8 Ways Social Engagement Can Benefit Your University: Part 1

Engagement
8 Ways Social Engagement Can Benefit Your University: Part 1
By Arnie
October 2, 2020

Why do you engage with alumni? Is it ‘engagement for engagement’s sake’? Or, is a big part of the reason to engage so you can increase giving to: 

  1. Offer scholarships to more low-income students
  2. Hire more faculty and staff
  3. Provide more support for student retention and well-being
  4. Improve facilities for students

Consider where your own engagement strategy lies on the following spectrum.

Engagement for Engagement's sake versus Engagement that drives giving

Reading this series will give you the practical knowledge to move towards the right side of the spectrum and develop an engagement strategy that successfully drives giving.

CueBack believes that alumni engagement is the means, not the end, to achieving the objectives listed above. 

That is, the objective of engagement should be to:
(i) Extract more value for the benefit of the university and its constituents.

For that reason, we have reimagined alumni engagement to:
(ii) Provide more value from the alumni community to each alum.

Benefits of social engagement strategy

The first objective, extracting more value from engagement for the benefit of the university, can be broken down into the following components:

(a) Increase major, principal and planned giving
(b) Enhance the brand equity of the university (so that it appeals to more prospective students, demonstrates ROI to parents, provides life-long value so that alumni want to stay connected, etc.)
(c) Ensure that 100% of alumni engagement data is accessible to the university (as opposed to the current social media driven model, where 90% of the value accrues to companies such as Facebook)
(d) Automatically repurpose content so that it can simultaneously help other non-development stakeholders achieve their objectives (e.g. career services, admissions, retention, student well-being, etc.)

The second objective, providing more value from the alumni community to each alum, can be broken down into:

(a) Personalization, not one-size-fits all, so that each alum feels that they are being spoken to, and valued, as an individual
(b) Providing engaging content tailored to individual interests and needs, which are different for a 22-year-old recent graduate, a 42-year-old mid-career mature alum, and a 62-year-old retired senior alum
(c) Providing lifelong value regardless of the professional and personal life stages of each alum.

This three-part series will explore each of these topics in detail. 

Social Media vs Social Engagement

In an age of limitless connectivity, it seems that, paradoxically, we are more disconnected than ever. The early promise of social media has not been fulfilled, as companies such as Facebook are focusing relentlessly on growth and profits, even if that means purposefully encouraging social conflict rather than social connection and secretly tracking alumni across the web

Social media platforms are no longer a safe and secure place to post, comment, and like other people’s content — they are hubs for social media companies to collect and sell alumni’s personal information. Each digital interaction (even those that occur when an alum is logged out of the site) is valuable to social media corporations, as they can easily sell that data to third parties. 

Jaron Lanier, a technology futurist and the founder of Virtual Reality, outlines ten core reasons why we need to rethink social media in his book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Lanier’s reasons span from “social media is making you unhappy” to “social media is making what you say meaningless.” 

Even former employees of major social media platforms are warning people against the dangers of the products they themselves created. The recent Netflix documentary-drama The Social Dilemma examines how the current model of social media exploits its users and manipulates their psychology for profit. As stated in the film, “Never before have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives.”

However, many higher education institutions use social media sites such as Facebook to communicate with their alumni on a mass scale, help alumni connect with each other, and share news and updates about the school. So, how can schools effectively engage their alumni community without inadvertently facilitating the negative impacts of social media?

To foster meaningful connections between alumni and deliver deeper engagement insights for colleges and universities, social media should mimic the principles of interpersonal conversation that we see in real life. Traditional social media platforms restrict their users so that when one person posts something, everyone else is limited to liking, sharing, or adding a short comment to the post. Real-life interactions are far richer, more dynamic, and inclusive.

But this isn’t how current social media platforms were designed. And it isn’t easy for them to shift to a more interactive and more meaningful form of engagement. The social media platforms that have existed for nearly a decade have a strongly established business model predicated on tracking and selling your alumni’s data to advertisers. This model is unlikely to change, especially when censorious stockholders are intently watching the companies’ numbers. 

This has created the need for a new kind of digital platform to arise and to reestablish meaningful online connections — social engagement platforms

Benefit #1: Promoting Meaningful Engagement

Which one is of greater value to a university — a cat video that an alum shares on Facebook, or a long, heartfelt story about a professor who impacted the alum’s life?

Social engagement platforms ensure that alumni share content more like the latter — meaningful, emotionally rich, and full of deep insights. 

Social engagement platforms are built with long-form content in mind and allow collaboration between users so that collaborators can share thoughts, knowledge and experiences; users can even co-create content that includes more than one perspective. This facilitates active listening between content creators and content consumers, thereby creating an online alumni community that is far more conducive to meaningful exchanges than can be achieved with traditional social media platforms. 

Rather than focusing on the quantity of interactions, social engagement platforms focus on the quality of interactions, ensuring that each alum is able to meaningfully connect with both other alumni and their alma mater. 

Benefit #2: Emphasis on Privacy and Security 

Facebook’s business model is based on using your alumni's personal information to fuel its targeted advertising and marketing engines. Facebook became so concerned about what they termed “context contraction” (and what I call “content compression”) that they set up a dedicated team to study why users were sharing less about themselves. Could it be that users have become wary of how their private information is being shared and sold by Facebook? 

This highlights another crucial difference between social media and social engagement. Current social media platforms were built by millennials for millennials. Their cavalier attitude towards privacy is a reflection of the mores of the post-digital generation and a business model that prioritizes growth and profit regardless of the individual or social costs. 

However, your alumni have varying attitudes towards privacy; for baby boomers who grew up in a social-media-free world, privacy is a much more critical concern than for millennials who are used to putting their personal information online. With this in mind, social engagement places additional emphasis on the needs of older alumni, as they are the target demographic for planned, major, and principal giving, as well as major contributors to the brand equity of the institution.

While privacy is especially important to older alumni, even younger generations are becoming more concerned about the sale of their private data by social media companies. 

CueBack's social engagement platform was built by a cross-generational team of baby boomers and millennials, and it places great importance on privacy to encourage content expansion. By allowing alumni to easily control who sees their posts, you can ensure that the content posted to the platform is honest, open, and emotionally meaningful. This groundbreaking model of long-form content shared on a smaller scale is another primary difference between social media and social engagement. 

Benefit #3: Protecting Your Brand Image

CueBack's social engagement platform allows you to control user-generated content visibility before it gets published — not after the fact, when the damage may have already been done.

A major issue with social media platforms is that they give any user the power to create a “page” for a college or university — thereby diminishing the power that the institution has over its own narrative and brand image. 

These phony accounts, created by an individual who may not even be university-affiliated, can send uncontrolled messaging to a huge proportion of the alumni community and garner a massive following that far exceeds the official university-sponsored page. 

A large public university on the West Coast faced a problem like this when someone who wasn’t a university official established a page for the school on LinkedIn. The unofficial page was perceived as the “actual” university page and siphoned off followers from the official page managed by the alumni relations team. 

Social engagement platforms’ dedication to privacy and security mitigates the risk of having counterfeit college accounts, allowing schools to control their own narrative and protect their brand. At the same time, alumni can feel safe navigating the social engagement platform, knowing that their data won’t be sold and that they won’t be tracked outside of the site. 

The Future of Online Engagement

A paradigm shift in what social media should look like is emerging. The era of the one-size-fits-all approach that primarily benefits the bottom line of a few social media companies may have reached its zenith. By contrast, a social engagement platform that emphasizes personalized content and privacy will draw alumni towards engaging with others, and with their alma mater, on a meaningful level. 

In this new era of disillusionment with current social media, the social engagement approach — prioritizing alumni and their interests while simultaneously maximizing the benefit to the school — is the future. 

Check out Part 2 of the series to find out how critical personalization is for alumni and prospect engagement. (Hint: it’s much more than just increasing engagement rate).

To learn more about how social engagement platforms like CueBack can benefit your institution, go to cueback.com/demo and request a FREE personalized demo.

Social Engagement