Let me take you on a journey my friends.

Today we’re going to attend an alumni networking event together. It could be a happy hour at Trendy Bar du Jour or a Campaign Celebration event for “Believe in Us Now, Give Money So There’s a Later” at a fancy art gallery. The choice is yours. I’m good like that.

You arrive at the event, take off your coat (because it’s still winter even in your day dream) and enter the venue. After you mingled for a little while, you stop, sip your adult beverage (mine’s a vodka and soda), and take a moment to analyze the conversations you just had with fellow attendees.

A old fraternity brother remarked on the fact that you look thinner than the last time he saw you, and you proceeded to provide fitness and diet advice because you love talking about this “new” you;

You conversed with a woman that had the same major and you both had the same favorite professor! How about that!?;

You learned that another attendee just went on a safari in Africa and she offered her take on what it was like and the advice that you should take along travel antibiotics because she did not and really regretted it by about day three;

A buddy of yours, also an alum, asked you how your two kids were doing and whether you were getting any sleep because you weren’t the last time you two spoke. He offered some very unsolicited advice on Ferberizing your kids;

You got a compliment on your new J. Crew sweater and you reciprocated with kind words about an alumnae’s colorful dress (apparently from Anthropologie). You mentioned you were in the market for new brown dress shoes and she offered the suggestion of the brand Ecco.

I realize that I’ve just conjured up these exchanges, but think about this… If two alums didn’t know each other in college or have mutual friends, what aspect of the university will they be talking about? Some conversations might be about the sports teams, maybe a change in top levels of administration, but the rest of the discussions are probably light-hearted in nature, advice-based and the only common thread was that you and those you spoke with were alumni. The conversations were about moving forward in life, not nostalgia.

Now, all of these conversation occurred under the umbrella of the university

…And with the understanding that this event had a fundraising theme to it. “Believe in Us Now, Give Money So There’s a Later” was printed on the bev naps. You registered knowing perfectly well that you might get hit up for cash and that’s just alright by you because you love your alma mater. The propaganda campaign video was really good too!

So, if you’re still playing along with me here, thank you. That was a massive windup to my point about content marketing. Those conversations you had while networking contained peer-to-peer advice about travel, fashion, parenting, fitness and also your shared experiences with a faculty member. I believe this type of dialogue makes-up the truest essence of what the alumni network is all about. It’s actually the type of communication that’s preferred by alumni. It’s not news about the University. It’s more personal than news and significantly more helpful as well. Content marketing for alumni engagement is about providing usable advice.

At the University of Virginia, we created a unique content hub called “HoosNetwork” that replicates the dynamic, tone and conversations of an alumni networking event. The site is powered by over 40 alumni bloggers that are thought leaders on various topics and have agreed to allow us to use their content, over 50 (so far) individual alumni article contributors and almost 100 volunteer Digital Ambassadors for social sharing amplification.

At the same time, each post contains ads for fundraising or engagement priorities that can be easily deployed. Think web-based beverage napkins. The goal is the same as the campaign event for “Believe in Us Now, Give Money So There’s a Later.” The idea is to drive awareness and eventually web traffic to giving sites.

If the challenge of creating engaging and informative content can be put into the hands of our alumni as another way to participate — if it’s our alums that help us “feed the content beast” and spread the word — then we’ve got a new type of digital engagement program that could positively impact giving more than just one day a year.

I’d love to know your thoughts!

Ryan Catherwood is Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at U.Va. Ryan is co-host of Advancement Live which airs twice a month on Tuesdays at 1pm.


Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.


Ryan Catherwood

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  • Nick Zeckets

    Spot on, Ryan. The campaign isn’t the conversation, but the conversations can fuel the campaign. Kudos on HoosNetwork!

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