It’s one thing to know why an advocate community will help you achieve your alumni relations goals and all the ways your alumni advocates can create value at your school.
Actually building an engaging advocate community that discovers, nurtures, and mobilizes alumni ambassadors is another matter entirely.
These five steps will help you turn your graduates into vocal brand champions for your university and help you create alumni for life.
1) Know your audience and personas
Before you can start asking your alumni to start participating, you have to know who you’re reaching out to and why they might want to engage with you and advocate for you.
There are multiple ways to organize your lists. Do you select a university-wide method of communicating with graduates, or do you opt to tailor your outreach for specific groups?
If you do decide to use groups, how will those groups be divided? Do you go by demographic? By graduate year? By location?
It’s probably more effective if you organize by the person’s interests and affinities, such as:
- School loyalty
- Program attended
- City school is located in
- Membership in a group or club
- Current location
- Industry in which they work
Many graduates will feel an affinity towards two or more of the above, so take those into account as you develop your alumni personas and craft your communication strategy. The last thing you want to do is make your alumni feel like just another name on a list by blindly blasting out material, so understanding how they identify with your school is critical.
2) Identify and articulate the value proposition to alumni
In order to get alumni committed to your advocate program, you have to provide them with an experience that they find valuable. But different people value different things, so make sure you offer something for everybody.
Status. Make alumni feel special by granting privileged status to those who participate regularly or make extraordinary contributions to your advocate marketing program.
Access. Grant engaged alumni special access to high-ticket items like university sporting events and student theater productions, or discounts at the university store.
Power. Recruit the most vocal or active alumni as “community leaders” and give them the authority to manage or represent the university in a non-official capacity.
Belonging. Craft a unique identity around the alumni group to set you apart from “regular” graduates. Even a cool name will create a sense of solidarity within the alumni group, although of course you can do other things as well: logos, apparel, and community forums.
3) Personalize the experience
Gaining alumni support is all about sending the right message. But sending everyone the same message won’t get you very far. People value different things, and you should account for that when crafting your alumni advocacy program.
Learn to segment your audience into different groups and target those who will be most receptive to your message. Target personas will help greatly in creating tailored messages.
Also consider providing exclusive or significant moments for your alumni, such as programs targeted towards their graduating class or school sports team. The nostalgia will appeal to them and entice them into being more engaged with your alumni program.
4) Know your toolkit
It’s possible to set up an advocate marketing program with nothing but Outlook, spreadsheets and sweat, but today’s advancement and marketing professionals have access to so many effective tools it would be irresponsible not to use them. The time you save by using the right tools, combined with the increased results of your efforts, should more than justify your investment
Consider, first of all, the potential of a dedicated advocate marketing platform. This digital environment allows you to set up an online community where alumni can congregate and engage with both you and fellow graduates. From here, university marketers can easily roll out events and messages that will both excite alumni and incite them to greater acts of advocacy.
Also take into account the need to integrate your advocate marketing platform with other marketing systems, such as:
- Marketing automation tools
- Community forums
Once all your marketing tools are integrated, you’ll have an effective way to run coordinated omnichannel advocate marketing campaigns that have wider reach and effectiveness.
5) Experiment, learn, iterate
There is no sure-fire way to engage with a school’s graduates. Every educational institution has a different culture, and what works for one may not work elsewhere.
Experiment with new ideas to see what resonates with your alumni. It may take a few iterations to discover how to connect with them, so make sure you track your experiments and thoroughly analyze the results. Most advocate marketing platforms and marketing tools have this capability built in, so you don’t have to look far for the information you need.
Once you’ve discovered what makes your alumni tick, alter your alumni advocate program to match; just make sure that you keep both your goals and the goals of your alumni closely synced. Too much of the former, and your alumni won’t engage. Too much of the latter, and your alumni will have fun but in a manner that doesn’t move your strategy forward.
Repeat this cycle regularly so that you keep things fresh for your alumni, and to keep your advocate program on track.
Watch this video to learn more:
Take this first step today and explore how an alumni advocacy program can benefit your department and your entire institution.