From Luddite to Advocate: Social Media Research Convinces Alumni Professional to Update, Update


From Luddite to Advocate: Social Media Research Convinces Alumni Professional to Update, Update

Aug 21, 2009By Michael Stoner

Leisha LeCouvie, who is currently the director of Parent and Affinity Programs at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, came to her position through alumni relations posts at Trent University and Concordia University. Like many with extensive experience in alumni relations, she was aware of social media and social networks but didn’t know her RSS from her Facebook.

All that changed when the Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE, an association of leading alumni professionals) made her the 2009 Forman Fellow. These fellowships are awarded to mid‐career alumni professionals who are considered to be future leaders in the profession. Forman Fellowships provide travel funds for recipients to visit and conduct research at several CAAE member institutions.

The travel allowed Leisha to visit University of California Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of British Columbia and learn about their social media outreach to alumni. She also surveyed CAAE institutions about their social media activities. This work resulted in a research report, which she presented at CAAE’s meeting this summer. You can download your own copy of “The Use of Social Media for Alumni Relations and University Development” here.

Liesha answered some questions for us about what she learned in doing her research.

What were the most compelling uses for social media that you uncovered in your research?

That is an interesting question. I find two distinct streams when it comes to using social media in our profession. There are those who feel they are active in this arena by starting Facebook pages or LinkedI(n groups. But they dont participate and dont exploit the opportunities available to them. And then there are those who are excited by the opportunity to market their programs and events to a whole a new constituency. Charlie Melichar speaks about this—and compares our traditional alumni programming to the Pareto Principle: 80% of our programming has effectively been for 20% of our constituents. With the proliferation of social media we can now easily begin to engage more of the 80% of our population.

So I would say that the most compelling use for social media is the desire to engage and communicate with a larger group of alumni. Of course some people are looking at social media as an inexpensive way in which to communicate with alumni, which also makes these tools quite compelling. But I think you mentioned recently that while the tools are free, the time and staff commitment to use them are not. Those institutions and associations who are using social media the way it is intended—to create dialogue, connections and relationships are also investing staff time into doing so.

Were any of the institutions you talked with reporting results from their social media activities?

I was quite pleased to see that in fact many of the CAAE institutions that I surveyed were, in fact, reporting results and keeping stats. This actually surprised me as CASE Currents (January 2009) ran a survey in which many respondents stated that they had no real strategy for social media. At McGill we have a monthly Key Metrics report that covers everything from our monthly portal stats (visitor numbers; page rank; page views) to our overall social media stats (Youtube video views; RSS subscribers, Twitter followers etc.) and are using a Google Analytics account to help review our progress. As we move forward we plan on launching social media marketing campaigns for many aspects of our programming and tracking the response through our analytics account.

What surprised you most about what you learned?

Everything surprised me in this research. This was a total immersion experience. I have gone from luddite to champion in eight months. From mocking Facebook to logging in every hour or so. I fortunately surrounded myself—at home and in the office—with people much smarter than me. Temi—a colleague of mine—was a great teacher. She would give me articles to read, sites to visit, and tools to check out. Up until a few months ago she was still patiently explaining RSS feeds to me. But now I really get it and look at events and programs completely differently—wondering all the time how we can market and promote our programs through social media, how we can get people talking to each other and how we can encourage participation through blogging and comments.

But what continues to surprise me is how much I still dont know. Part of the problem with the research was trying to keep it under control. There is just so much happening that it became very difficult to manage. I finally decided to narrow the scope and focus on one best practice from each of the three institutions I studied. If I hadnt I think I would have still been writing my report.

I was also surprised and delighted and honoured by the honestly and openness in our profession. Colleagues were so welcoming when I would call and so willing to share their expertise. It was a very gratifying experience.

Any advice for institutions that are just getting started with social media?

Get involved—dont try to understand these tools until you start using them. Participate and have fun. Most importantly—think creatively. I remember how excited we all were when email became the norm. We thought the problem of communication and event participation had been solved. But in the end all we ended up doing was sending our print‐like communications through the internet—far too frequently. We now have amazing opportunities and tools to market our programs and events creatively and to a much wider audience. Every aspect of our programming, from travel to affinity to events to lectures to reunions should be looked at to see how they can be promoted through social media. We may even end up weaning ourselves off of our email dependency.

Strategy—if you want to have an impact then develop a strategy for your outreach. Train your staff, ask them to participate, help them get involved in the social networks—teach them about privacy settings and allay fears and concerns.

  • Michael Stoner

    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?