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Alumni relations in the Facebook era

Why on earth would you give priority to people on Facebook? Ridiculous! — UWAA member quote

A few years ago, if the University of Washington wanted to connect with alumni it had to spend a small fortune in direct mail marketing and print publishing costs. Email changed all that, and social media is changing the game again. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are giving the UW and all of higher education an immediate and engaging channel to connect with graduates, friends, families and more.

At the UW Alumni Association, we think the 50-plus percent of UWAA members who use Facebook should become our “friends” because there is so much more that can be done through Facebook that email just can’t touch.

For starters, Facebook puts members in charge of their own subscriptions. It allows for more frequent and interactive communication. And it gives alumni the chance to connect with the University and fellow alumni on a deeper, more personal level. Alumni engagement is an inherently social experience, and Facebook is perhaps the most appropriate mass communication tool precisely because it is so social. Plus, it does all of this (and more) for free.

Not all alumni believe this is the best approach. But the UWAA is embracing today’s communications channels and reaching graduates wherever they may be, Facebook or not. Recently, we gave our 6,000-plus Facebook friends a “heads up” that tickets to a members-only showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides would be going on sale soon. We didn’t give Facebook users priority access to these tickets. We merely gave them a “heads up” that tickets were going to go on sale (which we also did for members in the latest issue of the Member E-news). So really, the people who got priority access to these tickets were the members who we have email addresses for. But that caused a stir, as the quote at the top of this post indicates clearly.

Do we have your email address? If not, be sure and update your contact info today.

So, are we backing away from email and replacing it with Facebook? Absolutely not. But we are aware that many of our younger members are doing exactly that. As hard as it is to imagine, “I don’t check my email—I just use Facebook,” is a growing sentiment among new graduates and students. For this reason alone we have to be on Facebook. But the use of any single communication tool should not be a requirement to have a great membership experience, and we can’t force someone to use email any more than we can force them to use Facebook. We need to communicate with alumni on their terms, regardless of whether they prefer email, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, web browsing or good ol’ fashioned print media.

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