All of us in alumni engagement are charged with generating school spirit by helping alumni grow personally and professionally under the university flag. Although the eventual goal is to create goodwill resulting in gifts of time and dollars, most of us are trying to promote programs and initiatives for our alumni over the short term that will cause a connective spark.
Many institutions rely on reporting alumni news as a central tenant to their alumni constituency engagement strategy. Our communicators publish unbiased, journalistically sound, news articles that showcase professional achievements or unique philanthropic efforts. But this reporting doesn’t really drive alums to do anything.
For example: perhaps fictional alumnus, Steve Studly ’81 has been named to the Georgia State Lawyers “Best Lawyers of 2012” list, or alumnae Mary Matters ’07 recently traveled to the Sudan and volunteered for the Red Cross. These are both excellent professional achievements, but neither will likely help sell your alumni engagement initiatives.
What do you want your alumni to do? We work under the Advancement Office umbrella and want our alumni to do specific things like:
1) Volunteer to help as a member of regional club or reunion class committee;
2) Update contact information in the alumni database, or utilize that database to make a connection;
3) Attend an event on-campus like a reunion, lifetime learning lecture, or pre-game tailgate;
4) Attend a regional club event or register for an alumni travel program trip;
5) Mentor a student or young alum by contributing content to digital group like Facebook or Linkedin.
Now, let me backtrack for just a second and give alumni news a “pat on the back” for its overall marketing potential…
The story about Steve could be used to provide clout to an institution’s law school, and a spotlight video on Mary’s experience would likely yield strong web traffic after it’s shared on social media. There are uses for this sort of content. It does help out the institution.
From an alumni engagement standpoint, an argument can be made that adding the Steve piece might foster a stronger relationship between the alum and the university. Perhaps posting the story will bring Steve into the folds or function as a stewardship exercise for a recent contribution. Maybe the story about Mary Matters will provoke a student to volunteer with an NGO somewhere. That’s all good stuff. A case could also be made that just by having a member of the alumni constituency read the content that equals engagement on some tiny level. It is after all an interaction between the alum and the university.
In an honest assessment however, I believe most higher education communicators would agree that alumni news content is the easiest to write and that’s why it prevails. We write it because we must feed the content beast, and he’s always hungry. I get releases sent to my inbox all the time from agencies representing big law firms or corporations hoping for a little press. Setting up “Google Alerts” or something similar will provide a plethora of alumni news content potential.
It’s much more time consuming to seek out, write and post original content that functions persuasively to sell your alumni engagement initiatives and the alumni network itself. Stories that will both entertain and sell your initiatives are relationship stories. What two alums developed the framework of a business partnership while on an Alumni Travel trip to Argentina? Who successfully utilized your alumni Linkedin Group to find a job? Who met their spouse at a class reunion? What happened at the Philadelphia Club event resulting in three new volunteers stepping up? These stories will compel future actions, and that’s what we want.
Make no mistake, relationship stories are much harder to find and tell. It’s almost like detective work; the challenge of uncovering a great relationship story. Social media is an excellent place to look for clues and ask for narratives. We’ve worked hard to tell a few of these stories at Washington and Lee University. They’re meant to showcase the value of our specific alumni network initiatives. We add plenty of Alumni News to our homepage as well, make no mistake.
If you just need to freshly curate your homepage, then an alumni news story might be a useful tool during a busy time. Maybe a local paper will pick it up and run a story. But ultimately, you are being measured by the success of your initiatives, right?