I maintain a list of 153 alumni organizations using Twitter:
You can follow this list and check on it to see what alumni associations and alumni relations offices are sending out into the Twitterverse (the list format saves you from having to follow them all individually. A 'daily newspaper' version is here, which is great for people who don't use Twitter: Alumni Relations Daily).
This weekend I took a look at how 150 alumni organizations set up their profiles on Twitter.
Why the Twitter profile matters
The profile (account name and "real name," photo, bio, location, and URL) is a small part of an organization's Twitter identity, but
- managing it effectively can help people find your organization through search and referrals, and
- its tone and content can project an image that appeals to your target audience.
I checked on ten characteristics of alumni organizations' Twitter profiles, and summarize my basic findings below.
More detailed descriptions of the findings, as well as a list of ten best practice recommendations will be forthcoming in an Alumni Futures white paper. Meanwhile, here are the answers to 10 questions I asked about each of the 150 organizations, along with some unscientific observations.
Ten characteristics of Alumni Organizations' Twitter Profiles
1. Is the word "alumni" in the Twitter account name?
89% of the accounts maintained for alumni relations purposes have some version of the word "alumni" in the name of the account (e.g., @caltechalumni, @ScrippsAlumnae, or @FresnoStateAlum).
2. Is the institution's name part the Twitter account name?
50% used an acronym or an abbreviation (such as @ASU_Alumni or @UNTAlumniAssoc). 34% used the school's fully identifiable name (@EmoryAlumni and @AquinasAlumni for example). 13% used a nickname (@VandyGroup, @KStateAlumni).
3. What appears as the "real name"?
For an organization, it's not always obvious what to list as "first" and "last" name. 51% managed to include both the word "alumni" and the parent institution's name or nickname (e.g., "Penn Alumni," or "Appalachian Alumni"). 44% used an acronym, initials, or an abbreviation ("SAS Alumni," "CUSSW Alumni"). 5% listed the school's name and didn't use the word "alumni" there.
4. Does the profile include a picture?
Of the 150 profiles I looked at, just one did not include a picture. This organization (a US public university business school) tweeted twice in 2008 and hasn't used the platform since then.
5. What is the profile picture?
Should you display a logo? A heraldic crest? Generically happy people? Or something else? 41% of profile pictures showed the alumni organization's logo or symbol. 17% had the logo or mark of the parent institution, and 12% each showed either a campus photo (usually a well-known building), or an athletics-related image (such as a costumed mascot). Actual people showed up in just 4 of the 149 profile pictures (2.7%).
6. Does the account include a "bio"?
Twitter lets each account holder write a 160-character self-description. 92% of the alumni programs used this opportunity to say something about themselves.
7. What organizations or people does the bio mention?
62% mention the association's name, while others say the name of the parent institution (67%). Some (obviously) mention both. Only about 8% mention the name of the individual(s) writing the tweets, which supports a hybrid individual/organizational identity. 12% of profiles mentioned something like the mascot ("Go Devils!"), students, or "friends" or "supporters" as a group – going beyond the alumni audience.
8. Does the bio say the account is "official"?
I checked to see if the word "official" appeared in the account description. 18% made the claim, suggesting awareness that individuals other than staff members may create accounts using institutional identity, with the name and image of the school.
9. Does bio language actively encourage alumni engagement?
I checked for the presence of at least one word from a list of alumni engagement-related terms. I was looking for a call to action, designed to encourage alumni to interact with each other. I scanned for words such as:
27% of the account bios encouraged this use of the Twitter account and the connections it enables.
10. Where does the bio link to?
Twitter lets you add a link to your profile, driving traffic to a web site that you specify. 93% of the organizations used the opportunity. Of the 140 schools with a URL in their bio, 92% sent the user to the alumni organization's own web site, while a few sent them to the school's homepage. Two institutions linked to a Facebook Page, and one to a staff-written blog.
I hope this informal survey provides food for thought as you configure your alumni organization's profile on Twitter. I still plan to review the actual content and characteristics of the Twitter feeds from these organizations.