Here is more food for thought about online business networks (a subject we've mentioned already).
Background: As described elsewhere, last year Caltech Alumni Association launched an official alumni group on LinkedIn.com. As of today we have 1,555 members, from an alumni base of 19,389 contactable alumni. So about 8% penetration.
Here are some brief pros and cons, as we see it.
Some successful aspects:
- Graduates can connect their alumni network with their non-alumni external networks for professional networking.
- Our school and its alumni get high visibility in search results and profile views (in the form of our group logo/name).
- Alumni can see and understand the ways in which they are connected to other alumni in the group.
- The group helps drive traffic through our site via our LinkedIn landing page.
- The groups adds to the number of email addresses we have on file for alumni.
- Early adoption allowed us to sign on before pay-for-service was instituted.
- We have documented success stories about alumni finding jobs, employees, and investors.
- Participation (percentage joining) is healthy and the group shows slow but very steady growth.
- Alumni can participate no matter where they live or how often they relocate.
- Students and alumni have a new connection channel.
Some Challenges & Obstacles:
- Scant reporting is available to us from LinkedIn.
- We have an unclear picture of internal organization at LinkedIn and no direct channel to senior management there.
- There is almost no community functionality on the site.
- There is no compensation to group organizations for group members who pay LinkedIn for premium membership.
So, if you're considering setting up a group on the site, here are four things to keep in mind:
- It is not free, and you need to weigh the membership services and tiers against the cost and structure they have.
- They do not have specific rules in place, as far as I know, regarding who at an institution can establish official groups.
- There is little or no metadata available for you to pull from the site. (I'd love to see a "dashboard" showing the average number of connections for our members, success rate for requests to connect, what portion of connections are within the alumni network, etc.).
- With the lack of community communication tools, contact between group members is private and you may want to supplement LinkedIn's services with additional home-grown solutions on your site.
Finally, a word about Alumni_Nets. Alumni_Nets is the unofficial "industry users' group" for institutions that have alumni groups on LinkedIn. It's a Yahoo! Group open to higher ed professionals interested not only in how to use LinkedIn for Groups with alumni, but also in discussing online alumni community ideas in general. Check it out if you've created an official alumni group on LinkedIn.
[Note: The above comments are based on our experience at one institution, using LinkedIn a certain way. Most of our alumni are in engineering, scientific, academic, technical or research positions, for what it's worth. Others' experiences will vary.]