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Alumni Appreciation on Social: 3 Tactics

When it comes to alumni engagement and ultimately donor stewardship, never underestimate the power of surprise swag.

It's a mantra Jordana Torres, associate director of social media at Northeastern University, swears by. At the CASE Social Media Conference in Los Angeles, California, Torres told the story of the time she shipped a collection of university memorabilia to a particularly engaged alumnus, Greg. Overjoyed, Greg (class of 1974) wrote to her and enumerated how each item (koozie, key fob, pennant) would have a place of honor in his house. 

"This is the best start to a weekend in a long time," he wrote.

This, said Torres, underlines how vital it is for social media professionals in advancement to appreciate alumni for "more than just their treasure."

"Why would our alumni want to give value to us if we don't give value to them?" she asked.

Here are three ways to use social to appreciate alumni—a key step in cultivating them as donors.

Value alumni participation.

Torres recognizes engaged alumni (like Greg) with simple prizes. She keeps an eye out for particularly active social media followers and messages them from the alumni account to ask for their address.

She sends along the swag she has on hand-hats, decals, magnets.

"A little goes a long way in showing appreciation for alumni," she says.  (Other institutions send tokens like flags, laundry bags or cookie cutters. Read about those in a recent issue of Currents.)

Value their insights.

Once they've left the halls of your institution and start racking up career experiences, alumni can be powerful sources of information. Or, as Torres put it, "Alumni love to offer their opinions. We found a way to capitalize on this desire to provide feedback."

Northeastern launched an Alumni Words of Wisdom project, putting calls out on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Last year, 52 submissions poured in. Of those, 16 nuggets of wisdom were made into a booklet for graduating seniors, including: "Graduation isn't the end of your education. Keep learning; stay passionate; never settle," and, "The world is actually much smaller than it seems, so make sure to treat everyone with dignity and respect."

The alumni team is now collecting advice for the Class of 2017.

Value their experiences.

The Northeastern University Office of Alumni Relations uses its Instagram account (@northeastern_alumni) to showcase alumni voices through takeovers. Each week, a different graduate (after signing an agreement with guidelines) takes over the account, posting at least one photo a day. Posts go behind the scenes in alumni's varied lives-from zoo keeping to broadcasting on ESPN to exploring Greek ruins to photographing public art. 

Now 40-plus weeks into the project, Torres says the benefits are threefold. One, engagement is up (from an average of 28 likes per week to 47). Two, it's an efficient way for a small social team to generate content. Three—most important of all for fostering alumni engagement—it's real.

"It's content that feels authentic because it is authentic," she says.

This article is from the April 2017 BriefCASE issue of BriefCASE.