Increase Engagement: Meet Your Alumni on Social Media

I’m at the age where I attend a lot of weddings. It seems that every weekend someone from some connection is getting married. I’ve RSVPed to so many I’ve lost count.  

And while I try to make every wedding I’m invited to, I physically can’t attend all of them. The distance may be too great, or (gasp!) I have another wedding on the same day. When this happens, I always decline with regret.

My friends understand. Being unable to attend doesn’t mean I care less about them as a couple. There’s a conflict, no worries. Not attending doesn’t mean my engagement – about their engagement – is any less.

Sadly, most institutions and non-profits don’t agree with this logic. And they are missing out on engaging with alumni where they are – on social media.

We must change the engagement criteria

Let’s look at the old logic first. Events are simple:

  • Did an alumnus attend the event, or didn’t he?
  • Was a member of your fundraising team able to have a conversation with an important donor or prospect, or not?

Many engagement teams correlate success to event attendance. Advancement marketing teams push alumni to attend reunions, receptions, and lectures. Alumni who show up are viewed as “engaged.” The more people at the event, the more successful it is.

But what about those who hoped to attend but couldn’t? Maybe the event was too far away? Maybe the babysitter backed out? These are the ones who would decline with regret. Based on the criteria (attended the event or didn’t attend), fundraisers might claim that these alumni aren’t fully engaged.  Fundraising teams fail to record their intent to attend and as a result, these alumni may not seem like good candidates for fundraisers to approach.

Sadly, this happens at more institutions than we realize. Until you start tracking website visits and follow up with those who abandon events, your institution may be leaving money on the table.

Is attending events the only mark for engagement? No. Not by a long shot.

Beyond attending events, the new engagement model should include things like this:

  • Attended a webinar
  • Visited any web page
  • Filled out a form
  • Completed a survey or participated in an online poll
  • Downloaded content
  • Subscribed to a blog or newsletter
  • Took a phone call

And one you might be surprised to include:

  • Interacted on social media

Social media may be more important than events

Despite all the advances in modern technology, it can still be hard to get from one place to another. Yes, we have planes, trains, and automobiles, but those don’t always transport us to a place where we can connect with our friends.

Luckily, social media solves this problem.

Social media (and the Internet) provide a “room” for alumni to connect. While I worked at Boston College as their Social Media Manager for Alumni, I would ask those on Twitter to send me to their favorite place on campus. The answers came in: old dorm rooms, the lobby of a beloved campus building, the room that looks like Hogwarts Great Hall.

By using social media, we transported the alumni – no matter where in the world they were – back to BC. We connected with alumni who may not have connected with us physically at any events.  We were bringing them back to places that brought them joy, reconnecting to wonderful memories and yes, engaging them.

According to M&R Benchmarks, 55% of people who engage with nonprofits via social media end up taking some form of action. Two statistics that stand out:

  • 53% volunteer
  • 59% donate money

That’s worth repeating. Where can your fundraising teams already engaged donors and volunteers? On social media.

Getting in front of alumni

It’s getting more difficult to capture the attention of our alumni. We compete with television, texting, Skype, email, and other nonprofits. Getting in front of alumni matters and digital engagement via social media is a way to do that.

If someone opts to follow your institution on social media, that shows their loyalty and commitment. It’s a sustained connection with conversations happening every time you share a piece of content. It’s not a one-time event to feel nostalgic; it’s a continuous relationship where you can see your friends chime in and react and comment on the posts.

And alumni talk about these posts just as frequently as actual events. In the months leading up to our 10-year reunion, my friends and I reminisced about what happened at the previous reunion. We also talked about some of the social media posts we saw to get us ready for the reunion – both increased our excitement.

If your fundraising team partners with your social media manager to meet alumni where they are, you may see even more benefits:

  • Tracking down “lost” alumni. While many alumni go by pseudonyms and other names on some social media, LinkedIn is one of the few social media networks where you can easily find people. As a “living resume,” you can also monitor job and title changes, such as a Director becoming a VP or COO. By sharing that information with major gift officers, you may help them with an update about a prospect.
  • Gauging interest. If you build it, they will come, right? I used to receive direct messages on social media because the alumni knew I’d respond. I also knew they would weigh in on important topics and help promote events. If I shared the insider info on an idea for an upcoming event, they would tell me if it was interesting or not. And, if they were interested, I had a team of volunteers ready-to-go that might not have been on our team’s radar otherwise.
  • Giving online has increased. Social media is a key driver for online giving. Dunham + Company, who track fundraising, marketing and media, found that 26% of donors gave on a charity’s website when they were asked by a peer via social media. Peer-to-peer ambassadors matter and getting people to promote your pages through their networks gets others to rally around the cause.
  • Appreciating them publicly. I’ll be the first to tell you that a handwritten, personal note goes a long way. That being said, we all have egos and see a shout out from our school’s social media handle is a great feeling. You have no idea how many people will come out of the woodwork and say “I saw you mentioned on the school Facebook page.” This can increase loyalty and can spur action – as others want to see their names too.

Your brand needs to stay top-of-mind for alumni. Being a one-time attendee doesn’t have the same weight as it did before. Alumni will have other personal events to attend – some, like weddings, with those same people in attendance.

Developing a strong social media presence can help institutions create lasting connections that will lay the foundation for future giving and engagement.

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