How to Engage Millennial Alumni

Students conversing on a bench

Recently, I discussed the topic of alumni engagement. I’d like to go into detail on a few particular problems that I’m hearing consistently from university development officers from a variety of institutions:

  • Your recent graduates are leaving school with an increasingly significant amount of student loans and believe that they’ve given enough to their institution in the way of tuition. They’re surprised when their alma matter, ostensibly knowing this is the situation, reaches their hand out for a donation.
  • While institutions are proud of their endowments, recent graduates don’t believe their $50 is really needed when the university has a $1 billion endowment.
  • We’ve heard it before, millennials are driven by saving the world. They’ll spend their money when they think it will make a difference: help someone launch their dream project (see: Kickstarter) or a consumer purchase that has a double-benefit (see: Warby Parker).
  • The biggest concern alumni relations staff had is that graduates need to see additional career assistance and the value of their diploma. This is where a huge opportunity exists.

So how do you connect with millennials on the career service front? One state university is working with an alumnus who is a world leader in career development and training to create a revenue stream AND service a void in their offering. Many other schools I have talked to have invested in iModules seemingly stellar online platform, which is geared at millennials and Gen Xers, and will enable schools’ alumni to gather online by subject matter area of interest.

However, here comes my word of caution. It’s not about the platform. What is the front door that will get young alumni TO your various platforms? My answer? Content that offers value and is relevant.

The most common question I get asked is about which platforms to use and how often to use them by demographic. I encourage people to think about the value of the content first, and then marketing the content through social media (along with some of your traditional “channels”) to connect with the millennials second. Just because you have a Twitter account or a Facebook account for your school, doesn’t mean you’re using it well.

Student Studying

How is the content you’re creating of value for your young alumni’s career journey? I have yet to see the gold standard example in this by a university. That being said, there are indeed some things that are worth mentioning. Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism has created Medill Reports, an online media publishing entity that is a news source written exclusively by graduate students.

The Daily Domer

Notre Dame has created the Daily Domer, an online Notre Dame filter of the world, which cranks out daily doses of content (one of my “essential musts” to be successful). Yet, I’ve yet to see anyone really connect the dots on high quality, daily content, geared at millennial alumni and particularly on the specific topic of career advancement (this is where you can prove me wrong).

Now, imagine new sites being about career advice, geared at young alumni. It should be written by alumni for alumni and provide a community for the alumni to then engage with the content and THEN leverage the platforms you’ve invested large sums of money in to.
This also becomes a recruiting tool. Many universities have dozens of top-name brands fighting to compete to interview your students. Yet, the parents of your students aren’t aware of this in most cases. They’re at the neighborhood BBQ answering questions and joking about whether or not their English major will be able to find a job.

Meanwhile, the successful challengers to the traditional brick and mortar liberal arts education are going right at the jugular. It’s not a coincidence that the likes of the University of Phoenix are constantly using their advertisements to specifically mention the brands where their alumni land jobs.

There isn’t a school I’ve talked to in the last year that doesn’t have an amazing roster of alumni willing to give advice from all-star company brand names of all shapes and sizes. It’s time to rethink how you can leverage their stories, their knowledge, to build a value proposition to your young alumni.

Let’s hear some of the successes and challenges you’re facing in this area. Tweet me at @_JaySharman.

About Jay Sharman

Jay Sharman is the CEO and founder of TeamWorks Media, a purpose-driven marketing company in Chicago’s West Loop. TeamWorks helps not-for-profit and higher education clients combine purpose and profit by creating innovative marketing strategies... More about Jay Sharman »

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