I could write a long post answering this question, but I’ll be brief. Because Andy has always been a visionary about how to reach alumni online, and remains so today.
He’s been one of the pioneers in using the Internet to reach alumni, starting when he was at Brown in the 1990s. These initial forays involved using listservs! Now, he’s exploring many ways in which Caltech can connect to alumni‐
and alumni to each other. This includes the use of commercial services such as LinkedIn. [He wrote about this in CASE Currents this year, in an article entitled “Opponent or Opportunity“-though you’ll have to log in to read the article.] Currently executive director of the Caltech Alumni Association, Andy launched Alumni Futures, his blog on alumni relations, last month.
For the next month, Andy will be authoring blog entries, which will appear along with the (ir)regular posts that I write.
Here are some questions from me‐
and answers from Andy-to get things started.
You’re a pioneer in using the Internet to reach out to alumni. How have the challenges facing those who want to be effective at Internet‐enabled alumni relations changed in the past ten years?
One challenge we’ve started to solve is staffing and budget. Ten years ago many of our websites were the product of a work study student’s summer project. Alumni offices are now treating online services as a prominent, cross‐program centerpiece. Beyond that, I think we’re finally getting to the stage where alumni executives are becoming comfortable with the tools themselves. We now see that to make good policy, budget and staffing decisions, we need to understand the tools ourselves. This is not some technology or computer issue—it’s a program area like any other.
Beyond this, the fundamental challenge has not changed that much: figuring out where to invest scarce money and staff time. In the late 1990s “alumni portals” were going to revolutionize the way we interacted with our graduates. Dotcom vendors warned us that if we didn’t buy their services, we’d lose out on big revenue sources and alienate our alumni. The reality turned out to be quite different. But it’s hard to blame people for jumping onto that bandwagon, because in “internet time”-
a matter of months a site or service can go from the hottest property in Silicon Valley to being completely bankrupt and abandoned. And it’s probably better to do something even if you’re unsure whether it’s the best thing to do-so that you’re not starting out completely from scratch when you finally get the chance to deliver additional online services.
There are a lot of big challenges coming down the road. For example, what is the role of of alumni groups in online social networks? And we’ll be hearing more about “identity management”—managing a user’s online identity and access, from their acceptance as a freshman right through their life as an alumnus.
What are the most important considerations for any institution developing Internet‐based alumni outreach strategies?
I think the considerations are the same as for any other program or service. First and foremost, offer something relevant to alumni. You have to give them something they need, and so much the better if it’s unavailable anywhere else. For example, just about everyone needs email, and you can provide it. And you can do ISPs one better by providing an email account branded with alma mater’s name and the .edu suffix. And alumni need jobs. There are plenty of jobs posted online, but where else are they going to find jobs posted by someone more likely to hire them—fellow alumni? Your alumni network does that best.
It boils down to treating online services with the same attention and thoughtfulness you bring to traditional programs like reunions or clubs. And remembering that with new tools and new ideas, often there’s no “wrong” way to do something. It can be very rewarding to dive in, gauge your results, and make your adjustments downstream.
Michael Stoner Co-Founder and Co-Owner Was I born a skeptic or did I become one as I watched the hypestorm gather during the dotcom years, recede, and congeal once more as we come to terms with our online, social, mobile world? Whatever. I'm not much interested in cutting edge but what actually works for real people in the real world. Does that make me a bad person?