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July 31, 2007

Monmouth College - When an Online Directory ISN'T a Good Idea

Every now and then I run across an idea that belongs in the Worst Practices Bucket.  When I found Monmouth College's online alumni directory, I decided this practice definitely fit the category of "worst practices."  Why, you may ask?  After all, in the past I've discussed how important having such a directory is for your alumni, so they can find each other, communicate, and network.  I've spent a lot of time going over how vital it is for alumni to be able to find each other in order to help with job searches, chit-chat, and even just for a bit of nostalgia, as all of these helps your alumni stay connected - not just with each other, but with their alma mater.

The reason I'm placing Monmouth College's online alumni directory into the Worst Practices Bucket is actually quite simple.  They've made this directory accessible to the public.  Anyone can look up information on Monmouth's alumni - whether they're alumni or not.  This is a problem for several reasons.  For one, email addresses are exposed to the public, which means spammers can find them.  For two, it doesn't allow the alumni to feel safe in sharing their information because they know that it will all be exposed to anyone with an Internet connection and a computer who visits the site.

When alumni are resistant to share their information, a sense of community cannot be built.  What more valid reason is there than not wanting your email address, and other identifying data, to be exposed to the public?  An online alumni community's goal should be to connect alumni with each other and with the college.  If alumni are uncomfortable placing their personal data in the online directory, then everybody loses.  I'm also not sure why Monmouth College has chosen to go this route, as it doesn't save them any time.  The information still has to be updated in the system, and that takes valuable staff time.

Your online alumni community should be a bridge between you and your alumni.  When alumni are resistant to become a part of it because of a publicly accessible online directory, the bridge becomes broken, so the original reason for creating the directory, and the community itself, is no longer valid.  Giving your alumni a secure place to find one another is critical to the success of your community.



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 31, 2007 at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Links to this Article

July 30, 2007

Wesleyan University - Giving their Graduates an Extra Edge

I've talked before about how important it is to provide your alumni with valuable resources on an ongoing basis.  In past blog articles, I've discussed everything from lifelong learning, to mentoring possibilities, to networking with other alumni, as well as many other ideas to consider adopting for your alumni and/or your alumni online community.  Anything you can do to give your alumni an extra edge in today's competitive job market will go a long way in assuring consistent and continual support from your alumni in return.

One method that Wesleyan University is using successfully is simple in theory, yet has the ability to boomerang into benefit after benefit for both the college and the alumni.  All graduates of Wesleyan University are provided with branded, private email addresses.  See, simple in concept, but when you give this some thought, it's a terrific way to support your alumni for the rest of their life, and provide unique branding for the university at the same time.

There is no cost for Wesleyan alumni to use these email accounts, and it is a low cost for the college, which is a huge plus.  In addition, alumni can use their Wesleyan branded email addresses in between jobs to prove to prospective employers that they have a degree.  And, every time they use the email account Wesleyan provides them, they're promoting their alma mater.  It's also a great way for alumni to do business with other alumni. 

In a world where more and more communication is being done via email, having your alumni use an email address you provide them is good business sense.  It puts the college name in front of people all over the world, every day of the year.  Multiply this by the number of your alumni and you can easily see the benefits.



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 30, 2007 at 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

July 29, 2007

Got a MySpace/FaceBook Page YET?

Social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook have become enormously popular.  These sites are great avenues for connecting with individuals and groups of people in a simple and effortless manner.  In fact, we've had over 400 alumni and admission professionals take part in our online webinars that show effective methods in setting up a MySpace and FaceBook page.  Why are these sites, and our webinars, so popular with alumni and admission professionals?  Because alumni professionals want to connect with their alumni and young alumni, and admissions professionals want to connect with prospective students.  Our webinars show them how to do just that.

Annette Levitt, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations for Illinois State University, was an early adopter of using MySpace and FaceBook as a marketing tool to increase registrations in Illinois State University's alumni online community.  Annette effectively uses their mascot, Reggie Redbird, in their MySpace strategy to attract alumni.  The website is focused on Reggie Redbird, and students and alumni are encouraged to join the Reggie Redbird page.  According to Annette, Reggie has over 1500 FaceBook friends, over 500 MySpace friends, and has even received marriage proposals!

As Paris Hilton would say, "Reggie is HOT!"

Annette uses all angles to make sure that this tool engages and involves alumni.  For example, Reggie (Annette) sends a Happy Birthday greeting to all alumni who are celebrating a birthday each and every day.  This program has been so successful that other departments on campus are asking her to send messages to all of Reggie's friends about events and activities.  Annette suggests that to make the best use of this, you or someone else should spend some time initially in building the friend list.  After awhile, you'll be excited to see how viral marketing will take over and how new friends arrive daily.  She feels that this online engagement of over 2,000 alumni is worth the one hour per week that she puts into managing this.  After all, she states, "Where can you touch the lives of so many alumni so inexpensively and so quickly?"

As a reminder of the touch points, she suggests the comments made by alumni who are engaging with Reggie are priceless.  Need information on how to do this?  Drop me a note!



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 29, 2007 at 12:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (14) | Links to this Article

July 23, 2007

Social Networks - Missed Opportunities for Alumni Associations

Social networking is a buzz phrase heard everywhere today, and with the success of MySpace, FaceBook, and LinkedIn, the strength of it will only get stronger.  If you're still not sure what social networking is, and what it's all about, read on.

Social networking is a term that few of us had heard about as little as four years ago, since then, however, its use has skyrocketed.  People are talking about it, experiencing it, and using it to make connections, find jobs, find love, and everything in between.  FaceBook and MySpace's incredible surge in popularity showed that Internet users were finally gaining an understanding on how they could use Internet tools to engage with others.  Suddenly, it became possible to connect with dozens, if not hundreds, of people easily, and to keep in touch with them effortlessly.

Here's Wikipedia.org's definition of a social network:  A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more types of relations, such as values, visions, ideas, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislikes, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes.

So, how does this relate to you and your alumni?  Because social networking is the process in which people connect with each other within a network, either for personal or business purposes, providing such a network for your alumni would create many benefits.  You'd enable your alumni to connect with other alumni for information, jobs, mentoring, relocating, etc.  This would increase the participation of your alumni, from volunteering to annual giving and beyond.

The vast majority of people are networking for social reasons, but an increasing number of people are understanding the power and the potential of business networking.  Web sites like LinkedIn are helping professionals not only close business deals and develop new companies, but they are helping them get jobs. 

If you're still unsure about social networking, and what it's all about, check out this video.  While simple in concept, Lee Lefever does an excellent job of explaining social networking in an easy to understand, humorous, and fun way.  I think you will like it.  Use it to show your students or incoming freshman. 



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 23, 2007 at 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

July 20, 2007

Ashland University - Making a Statement with Mouse Pads

After graduation, one of the toughest jobs an alumni association has is nabbing the interest of the young alumni.  There are certainly a variety of ways this can be done, but some definitely work better than others.  So, if you're looking for a way to keep your alumni association in front of alumni, and hopefully propel them to register within your alumni online community, what do you do?

Ashland University has come up with a unique twist in order to give their graduating seniors a friendly reminder about their alumni association.  They've provided their graduating seniors with a mouse pad as a way to drive them to register in the alumni online community.  I've seen alumni associations offer key chains, water bottles, and other trinkets in order to remind their alumni about the benefits of the alumni association, but this is the first time I've seen something like this offered.  It makes sense.

The mouse pad has the Web site URL for the alumni online community and it's got a fun, fresh design that any graduate would be proud to have their mouse resting on.  Even more importantly - it's a continuous reminder every time alumni sit down to their computers to log in and check out the alumni online community.  While other possibilities, such as coffee mugs, pens, and the like, are also great ideas - a mouse pad always sits next to a computer, so chance are high that alumni will see it every single day.

The response from the graduating seniors has also been terrific.  Gifts like the mouse pads can be given to the graduates on graduation day as they walk off the stage as a present from the alumni association.  Others I've talked to are considering having a separate graduation event that teaches graduates to network with alumni through the alumni online community.  These events would then be a great place to provide the student with the alumni association graduation gift. 

You have to do something to get the MySpace/Facebook generation registered in your online community.  Start thinking out of the box and come up with a fun, annual concept that your graduates will enjoy.



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 20, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

July 19, 2007

Stanford University Alumni - Fresh New Content and iTunes

One of the best methods to keep your alumni connected, involved, and returning to your alumni online community is giving them fresh new content on a regular basis.  After all, people in today's world are busy - with work, family, and life - and your alumni are no different.  If you do not give them new content to look forward to, you're not giving them enough of a reason to return to the alumni web site on a reoccurring basis.  Instead, when they sit down at their computer, they'll go elsewhere, and only return to the alumni online community every now and then.  When this happens, you and your alumni are losing out.

The Stanford University Alumni Association web site has done a terrific job in continually bringing new content to their alumni automatically.  The Stanford University Alumni Association home page features tab links to their magazine, iTunes, athletic information, and more.  This is a great method to give your alumni the information and news they want directly from the home page. 

In addition, Stanford University has been in the news lately because of their decision to offer a number of courses through iTunes.  Now, you can go to iTunes, and at no cost, take a course in your leisure time from some of the most significant professors in the world.  Stanford's home page iTunes link shows the "hot topic" of the week, along with other courses of interest in a side bar.  These links continually remind the alumni of the iTunes opportunity, and my guess is over time, they will continue to be curious about what is available and will begin to use it more frequently.  It gives them a reason to check back, over and over, which is critical to the success of your alumni web site.

And, they don't stop at courses!  They also offer speeches from celebrities, dignitaries, and business leaders.  My favorite is Steve Job's commencement speech in 2005.  It's a great speech that gives personal insight into how his college experience has framed the way we communicate through our computers today.

I've always suggested that alumni associations begin to integrate their magazines online and Stanford is doing a great job at that.  A vast majority of alumni have changed their reading habits and are consuming their news online more and more.  By keeping up with this trend, Stanford is better serving all of their alumni.  There are dozens of reasons why you should migrate your alumni magazine to your alumni online community.

If you are interested in learning more about this, email me for a thought provoking whitepaper that identifies stats and information about your alumni's current reading habits and why you should be moving to an online forum.



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 19, 2007 at 01:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article

July 18, 2007

Full Sail - New Blog Showcases Students' Design Work

Full Sail: School of Film, Art, Design, Music and Media Production staff members have created a web site where students can share and critique each other's design projects.  Not only is this blog a terrific place to showcase students' work, but it is also set up to encourage communication between students, instructors, and other visitors to the blog.  Feedback from one's peers is essential and this blog delivers the ability for this to happen.

This new blog site, Graphik Natur, is helping bring the Full Sail students and the instructors together in new and dynamic ways.  This is a great tool for all involved, as it allows the students to showcase their work and then get feedback on it, as well as allowing the instructors and other visitors to comment on each project on an individual basis. 

Graphik Nature was created by staff members Triesta Hall and Fatima Lotfi-Rice.  Beyond the ability for students to showcase their digital material, which is uploaded to an exclusive online gallery and then critiqued by their peers, the web site also offers the latest industry news and information.  In this way, students can be kept up to date on what's happening within their industry and then comment on various aspects that they personally find interesting or have an opinion on.

Fatima Lotfi-Rice, Full Sail's Associate Course Director for Typography and Page Layout, posts much of the news and information on the site and is the face behind its day to day upkeep.  Triesta Hall teaches Digital Publishing within the Digital Arts and Design program, as well as Portfolio Creation, which is the last class students take before graduation.  She states, "I'm really teaching them to brand themselves; they are the most important and the best brand they will ever create."

Full Sail: School of Film, Art, Design, Music and Media Production is allowing their students to show their unique personalities and develop their brand in an exciting new way by the creation, and the utilization, of this web site.  Graphik Natur is sure to flourish by blending industry news and information along with a gallery of their students projects.  And, of course, this web site is a fabulous method for students to communicate, showcase their work, receive critiques, give their own critiques, and stay informed on what is happening within their industry.  Great job!



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 18, 2007 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Links to this Article

July 06, 2007

Alumni Life Transitions - What Can Your Alumni Association Do?

I've discussed in other articles on this blog how important it is for Alumni Associations to help their alumni transition through life after graduation.  Research conducted by Olson Zaltman backs this up.  Mr. Zaltsman's report shows that alumni expect their Alumni Association to help them in their transitions in life.  So, to me, this report suggests that your alumni online community could be used to help alumni get jobs, relocate, find a mate, and network with other alumni, to name a few. 

In considering what type of benefits you can offer your alumni, you need to consider the different needs of your alumni at different stages of their life.  For example, immediately after graduation, your alumni are likely going to be mostly concerned with employment.  As they progress through their career over the years, they may be interested in networking to find better jobs, to learn about job openings in their field - the list goes on and on.
One such networking tool to consider is offering business cards to your alumni.  While this may not "seem" important in our highly technological age, where the Internet reigns supreme, business cards are as vital an element in business today as they were a decade ago.  Think about it - business cards are the principal marketing tools of individuals and businesses, and I don't see that changing any time soon.  In fact, the first business card was used by the Japanese 2,000 years ago.  It was about 300 years ago that their use because widespread, and ultimately achieved popularity in the Victorian era.
Over the past 5 years, I've been suggesting that Alumni Associations offer their graduates and alumni business cards with the alumni logo and the statement "alumni of" on the card.  The idea is to help graduating students get noticed in a crowded job market.  The students could attach their alumni business card to resumes and hand out at interviews.

There are two powerful benefits of providing this service:

1.  The Alumni Association shows alumni they are interested in helping their career
2.  The program impresses employers

We've suggested that including a statement from the President of the college on the back of the business cards would also increase the visibility of your alumni.  Some might offer a guarantee that the college prepared the student academically, or use it as a way to encourage them to participate in internships

Offering tools to your alumni for life transitions will not only help them, but it will help your alumni association stay much more connected to your alumni as the years pass.  This, of course, will ultimately increase annual giving, participation, and other contributions to the university.



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 6, 2007 at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | Links to this Article

July 04, 2007

Dating 4.0 - Helping Students and Alumni to "Date Smarter?"

I saw this headline and had to smile, "Dating 4.0 Launches, Helps Students and Alumni to 'Date Smarter,' followed by, "Site Provides Dating News and Advice for Top College Audience."  So, after my chuckle, I decided to see what this was all about.  Dating 4.0 claims to be the first dating news and advice Web site created specifically for the top college audience.  The Web site allows students and alumni from elite universities to "date smarter" by providing original and engaging dating-related content.

Dating 4.0 founder, Marie Cannizzaro, says she came up with the idea while still a student at Stanford University.  As a student, she was frustrated with the dumbed-down dating sites that were existence because they didn't address the specific issues associated with the top college dating scene.

What made me laugh wasn't the idea of a dating Web site for a top college audience, but rather that I've been suggesting this idea to Alumni Associations for years.  I've often said that Alumni Associations should embrace the dating aspect of their alumni, and build it into their alumni online communities for two reasons:

1.  Statistics show that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and
2.  You'll have a better chance of getting more from a married alumni couple's estate.

Think of it this way.  If your alumni marry someone from another college, your annual giving and advancement offices will forever fight to get a share of their contributions.  After all, the married couple has their allegiance firmly divided between two alma maters.  However, by helping alumni "hook up" with other alumni, you have the opportunity to increase your number of alumni who are married to each other.  If I were running the advancement office, I'd make my staff "work" to increase the number of alumni who are married to each other.  One of the ways to do this is to offer a dating aspect to the alumni online community.



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 4, 2007 at 12:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | Links to this Article

July 02, 2007

Kent State University - Prospective Students

Alumni Associations can, and should, be a powerful bridge between alumni and their alma mater.  Kent State University's Alumni Association realizes they are in this powerful and unique position to connect alumni with the different departments on campus, and have taken some incredible steps to using this knowledge to the fullest benefit.  What can Alumni Association's do?  Well, when you stop and think about it, an Alumni Association can:

1.  Help recruit new students to the university.
2.  Increase participation at games.
3.  Help the president and consultants sway lawmakers' decisions.
4.  Increase contributions through gifting and annual giving.
5.  Mentor students throughout their college years.

Not to mention career help, communication, and just generally keeping every one informed and connected - the list goes on and on.  And, in today's highly technological world, all of this is even easier!  In the past, Alumni Associations were limited in contacting alumni to help the various departments because of the cost of communicating the needs of these various departments on campus.  The Internet has completely changed the landscape of how well we can communicate, and how quickly.  Now with a simple push of a button, the alumni office can send out broadcast emails to targeted alumni.  This makes the bridge that the Alumni Association can build between the alumni and the university all that much stronger. 

Kent State University's Alumni Association did just that for their admissions office.  For one, they created a referral page to refer prospective students to KSU, and they also sent out an HTML email to the alumni that gave them an option to opt in and mentor students on campus.  I like to remind alumni that there are three ways to give back:  Time, Talent, or Treasure. Congratulations to Kent State University's Alumni Association for building an electronic bridge to the admission office, and for reaching out to help them reach their goals. 

One other thing!  As you begin to develop these relationships with the different departments on campus, keep in mind that you should charge them.  It's a great way to offset your costs and to fund a new Internet marketing position!



Posted by Don Philabaum on July 2, 2007 at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Links to this Article