Are you engaged with your alumni?

By Andrew Crisp, Director and Co-founder, CarringtonCrisp

Five years ago, in our first Alumni Matters report, I wrote that alumni were often the most ‘undervalued and underutilised asset’ at many business schools. Today, almost all schools understand the potential of alumni to support student recruitment, to be future learners, to engage as mentors for current students, to recruit fellow graduates, to help build a school’s brand, to fundraise and much more. Today, the question is not about the value of alumni, but how best to engage with alumni and to get the best value from that engagement for both school and alumnus.

This year’s Alumni Matters report provides some clear pointers as to how best to engage alumni. More than 2,500 alumni took part in the study and they reveal that among those who frequently use LinkedIn (more than once a week), 74% say they are engaged with their business school while only 27% of those who never use LinkedIn identify as engaged.

A similar picture emerges with Facebook, with 71% of frequent users engaged, compared to less than a third (30%) of those who never use Facebook. Equally, amongst frequent users of alumni pages on a school website, 76% are engaged, in contrast to 22% of non-users. Digital and social engagement should be a no-brainer. Today’s newest alumni have grown up with social media, moving from MySpace to Facebook to LinkedIn and using these tools for almost every part of their lives – it is no surprise that these are the tools of choice to manage their alumni relationship. After all, many of their friends from business schools will be on the same platforms.

Of course, it takes more than having a presence on social media to engage alumni. Strong content is needed to engage alumni, to drive their activity and encourage them to support their business school. For some alumni, this will mean opportunities to continue learning, short bursts of information that can help them update their skills, while others will want access to more formal studies, either further degree programmes or non-degree executive education. Other alumni will simply want articles from faculty drawing on their latest research or providing commentary on topical issues.

The key to content is rigour and relevance. Students are more likely to engage if content is intellectually stimulating or relevant to their career or field of work.

However, a school that leaves alumni engagement until post-graduation will find it far harder to engage their alumni successfully. More than 8 out of 10 (84%) of very engaged alumni definitely agreed they were satisfied with their student experience. Perhaps most importantly, the highly engaged are also very positive about the career support they received: 81% of the definitely engaged alumni agree that career support was good and 52% credit the careers team with helping them find a good job.

This year’s Alumni Matters study found that career support at business schools has improved in recent years, but that there was still work to do. 61% of graduates from the last three years agreed career support was good, compared to only 35% of their predecessors who graduated more than 20 years ago. However, only just under half (48%) of all respondents agreed that career support was good at their school. Given the value that prospective students put on career outcomes when deciding where to study for a business degree, having alumni that are satisfied with their career is key to having a group that will be strong promoters of their institution.

And here there is an opportunity for schools to get something back from their alumni. Using alumni stories on a school website is a great way to bring to life the promises made by school’s when attracting students to their degrees. Such story telling is likely to create an emotional attachment rather than relying on facts alone, but it may not be enough.

Many prospective students are sceptical about some of the stories they read on a school website, thinking they may have been polished by a school’s marketing department. In CarringtonCrisp’s GenerationWeb study this year, alumni information on a school website was rated among the four least important pieces of content for prospective students.

Social media offers students and schools an opportunity to go beyond this scepticism. For a prospective student, it is relatively straightforward to search on a social media site to find graduates of a certain degree from a certain business school and approach them to find out about their experience. For a school, involving their alumni on social media should be a win-win situation.

At Rotterdam School of Management, the website course pages often have small photos of graduates of particular degrees. However, these photos are much more than window-dressing, instead they are links to the LinkedIn profiles of graduates of a specific degree. For the prospective student, there is the opportunity to see what a graduate did before studying as well as the impact of studying on their career outcome.

Leeds University Business School used to list MBA alumni on their website who had gone on to start their own business with links to the websites of those businesses. For the prospective student, the message was simple – ‘come to Leeds, get your MBA with us and you can go on to do anything, anywhere, and here’s the proof’.

Getting the most from the alumni relationship needs to remain a focus for every business school. Done well, the alumni relationship offers enormous benefits for both student and school alike.

A copy of the new global Alumni Matters report can be purchased here.