To Reach Alumni, Schools Should Look to Social Media

Schools that invest some some of their alumni communications efforts into social media could benefit in substantial ways, according to Cara Quackenbush, the Principal Analyst at Eduventures' EV Perspectives.

Evidence from the 2013 Alumni Pulse Survey suggests that former students appreciate receiving news and updates from their former schools through social media. Furthermore, the difference can be measured in dollars; those who appreciate social media contact, donate on average more than those who do not.

Although social media will not replace other forms of contact such as direct mail and phone calls, schools that ignore social media do so at their own peril. And alumni associations of universities around the country are taking notice. According to the survey, for the first time Facebook is one of the top 5 ways that alumni prefer to be contacted and kept up to date with school news and information.

Gen X and Millennial alumni who prefer to receive information through Twitter were 36% more likely to attend an alumni event in the past year and 40% more likely to say they'd like to attend an event in the coming year.

Alumni who prefer Facebook Twitter or LinkedIn are more likely to agree that alumni should make a gift every year and more likely to say they plan to make a gift next year.

But the benefits of social media aren't just appreciated by those of age to have matured comfortably with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The survey seems to indicate that the behavior of older graduates – even those who graduated more than a decade or two ago – don't typically differ very much from younger alumni when it comes to social media.

As all of these young-ish alums mature in age and giving capacity, they will surely hang on to their media habits just as previous generations have theirs. It seems that the more effectively we've been able to cultivate the better-positioned we will be when they get there.

So if the good news is that we are on the right track, the challenge is that it also takes years to develop true institutional expertise and mastery of a new communications medium (remember those early email campaigns?). My hope is that data like that from the Alumni Pulse Survey will enable advancement leaders to justify investments they've already made in social media or allow them to make a case for the first time.

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