Benchmarking is discussed more and more frequently in advancement, especially in alumni relations. PCUAD (Private College and University Alumni Directors) has pushed the practice more than any other group has in the past few years, with its development of ARAMP, the Alumni Relations Assessment & Metrics Program.
Among other things, this benchmarking tool collects data about PCUAD members' online communities. For example, it measures:
- the number of registered users within a school's private online alumni community;
- the number of alumni email forwarding addresses activated;
- unique logins to the online community per month;
- the number of people who have registered for an event online...
...and so on. E-newsletters, online communities and directories, staffing of the web site...it's all there.
But there's something missing. Something so obvious that it seems hard to believe PCUAD didn't build it into the ARAMP system: there are no questions about online social networks. Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace are not part of the measurements, despite the fact that perhaps every PCUAD member school is using these (and other) sites for alumni relations.
There's a good explanation for this omission: the original benchmarking instrument was developed a couple of years ago, when many alumni directors still believed that they had to "compete" with these sites, which were "stealing" their alumni. Having a large number of alumni using Facebook (or perhaps, at the time, Friendster) was interpreted to mean that your own alumni site had failed. I expect that ARAMP, however, will be updated to reflect alumni groups' growing use of third party sites.
Soon, CASE will launch its own benchmarking tool for member institutions, which will probably include metrics describing the use of social networks in higher ed as well. If it is designed to be flexible, it will allow its users to specify the aspects of social networks they wish to measure and compare.
Whatever metrics we decide to benchmark, we should be building social networks into our strategies and planning right now, by:
- incorporating electronic media into engagement strategic plans;
- setting goals for outreach and participation (and ROI) for online efforts; and
- drafting road maps for the next 18 to 36 months, to maintain our flexibility, creativity and effectiveness online.
This last item could cover anything from how you'll gather structured data from alumni in social networks, to how you'll integrate Twitter into event communication planning.
And we should always remember to ask why we're using these sites at all. A good answer might be "because they help us connect alumni with each other and the institution in novel, effective ways." A bad answer might be "because everyone else is rushing to do these things already."
As for benchmarking our use of these third party sites, what aspects do you think we should be measuring?
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