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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.

This isn’t just a UWAA issue, either. This is the case for almost every business across the country, including the largest membership organizations like AAA and AARP, who are offering supplemental messages and engagement to people who have connected with them via Facebook.

More than 6,000 people are friends with the UWAA on Facebook.

Therefore, our emphasis has been on improving communications and encouraging members to connect with as many outlets as possible so that they (rather than we) can decide which mediums work best for them.

This is just the beginning. Over the last few months, we created the Member Update print newsletter because we have email addresses for only half our member base. We launched Blog Down to Washington to allow two-way communication, and we stepped up our Facebook presence and promoted it more vigorously to members and non-members alike. We are also launching a new type of email communication that is designed to keep members who have email addresses better informed. We continue to grow, and we are definitely listening to what alumni want and need.

This summer, when we get ready to release members-only tickets to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at the Pacific Science Center’s IMAX Theater, we’ll inform our Facebook friends AND post something to the Membership section of our website. We’ll also include a note in the Member E-news like we did for Pirates of the Caribbean. The information will be there, no matter what the communications preference. Alumni everywhere can stay informed by checking UWalum.com as well as Facebook, Blog Down to Washington, and more.

Thank you for your support.

Derek Belt & Bryan Daisley
UW Alumni Association Membership Team

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4 Responses to “Alumni relations in the Facebook era”

  1. John wrote:
    May 16, 2011

    Totally agree. You’ve added one more fan right now. I graduated from UW in 1994. A few weeks ago, I was invited to UW campus and gave a career seminar to a group of students. I love UW and will always be a Husky.
    -John / Founder of http://www.gadgets-n-gizmos.com

    • Derek Belt wrote:
      May 18, 2011

      Hi John – Thanks for the comment. Our fan page is growing fast and I’m glad you want to be a part of it. And thanks for staying involved with the University. I enjoy working with Communication students and feel that is a fantastic way to give back.

  2. John wrote:
    September 7, 2011

    Thanks for quick reply. About LinkedIn Alumni Group, last time I checked, I was in. But forgot how I became a member there. Maybe you can have a page to promote that too.
    -John
    Gadgets-N-Gizmos.com

  3. Micah wrote:
    September 28, 2011

    I think the move to Facebook is a great step. It allows more rapid contact with people who want to stay connected. Never hurts to stay relevant to society.
    -Owner
    - http://commercialjanitorialservices.biz

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