[Alumni Futures is partnering with Charlie Melichar's Intermedia blog this week, to share some views on the changing landscape of institutional advancement in education. Read Charlie's interview with Andrew Gossen, Cornell University's new senior director for social media strategy as a companion posting to my comments below.]
I've been thinking a lot recently about something I heard on a SelectMinds webinar a couple of years ago.
Ethan McCarty, program manager for Greater IBM (the corporate alumni community for current and former IBM employees worldwide) was discussing social media. He described how IBM was connecting the organization to its audience via its sprawling, worldwide LinkedIn Group (more than 46,000 members today). A webinar participant asked how IBM measures the return on investment for social tools. McCarty replied, "What's the ROI for your phone service?"
In other words, online networks are part of the fabric now, they're what people do. They are as critical to many businesses as telephone service is. Online community is not an experiment or a half-measure to make up for the fact that people won't read your direct mail pieces.
Our work requires ever-increasing incorporation of online networks and so-called social media – these are tools for doing our work, not just "programs and services" that we offer. So what are the implications for alumni relations? One implication is that staffing models, organizational structure and professional roles must change, and change soon.
Cornell University (Ithaca, New York, USA) is adapting to these opportunities by creating permanent roles that embed these practices in the alumni relations effort. Their decisions raise the bar for how alumni offices incorporate social tools into traditional engagement. I asked Cornell's Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations, Chris Marshall, to comment on their rationale.
Chris told me,
I've hired most of our team members for their ability to motivate and manage volunteers, to develop deep relationships, to plan strategic events, and to work hand-in-hand with fundraisers. Asking staff with those specialized skills to also become experts in a rapidly-evolving field like social media, with its complicated task of collecting, synthesizing, and reporting metrics, simply won't get the job done. I believe we need dedicated staff in these areas for alumni affairs to succeed.
We’ve decided that social media is going to be the primary way we ‘touch’ most of our 215,000 alumni. We also believe it will help us advance our relationships with key donors and volunteer leaders. So we have to do it right, and have to show our results with data. That’s why we’ve hired Andrew Gossen as our Senior Director of Social Media Strategy, and given Jennifer Cunningham the title of Senior Director, Marketing Strategy and Business Analytics.
This doesn't mean that other staff members are off the hook and don't need to know or think about the newer tools that alumni are using. A new hire today should be familiar with social sites and comfortable using them for alumni engagement, in ways that make sense in their own organization.
Other organizations, such as the Stanford Alumni Association, have also begun carving out these roles even in the face of limited resources. By measuring the results analytically, these front-runners will be able to show how our online efforts influence alumni relationships (with each other and with our institutions), and to what extent. This is the beginning of an important new direction for alumni relations, communications, and development staffing models.
A post about Princeton's mobile-optimized reunion web site
Andrew's guest blog post about "an unusual online student-alumni interaction"
Andrew's guest blog post about social networking meeting philanthropy