas Ali and his team created a marketing plan based on three objectives:

  • Engage with all the alumni
  • Get recruitment opportunities with these alumni
  • Grow the alumni network further

Abbas and his team realized that one must try to think of the alumni as a brand advocate not merely as former students. They reckoned that the engagement, opportunity to contribute and loyalty found in an alumni network of management colleges, like ISBR would be very high. Using social media, both alumni and universities can create a valuable network for mutual growth. For passed-out students, it can be a platform for career advancement and network expansion, whereas for universities this association can prove valuable in terms of strengthening industry linkages.

He personally knew of several alumni from his vast network; some as entrepreneurs were striving to nurture their businesses, a few were middle-level professionals seeking to climb higher up the management ladders, and some were seasoned professionals who were mentoring graduates to do better in studies. Thus, an active alumni network was a vibrant platform for personal and professional growth. Engaging with them in an ad-hoc way can only estrange them further.

In a recent survey report suggested that up to 85% of alumni believe that universities and colleges are not doing enough when it comes to engaging them.  In AlumniAccess’s 2016 survey found that 68% of alumni professionals feel that a lack of engagement is their number one concern. Thus, to create a plan that helped connect with their target audience (alumni) in a more streamlined way, they first created a Persona Document to capture specific characteristics and values that differentiated one group from another.

ISBR leveraged social media as a powerful way to create engagement by publishing alumni generated content. Not only did it give former students a platform to voice opinions and feelings but it also meant that they could spend less time and money continuously creating their own content. It was a win-win situation for both.

They even adjusted the alumni marketing plan to have different strategies for each type of management class (MBAs, PGs, PG Diplomas, etc). For instance, for recruitment drives from IT companies, you can tap your ex-students who were working in a job in tech/ IT, or at least have some interest in the industry. For instance, MIT’s alumni Twitter page regularly shared the latest tech news for graduate students.

Solutions

Initially, the emphasis was laid on regularly sharing engaging content such as contests, fun activities, ‘tag your batchmate’ campaigns, Throwback Thursdays and many such initiatives primarily on social media to demonstrate value and commitment to their ex-students.

Alumni Engagement Campaigns

  • Firstly, they fashioned a well-designed webpage and a private Facebook Group exclusively for ISBR Alumni Network to remind alumni of everything they loved about ISBR to begin with. Upon interacting with some other alumni associations, it dawned on them that email was the best way to stay connected with the alumni.
  • Secondly, for better engagement, they ensured that every piece of content and communication was personalized. The audience persona and profile document they created came in handy in terms of tailoring email content based on data points such as their graduation year, graduation program, etc.
  • Thirdly, to drive up the recruitment opportunities shared by the Alumni, Abbas Ali and the ISBR team came with a recruitment initiative called: Skill Capital, in which they invited ex-students to participate as recruiters. The initiative to reconnect with alumni was a great success. The combination of email and social media campaigns received a high number of referrals, recruitment and internship opportunities for the students.
  • Fourthly, they even encouraged ex-students to conduct webinars using Facebook Live, post stories of success, share family photos, counsel incoming students on how to make the most out of their college life, evoke nostalgia and much more.

Results

By the alumni Engagement campaign and by sharing alumni generated content, ISBR was able to make them emotionally invested and connected. They have achieved a 30% increase in overall alumni connect compared to last year and connected over 1000+ alumni.

Best Practices

 Brand Advocates: Universities and academic institutions benefit tremendously from alumni-centered social media campaigns. Columbia University is one such exemplary case of a university leveraging social media for fundraising. In 2012’s Giving Day campaign, Columbia University launched a fundraising website and initiated a social media campaign targeting large alumni base, new and existing donors, alumni and staff and encouraged them to participate in donor match challenges and broadcast live streams to their sizable social media audience. Within 24 hours, Columbia pulled in $7.8 million in funding from across the United States as well as 53 countries.

Alumni Surveys: In a world fanatical with social media and live streaming, a survey might not appear to be the most exciting strategy, but let’s not forget how beneficial they are for gathering meaningful information. It can be a great way to collect important information and insights about various campaigns that you plan to run throughout the year while gauging the interest-levels of the alumni.

Focused Email Drives: Email a fantastic way to stay connected with your alumni as a part of an engagement strategy, and also a great solution to support your marketing campaigns. For example, did you know that email subscribers are three times more likely to share the content they receive on social media?

Alumni Stories on Blog: Sharing stories created by alumni on a blog not only drives traffic to higher education institute’s website but in addition, also offers a massive value in terms of SEO to the alumni. Moira Gentry from UMASS Amherst encourages alumni to share their stories on their website to boost their SEO rankings.

 

 

 

Swapnil Jain
Forward-thinking Visionary Entrepreneur with 16 years of successful experience. As a Founder and Director of FMA Digital, Swapnil helps academic institutions embrace the power of Digital Transformation and increase their ROI through digital strategies.