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Alumni 101: Q&A with Webinar Presenters

by Rachel Hicks | March 12, 2020
Alumni 101: Q&A with Webinar Presenters

Effective alumni communication

effective alumni communication
Click to view the webinar.

Recently, Signal Vine hosted a webinar featuring alumni relationship professionals from higher education institutions to discuss effective alumni communication. Our presenters were Dr. Alice Anne Bailey, Higher Education Consultant; Adam Compton, Executive Director of Annual Giving at NC State; Leigh Greenfelder, Assistant Vice President, Advancement Communications at Kent State; and Jeff Mutimer, Chief Growth Officer of Signal Vine. They discussed why effective alumni communication is so important and how institutions can achieve strong results from various outreach efforts. The webinar can be viewed here.

Following the webinar, we hosted a Q&A session with our panelists. Read on to hear from these experts their answers to some of the questions we received.

Q: You mentioned how important it is to keep alumni data up-to-date over time. What is the best way to initially collect that data and to continue to collect it over time?

Alice Anne:

The most important rule to remember is “ABCD.” That is, Always Be Collecting Data.

In every interaction you have with alumni, make sure that you measure it. All interactions should include a specific, measurable component that can be tracked. For example, for F2F events, look at event registration, event participation, satisfaction, etc. In terms of social media, look at the number of link clicks and shares. For text messages, look at responses, text link clicks, and opt-outs. Finally, for emails, capture open and opt-out rates as well as the number of link clicks within the email. 

Catch students before they graduate or immediately after. As soon as alumni join an association for the first time, ask them to complete a brief survey as part of the registration process. Ask what topics they are most interested in (career counseling, sports, campus updates, alumni news, etc.) Be sure to also ask non-campus questions such as their current hobbies and lifestage demographics (parent/non-parent, current job industry and job role, etc.). Use this data to customize and segment future communication. 

Make sure to follow up by sending the survey out every three to five years or so after the date it was first completed in order to keep information current. (Note that alumni don’t typically like being surveyed, and response rates can be low, so consider what will appeal to them as a reward for answering the survey: They will be entered into a drawing to win fan apparel, etc. Do you have any famous alum? Is there anything that they can donate as a prize for the drawing? Think outside the box.)

Social media, social listening, and texting are great tools for alumni pros.

Use social media data daily. Hootsuite is a great tool for this. Social media provides rich quantitative data analytics that can help measure and refine communications. 

But there is more you can do. “Social listening” is the process of monitoring online conversations to understand what customers are saying about a brand. Use social listening to see what alumni are saying on closed Facebook and LinkedIn groups as well as on public forums like Twitter and Reddit. Social listening is an excellent source of qualitative data that can be used to get ideas for innovative fundraising campaigns, newsletter content, and to better tailor alumni services. Unsure of how to get started with social listening? Visit CampusSonar.com.

We talked today about how text messaging is convenient and efficient. Data shows that 89% of consumers would like to use SMS messaging to communicate with businesses. Colleges and universities are no different. In fact, 37% of alumni say they prefer receiving information from their alma mater via periodic text messaging as compared to 28% via a mobile app, 19% via website, and 3% via social media direct messaging (DMs). 

What’s so interesting to me is that texting is two-way, interactive communication, so it not only communicates important information out, but it also provides an opportunity for institutions to gather information about current alumni. Monitor the text responses you receive back from alumni and look for themes that repeat themselves frequently. You can also use texting to ask specific alumni about their current interests and activities. My guess is that they will likely text back at higher rates than they would complete an online survey. 

Q: You mentioned that your alumni giving campaign is a campus-wide initiative. Was it difficult to garner buy-in from staff? Did you have to persuade them to participate?

Adam:

For us, there were several points that made campus buy-in easier. It started with leadership. Our leadership was 100% behind it. The pushed their teams to get on board, approved resources and played a part.  Then the competition element. Everyone wanted to make sure their unit looked good on the day. The day is built so everyone takes home something, but it is also about what you put into it. We still had some holdouts, but as people understand it more and see the impact, they are jumping on board.

Q: While young people are attached to their phones, how does texting work with older graduates? Are they still receptive to receiving text outreach?

Jeff:

Perhaps counterintuitively, we’ve seen great success texting with older graduates. Perhaps it’s less traffic or the personalized approach that makes them equally and sometimes more receptive to outreach via texting.

Q: Do you have any general advice regarding how to message hundreds of thousands of alumni without being overwhelmed?

Leigh:

We reserve our “all alumni” messaging for university priorities – important news, president’s messages, all alumni events, annual giving appeals, etc. Try to focus on building the brand when talking to everyone with the same messaging.

Otherwise, we also focus on segmenting by interests. We use affinity groups made up of people who:

  • graduated from that college/area,
  • donate to that area, or
  • attend events (in person or virtual for that area) when doing standard outreach.

For solicitations, we segment by giving history and for large campaigns, segment by the giving history AND the type of fund they might want to support.

For social media, we target our promoted posts and paid ads by interests when we can. Sometimes we upload custom lists to Facebook for more exact targeting, though that hasn’t shown as much success as standard targeting.

We’re adding in AI and Machine Learning tools to try to learn more about our alumni and get that added to their records as well. We're trying to move towards a system that focuses on what the alumni want, not on what the university wants.

Learn more

To learn more about effective alumni communication, view the webinar or download the ebook below.

How to Engage At-Risk Students to Meet Your Retention Goals
How to Engage At-Risk Students to Meet Your Retention Goals
The Student Retention Guidebook

Communicating effectively with your campus communities is of paramount importance right now

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