As part of a project to establish an online community for our Alumni, I devised a strategy to hide content and access to various Alumni benefits behind a login. It was in this way that I thought to incentivise Alumni to be engaged with us, register for access, and update their details. However, my then DVC said something I will never forget [and I’m paraphrasing here because in truth I have forgotten her exact words…]
“We want to embrace our Alumni and be a support for them, so it doesn’t make sense to me that we are putting up gates to keep them out.” – CT
It was reflecting on this insight that it dawned on me that Alumni Relations is, or should be, the gateway for Alumni to all and sundry, at the very least where the University was concerned.
The gateway to learning, opportunity, connection, and support.
Let’s talk about ‘super-connectors‘ – no not ‘super-conductors’ James Bond, ‘super-connectors’.
Chances are you have them in amongst your professional connections on LinkedIn or personal and quasi-personal connections on Facebook and Twitter. They’re the people who have thousands [upon thousands] of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ and whose status updates attract any number of ‘likes’, ‘comments’, and ‘shares’. Getting a ‘like’ or ‘comment’ from them is magic but getting a re-tweet, mention, or share from one of them is social media / PR gold.
What makes them ‘super’?
- They connect people with people primarily for the benefit of those people [people or organisation(s) are interchangeable here];
- They are usually entrepreneurial in stature and innovative in posture [I haven’t figured out exactly what that means yet – something to do with not being overly risk averse]; and
- The opportunities created by connecting people [organisations] with each other ultimately benefits the ‘super-connector’ either by reputation, relationship, or other gain.
I submit that the concept of a ‘super-connector‘, which has always existed but has been particularly enabled and highlighted in Social Media, resonates with the function of Alumni Relations.
To your Alumni, you are the University – not Alumni Relations, not External Relations – you are the institution. It follows then that your Alumni have it in their mind that you know everything about the University, its strengths, its traditions, its people – and that if anyone can connect me [your Alumni] to someone who can help me it’s you.
How ‘super-connected’ does your Alumni Relations program make your Alumni feel, think, green, do?
“Lifelong learning, lifelong connection, lifelong support.” This is a common basis for Alumni Relations strategy the world over and we typically understand what we want from our Alumni when we implement against our Alumni Relations strategy.
But, what do your Alumni want? How can you connect them to what they want or with someone who can help? How can you support them in getting what they want or where they want to be?
In Australia/New Zealand, where higher education and relationship with Students has grown increasingly transactional in nature, any real help or benefit that can be leveraged from a relationship with you as Alumni [or Students] will encourage a like response when they are able or when then are asked.
Remember, you’re not the main attraction, your institution is – and by being the gateway for your Alumni to all and sundry at your institution – a gateway to learning, opportunity, connection, and support – you will benefit if by reputation, relationship, or some other gain, not excluding financial through return custom, donations, partnership, volunteering etc.
Alumni Relations is primarily the relationship building function whose target audience is as important as the audience targeted by the student recruitment, business development and commercialisation, and the Community and Government Relations areas – this is because they are the same audience. Becoming a connector, enabler, and friend of this important cohort is the way to a mutually beneficial relationship.
Alumni Relations as the gateway to all and sundry is a strategy that is sound whether you have a well-resourced Alumni Relations function or not – you owe it to your institution, to your Alumni, and to yourself to be creative, to be magnificent, to be super!