The 10 Ways Universities Can Use Social Media

Thisarticle was originally published by Vadim Lavrusik at


Vadim Lavrusik is a new mediastudent at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is@lavrusik on Twitter


 and blogs at

In the current economy, job security hasbecome somewhat of an oxymoron. Which is one reason why maintaining connectionswith your old university classmates, especially when you find yourself lookingfor a new job, can be crucial. Now universities across the country are beginning to use social media tools to engage alumni and build anetwork of graduates with a shared affinity for the institution.

Of course, helping former students stayconnected is just one reason universities are turning to social media;fundraising is another, and there are many more. Below is a look at 10 wayshigher education is harnessing the power of social media to engage alumni. Letus know of any other ways you have used social media to connect with graduatesor your former classmates in the comments below.

1. Helping Alumni Find Jobs

Though a lot of schools offer their owndatabase of jobs online, many universities are finding LinkedIn to be aneffective tool to provide alumni with career resources. And in fact, usingLinkedIn means the process is often very hands-off for the schools. In manycases universities create the group and allow the networking magic to takeplace, with alumni sharing job opportunities by posting information to thegroup and creating subgroups that are focused to specific career or regionalalumni chapters.

Keidra Chaney, an emerging mediaspecialist at DePaul University (@depaulalumni),said LinkedIn is by far the school’s biggest success with 5,500 memberscurrently in theiralumni network on the site, and about 100 new members joining weekly. Chaneysaid the community has active job postings for alumni on the hunt for work, andthat most jobs are posted by other alumni. The most recent issue of the school’s alumni magazineactually focused on how alumni are using social media.


Michigan State University uses both LinkedIn


 and Twitter to share job leads withalumni, said Dave Isbell, alumni career servicescoordinator at the school. Isbell said recruiters often contact him with quickadvice or job information that he shares with his followers. The school’sCareer Resources Network also uses YouTube


 to give students and recently graduatedalumni advice on their job search. Schools like Emory University (@EmoryAlumni), meanwhile, host what they calla “Coach Chat,”where alumni can phone in and share ideas, tools and career resources. Alumnican also e-mail in questions and those that miss out on a chat can download itas a podcast.

2. Collaboration and Connecting With Students

Universities are using social media tosmooth the transition from being a student to becoming an alumni by helping thetwo groups connect and collaborate with each other.

Stanford University law school createdits own Facebook


-likesocial network for alumni and students that includes legal wikis that they cancollaborate on for specific practices, said Lisa Farris, associate director ofweb communications and identity at the Stanford law school. The wikis includeoverviews of different practices, key skill sets and more information thatstudents and alums can share together. Though there is a lot ofalumni-to-alumni conversation that takes place on the network, thecollaboration between students and alumni is key in positioning the studentsfor their careers, Farris said.

M.I.T. (@MIT_alumni) has had similar results with its LinkedInalumni group, which it allows students to join before they graduateso that they can network with alumni, said Christine Tempesta, director of strategicinitiatives at M.I.T.

Caltech (@caltechalumni) offers its studentssimilar access to its LinkedIn group. Andrew Shaindlin, who is executivedirector at the Caltech Alumni Association and also writes a blogon trends in alumni relations, said allowing students and alumni toconnect blurs the transition from student to alumni, which makes the transitionmore fluid.


Furthermore, using social media tools toengage students can create a lasting relationship between student and schoolinto their alumni years, said Dave Baker, web communications director at OregonState University (@poweredbyorange), whichbuilt an entire site that is interconnected with social media called “Powered By Orange.”

3. Fundraising: From E-mails to Tweets

Though most universities are using socialmedia to connect alumni, getting a tweet from your alma mater’s alumniassociation asking for a gift to the school may not be far off.

“It’s a hot topic rightnow,” said Shaindlin. “If we are using social media to get ourmessages out, we have to figure out how to incorporate a need for fundraisingand support and build that into the stream of information.” Instead ofsending out generic mass e-mails, the challenge is moving to personal,one-to-one forms of communication to make it more effective. Shaindlin thinksthat social media can achieve that, but alumni who are the recipients of themessage have to be ready to accept it through such a new medium.

Some schools are experimenting in thisarea. Brown University used a Facebook Page to engage its alumni as part of itsannual fund drive. The school posted to the wall of the Page encouraging alumnito make a gift to the Brown Annual Fund, announcing dollar-for-dollar matchesand the end results of the drive.


Emory University started the Blue Pigcampaign to encourageits undergraduate students to give to the school by using a Facebookprofile, a Twitter account (@thebluepig)and other media. The hope is that when the students graduate, the practice ofgiving back to the school will continue, said Cassie Young, program coordinatorfor alumni programs. The campaign seems to have been very successful too,resulting in a 157% growth in number of gifts from undergrads, according to Michael Stoner, who owns the mStonercommunications firm, which specializes in web development for highereducation institutions.

Stoner said the campaign is a goodexample of how to integrate various technologies and demonstrates theincreasing importance of social media in fundraising. Stoner also noted,however, that there is not much focused work among universities using socialmedia to fundraise. “A lot of people [are] saying this could be big forus, but not knowing how to take advantage of it,” he said.


Some universities are still taking stepstoward integrating social media into their fundraising practices. ColgateUniversity (@colgatealumni) in NewYork, for example, integrated Facebook Connect into its donation process,allowing donors to post that they made a gift to the school in their Facebookstatus. Because of the virality of Facebook and the visibility of statusupdates, the idea is that friends of the donor, who may be alumni of the schoolas well, would see news of the donation in their news feed and be encouraged orreminded to donate as well, explains Charlie Melichar, vice president for publicrelations and communications at the school.

4. Training Alumni To Use Social Media

Of course, for many alumni social mediais still brand new. To help its alumni learn how to use social media tools,MSU’s Alumni Career Services office gives tutorials and presentationsabout how to use social media for a plethora of purposes. Isbell from MSU saidthe office has done some 25 presentations, engaging 25,000 people –usually piggybacking at events for alumni groups.

5. Meeting Alumni Where They’re At

Some universities are playing a balancingact between using mainstream social sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)and building their own private networks. Should the resources be focused oncreating a private social network for alumni or using big networks alreadyavailable? And which is more effective? The results are mixed, but it alldepends on the goal at hand.

For example, Texas A&M University hasits own Facebook-like social site, MyAggieNetwork, but usage of the network hasbeen on the decline – only 344 logins last month, in comparison to the4,000 in September 2008. “It has not done what we wanted it to do,”said Kathryn Greenwade, vicepresident of communications for the Texas A&M alumni association. Despitehaving a lot of similar features to other social networking sites, Greenwadesaid she thinks it didn’t catch on because it is another account foralumni to have to remember. She said they are going to continue to let peopleuse the site, but have turned their focus to their presence on establishedsocial networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, which has grown withouta lot of promotion. “We decided to go where the people are rather thancreating our own network,” Greenwade said.


As mainstream social sites continue to grow,niche sites created by universities may become irrelevant and burdensome foralumni to use. Plus, building the sites take resources from the universitiesthat could be applied more effectively elsewhere.

Stanford law school’s own privatenetwork for its students and alumni has done well, said Farris from the school.She said this is largely because the content on the network is valuable andexclusive to those that register to use it, such as students sharing classnotes. Furthermore, the school hopes to integrate other features, like acurriculum guide that could be synced with the wikis.

6. Providing Tools To Spread Information

The University of California at Irvine (@UCIFuture) was looking for a way to shareinformation with its alumni and at the same time give themselves morevisibility. The result they came up with is apublically availablewidget that pullscontent from the school’s website and is part of a broader campaign toraise $1 billion. Mark Aydelotte, assistant vice chancellor of marketing, saidthere have been more than 1,000 installs of the widget since March, and that itgives the school much more exposure by spreading to other places on the web.


Aydelotte said he has seen donors embedthe widget to their sites and Facebook profiles because it features a storyabout their large donation to the school.

7. Alumni-Generated Content

Another way schools are engaging alumniis by allowing them to produce their own content, which includes things likethe wikis at Stanford and photo sharing with the alumni network at otherschools.

The University of Texas at Austin built its own photo sharing site that allows alumni to share photos ofthemselves showing the school’s well-known “hook ‘em,horns” hand gesture, along with a brief bio.


“It’s sort of a Flickr foralumni, but hosted on our website,” said Nyleva Corley,web and social media manager at the school. The idea, she said, is to allowpeople to get reconnected to the school and their fellow classmates by sharingwhere they are now and what they are doing.

Oregon State University uses Flickr


 and encourages alumni to post photos of acutout of Benny, the school’s mascot, taken in various locales. ColgateUniversity uploads photos to its Flickr account and lets people interact withthem, including this set froman alumni reunion. Melichar from Colgate said the content is what isimportant, not the container. “If we post our photos to Flickr, they havetheir own social life,” he said. “People can interact with them andone another.”

8. Promoting Alumni Networks

Though a lot of the networks are viraland many universities do very little to promote their networks, some do look atsocial media itself as a promotional tool. Some schools have multiple alumnigroups on the same social site because in addition to officially sanctionedchannels, there are others that were started by alumni themselves. So alumniassociations try to promote their official network (Facebook page, Twitteraccount, LinkedIn group) as the central hub for alumni to connect.

Andrew Gossen, senior associate directorfor class affairs and social media at Princeton University’s AlumniAssociation, said that if schools don’t take advantage and aren’tquick to provide tools for alums to connect to one another, they will do itthemselves. “And if that happens, we become irrelevant and the toolsreplace a lot of the functions of our (alumni) offices,” Gossen said.There are about 45 alumni Princeton groups on LinkedIn, according to Gossen,and the aim is going to be to consolidate them into one group, working withthose who started the others.

Most sites promote the social mediagroups on their alumni websites – because often that is the landing pointfor many alumni. M.I.T. and other schools have experimented with using targetedFacebook ads to try to attract alumni to their social networks. ChristinaTempesta, director of strategic initiatives, said the experiment wasn’ttoo successful – at least not in the amount of click-throughs the adsgot.

9. Mobile Reunions

As a way to save on printing costs and beenvironmentally friendly, Princeton University built a mobile website for its alumni reunion in late May tosupplement the printed program. At the height of the reunion, the school hadabout 21,000 people on campus, said Gossen, who works with the school’salumni association. The mobile site included the same information offered inthe printed version and in many cases the mobile application was much moreusable, Gossen said.

For example, instead of just having theshuttle schedule times printed out, the mobile application allowed users totype in their destination and get much more specific information about whichshuttle to take and when and where it was arriving. The goal is to continue toexpand the mobile app and eventually replace the printed program, which isabout 52 pages in length. The application got 1,000 unique visits and 1,600total visits.

10. Connecting The Dots: Google Maps

Class reunions are all about reconnectingto old classmates and the school. To achieve that goal, Nazareth Collegecreated a website for its 2009 reunion that used some neat social mediatools. The college sent “Golden Flyer” mascots to alumni who werein the reunion class and encouraged them to forward the birds to other alumniattending the reunion. Alumni who received a flyer could check it in on a Google


 map on the website. They could also takea photo of it and post it onto the Google map and track which alumni had thebird and look at the locations of where it had traveled.


Oregon State University uses Google Maps


 on its Powered By Orange site, as well. The site includes a mapat the center of the page and lets alums post their current location and careeralong with their graduation year and degree. Baker from OSU said that the sitehasn’t been promoted and isn’t set for its official launch untilthe end of September and already has been getting good traffic. The map alreadyhas a good number of orange dots on it.


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