feed posts do not repeat: if readers miss them, the posts are quickly buried. “You have to be there all the time. You have to be dedicated to putting
your message out there,” advises Cynthia Breen, alumni officer, e-services,
at the University of Waterloo.
One approach to free up resources for social media is to reduce the
frequency of alumni print publications. Another is to take advantage of
eager alumni volunteers. In fact, the existence of self-organized, volunteer-run alumni pages is what led several alumni departments into social media. The University of Toronto last fall took over the administration of a
LinkedIn alumni page started by a graduate, says Jonathan Cheevers, U of T
alumni outreach coordinator. This was done in response to requests from
group members – it was becoming too large for them to manage. Another
unofficial U of T alumni page on LinkedIn is almost double the size, with
more than 18,000 members.
All this non-staff involvement can be unnerving for universities because it requires giving up control. Nonetheless, when McGill staff saw
that enthusiastic graduates had created Facebook and LinkedIn alumni
accounts of their own, rather than trying to close down the unofficial accounts the staff offered training to volunteers who wanted to run alumni-related social media pages.
A common fear among administrators is that people will use social
media to post negative content, but that happens very rarely on alumni
social media pages. And if things do go wrong, having a base of engaged
alumni online can help with damage control. When information about
some McGill donors was leaked in March 2012, the university’s develop-
ment office, expecting the worst, emailed 50,000 donors to apologize
and explain how the situation would be handled. The reaction on social
media was a pleasant surprise. “There was a lot of Twitter chat. Most of it
was very flattering,” says Mr. Cassoff, the communications director. “Peo-
ple were amazed at how thorough our data collection was!”
Twitter tends to be the platform of choice for breaking news and
sharing fresh information. The University of Waterloo alumni team lever-
aged Twitter to welcome brand-new graduates to the “alumni club” during
convocation ceremonies last year. The team set up a Twitter wall at the
site of convocation and invited people to join the “Convo-sation.” As the
students entered and left the venue, the Twitter wall displayed the tweets –
including congratulations from faculty members, friends and family who
weren’t able to attend. In all, 2,000 tweets came in from all over the
world during the four-day convocation period.
The university took photos of the new alumni with the school mascot
and holding a message board, where grads jotted down their plans for the
future or remembered favourite times at Waterloo. The photos were posted on Facebook, generating comments by 1,000 users during convocation
week and more afterwards. “Now we have them!” confides Ms. Breen.
And it’s not only young alumni who are flocking to Facebook. McGill
was surprised to discover that most of the Facebook commenters were
graduates from the 1970s and ’80s, who were using the medium to find
old friends and reminisce about their student days. A nostalgia-laden post
showing a box of Kraft Dinner and asking viewers what they ate in their
student days had the memories flooding in.
Tema Frank is a social media communications consultant, writer and podcaster. She can be
found at http://frankonlinemarketing.com