July 11th, 2017 Rebecca Stapley No Comments

Higher Ed Marketing Memos by Rebecca Stapley

“A” is for Admissions and… Alums!

While I now work in communications at Nazareth College, I began my career in higher education as an admissions counselor in enrollment management. I spent 5 years as a road warrior and an info session queen.

I’ve gained a couple of key things (and perhaps a book’s worth of hilarious memoirs to be published in another life) from this experience:

  1. A limitless obsession with prospective students and their journey towards enrollment
  2. The humbling realization that authentic storytelling matters so much more than anything I could say behind a college fair booth.

The more conversations I had with prospective students, the more apparent it became: what they care the most about is the authentic college story told by our current students, alumni and faculty.

Where are they now?

They know the difference between messaging that feels real and glossy fluff that is rehearsed. They want to get to know their future teachers, mentors and friends on a deeper, grittier level. They also need to hear directly from these voices, so they can envision what their life will look and feel like when they join our campus community.

I’ll be the first to admit that asking about alums was not even remotely on my mind when I began my own college search. Yet, alumni networks are the invisible influencers and unsung heros of the recruitment process.

Alumni are powerful: they are the tangible, life force behind the value of higher education at our institutions, a value that we all struggle and seek to convey to our prospects. Each one of our alumni has a voice that weaves a vibrant picture of the immeasurable value, experiences and outcomes our schools offer.

This is why it’s key to harness these voices and build an alumni community that can be leveraged as a distinctive selling point.

Calling all students alumni to the rescue

So, how to do this?

No need to reinvent the wheel.

I’ve drawn upon my experiences and success in leveraging current students voices to enhance our content strategy. About 5 years ago I piloted the “Naz Student Blog” which grew into a team of 15 “social media ambassadors” creating invaluable, authentic content on our blog and social media platforms.

This student-generated content is an essential piece of our digital strategy. As we’re getting ready to launch our brand new volunteer “alumni social ambassadors team,” I am using the expertise developed with the student program to shape my collaborations, training and support of our new alumni team.

A blueprint to launch a social media alumni ambassador program

First, I reached out and learned from our alumni relations team. They are the experts in this field and have offered invaluable insight into this audience. Beginning a collaborative partnership with these colleagues of mine has taught a lot about the unique challenges of alumni engagement and how to motivate their actions.

For instance, I’ve learned that the #1 thing driving our alumni is connection. They have a strong desire to connect with friends and seek opportunities to deepen, grow and form new friendships from within the framework of their alma mater.

The next step was to outline a shared vision and goals to ground our efforts to move forward in assembling our team.

Here’s the vision we came up with:

  • To create an inclusive, visible community of alumni advocates that share their stories and experience as authentic, shareable, digital content.
  • Harness the voices and strength of our alumni network to help tell the Nazareth College story
  • Leverage our alumni network as a distinctive selling point of the school
  • Build pride and connection to Nazareth College

These shared vision and goals helped us align our efforts not only with our two departments, but also connect back to the overarching goals of our institution. It’s something we can refer to as we launch and measure the success of our efforts with this new initiative.

Then, we began to move into the brainstorming & concept phase and landed again on the need to harness the voice of our alumni in a sharable, measurable way.

Following the model of my “social media ambassador team,” we decided to riff on the idea of an alumni ambassador team focusing on social media sharing.

Many of our alumni already have a robust online presence and love for their school, but we are failing to find, capture and engage them. The desire to share within our alumni community already exists. We just need to offer a little support, training and guidance to capture and share this rich content.

What needs to be done to make it happen

If we want to do this though, a few things need to be in place:

Social media training for Alumni users

Some of our alumni are highly proficient on social media, while others may be new or unfamiliar with certain platforms.

By providing basic social media training whether it be a short module at an alumni meeting or pre-recorded webinars to share digitally, we can help support savvy users and steward content. In addition, we are going to create a useful framework for our alumni ambassadors with simple but effective user guides and tips for engaging with the college on social.

Even simple things like a reminder to tag @NazarethCollege in social media posts, or to email content directly to an alumni point person (if their platform is “private”) can go a long way in making this content more accessible to our team to capture and share.

Assembling the right team

Now that we’ve got vision and model for support we’ve asked ourselves who will make up our team?

This is where I lean heavily upon my alumni partners for their referrals as we plan to send out an interest invitation to join the team. In addition to the specific alumni identified by my colleagues, I also did a little social media digging to see which alumni were already active and engaging with us on social media. Good news: many of our alumni are already online influencers, so we can easily tap into and develop further mutually beneficial relationships.

Launching

For us the next step is to launch and learn. We’ve got a database of potential members and we plan to reach out personally, share our vision and outline expectations of membership. As we launch, we want to make sure our expectations are clear, but not overwhelming for our alums. It’s important to keep this program as simple and fun as possible, knowing that we can adapt and change as we go.

I’ve already drafted our invitation:

Calling all alumni who LOVE social media!

The Office of Alumni Relations is looking for social media ambassadors to connect and share your stories and experience on our social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc.). It’s a fun simple way to stay connected to the College and your friends!

We’re looking for Alumni Who:

  • Love engaging on social media
  • Are willing to post/share your alumni related stories, experiences and perspectives (we’ve got ideas to get you started!) just a couple times a month (using #NazAlum, tagging the college or sharing with [alumni officer], if you have a “private” account)
  • Are excited to connect with their fellow alumni and grow our online Alumni community & network!

Bottom line

When we have an active, vibrant and visible alumni network, everybody benefits.

While we balance different audiences with our institutional objectives and goals, audiences are not in conflict with one another. It’s important to look at what we can do to make them work together to strengthen one another, while still staying true to the nuanced needs of each group. Our alumni care about what is happening at their alma mater in the same way that prospective students resonate with the outcomes and experiences of our Alumni network.

There is no need to separate these audiences in our content strategy, because they can strengthen each other. Capturing our authentic alumni voices is just the beginning of this strategy. But, this is a very exciting beginning as we work to weave content for our primary audiences while staying laser focused on our big picture institutional goals.

Meet the Author: Rebecca Stapley

Rebecca Stapley is the Assistant Director, Multimedia & Public Relations at Nazareth College, and a graduate of the Higher Ed Experts’ professional certificate program in Social Media Marketing for Higher Ed.

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