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by Tema Frank
this past october, when Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier in a free-fall jump from the stratosphere,
the alumni relations department at McGill University realized that the
person who designed the outfit used for the jump was a McGill graduate.
Within hours, the department had posted an article about the designer
on three separate Facebook pages: that of the alumni department, the
faculty he’d graduated from, and a volunteer-run branch of alumni.
The opportunity to piggyback on news to deepen connections with
alumni is one of the many ways social media can benefit university
alumni and development offices across Canada. “We need to be where
our alumni are,” says Derek Cassoff, director of communications for
McGill’s office of development and alumni relations. “We need to be in
And the alumni are decisively there – on all platforms of social
media, including Facebook, You Tube, Twitter and LinkedIn. More than
90 percent of online adults now use social media regularly (according to
the U.S. 2012 Digital Marketer Benchmark and Trend Report) and younger
alumni prefer to communicate by social media rather than by email or
print. This means that social media is no longer optional for effective
communications with alumni.
A 2012 survey by the Council for the Advancement and Support of
Education (an association of university and college professionals in development, alumni affairs and communications) shows that 83 percent of
U.S. colleges and universities are using social media to engage alumni,
with 96 percent on Facebook, 80 percent on Twitter, 73 percent on
You Tube, and 68 percent on LinkedIn.
Many Canadian universities have set up alumni groups and profiles
on the major social media platforms as well (Canada-wide data isn’t available), although some have not yet learned how to use them effectively.
Social media can be less expensive for campaigning and more flexible than mainstream media. A quarterly or semi-annual print magazine is
expensive to produce and cannot possibly reflect the interests of all or