tomb_stone2.jpgOld-school marketing like your institutional publication isn't really going to engage your alumni. Why content marketing should be in your future plans to engage alumni.

About a 5 minute read

I recently read an article by Calandra Parsons titled, “Alumni News is Not Really Alumni Engagement.” She makes a good point about how institutions try to use alumni news to generate a “connective spark” with their alumni, but how it often fails to “drive alumni to do anything.”  

Interestingly, a few alumni professionals disagreed with her, insisting instead that alumni news is indeed engaging simply because alumni will read it. And since alumni read this content more than any other content they receive, by-darned it must be engaging.

I agree with Calandra. Alumni news is not very engaging for most alumni, but it IS mildly interesting. Much like a Facebook post that garners a few “likes,” it doesn’t lead to a change in alumni behavior, and it’s forgotten a day later.

Alumni get much of their information about their alma mater from the institution’s communication/marketing team. Often these professionals are part of a well-oiled, in-house communication machine skilled at creating and disseminating content on behalf of the institution. Their primary purpose is to define and maintain the institution’s brand, not necessarily to attract and engage alumni. Most of the content appeals to a general audience, and by default is inwardly focused as they try to tell the institution’s story. Consequently, it often has a limited impact on alumni engagement.

What alumni are looking for is pertinent information that is relevant and beneficial. They want to know about networking opportunities, how to enhance their career, or how to take advantage of other alumni benefits. They really don’t care that much if the school’s debate team took second place in nationals.

When it comes right down to it, creating truly engaging alumni content is not easy. It takes skill, and focus and as a result, is not very prevalent. Most of the institution’s branded communications are by necessity one-size-fits-all, and are delivered by traditional, old-school means of an email blast or a printed magazine or newsletter,

Why do alumni read the alumni news? Because it’s the only content they receive that’s even remotely relevant.

And we wonder why our mobile phone-toting, digitally savvy alumni are increasingly ignoring, tuning out, and hiding from our outreach efforts. We shrug our shoulders at the dismal results of our phone-a-thons, email blasts, and direct-mail solicitations.

It’s all a result of your alumni having been empowered and highly motivated to protect their privacy, so they’re signing up en masse for Do Not Mail, Do Not Call, and Do Not Email lists. They’re unsubscribing from emails and blocking solicitation calls at an amazing rate. Most alumni offices are likewise experiencing a discouraging increase in alumni who are opting out or limiting their exposure to the institution’s traditional marketing efforts. And it’s only going to get worse.

So what’s an alumni organization to do?  What’s the future of alumni programming if you can’t reliably communicate with your constituents?

The future of alumni relations and programming will soon be driven by content marketing.

Also referred to as inbound marketing, it has revolutionized how businesses sell their products and services…and it’s coming to an alumni and development/fundraising office near you.

The new, media-savvy consumer has forced businesses to change how they connect with their customers. Instead of the marketer controlling the message or conversation, the consumer is now in control. The consumer seeks pertinent information according to their interest or need, so in turn these qualified customers self-identify and become engaged.

For alumni professionals, you’ll soon be sending fewer mass emails or solicitations to your large alumni list, and will instead attract and engage alumni with relevant, topical, compelling content. Rather than using old-school, mass-marketing methods, you’ll create blogs, webinars, social media, videos, white papers, ebooks, infographics, etc, (all SEO friendly and mobile optimized) to draw alumni to your programming.

Fortunately, several sophisticated software tools exist to help organize, simplify, and automate the entire inbound marketing process. It makes it easy to track the results of each content piece you create, and identify alumni that are interested. And once you’ve identified those alumni who want to engage, you can lead them down the path to further engagement and giving. (BTW: I have no connection or interest in promoting any of these software companies...I’m merely pointing out that such products exist.)

From a fundraising standpoint, inbound marketing costs 62% less to generate a lead or prospect than from traditional outreach methods. It’s a far more efficient method and offers a much better ROI.

So don’t be surprised when future alumni/advancement jobs will prefer candidates who have skills like persuasive writing, video production, social media management, or similar abilities that relate to content creation.

You read it here first. Mark my word.



Topics: Alumni Relations & Engagement, member acquisition, member engagement

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For 25+ years Gary Toyn has helped organizations large and small improve their constituent/member acquisition, retention and engagement. He's a multi-published author, writer, and researcher.

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