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Social Media Data for Alumni Engagement and Advancement

In February I attended my first CASE Drive/ conference. Not knowing what to expect, I was excited by the way the group that “dreams in data” was embracing social media as a vital component of communications, marketing, advancement, and alumni engagement strategy. Campuses like the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan consider social media alongside other data sources as a vital component of their Big Data strategy in advancement. Here are some highlights, with links to my Twitter threads from the event. Even if you’re not on Twitter, the links to the tweet threads should work within any web browser. Feel free to forward this to your colleagues and start dreaming in data!

Campus Sonar blog image for Social Media Data for Alumni Engagement and AdvancementUse Tweets to Predict Behavior

The keynote from Dr. Jennifer Golbeck Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, had me tweeting like mad (about both her content and her amazing dress with pockets) so the at-home audience wouldn’t miss a single morsel. She shared social listening analysis research she’s completed that predicts from a person’s tweets whether or not they’re likely to recover from addiction when they seek help, among other things. Check out the Twitter thread to read more about the research and ethics of algorithms.

Claim Social’s Share of the Marketing Budget

Kathy McCann, Director of Data Advancement Information Services at Union College, shared the changing role of social media data in developing audience-centric strategies for advancement. She said, “If our lapsed donors are flat out telling us what they're interested in through their social data and we're not using that to make better outreach and appeals, we're missing an opportunity.” She also confronted the reality that many campuses allocate as much as 50x budget to print compared to social media—an allocation that is completely unheard of in most other industries, particularly given the inability to track the effectiveness of most print material. My tweets from this session even included some at-home participation from a social media staff member at Union College.

The Role of Online Activity in Alumni Identity

Dr. Jay Dillon, Director of Alumni Engagement at the University of San Francisco, shared the results of his dissertation research about alumni identity, which is positively correlated to alumni giving. His study of over 4,000 alumni found that three of the top five behaviors that influence alumni identity were digital—including liking a campus Facebook post or joining a LinkedIn group. One of Jay’s key messages for this alumni-focused audience was, “Say yes to social.” You can read more in my Twitter thread from Dr. Dillon’s presentation.

Maintain Dynamic Alumni Databases with Social Profile Data

Brett Lantz, Senior Associate Director of Analytics in the Office of University Development at the University of Michigan, kicked the nerd level up several notches in his session about text analytics and advancement. He’s using word2vec, a machine learning project from Google, to analyze data from alumni tweets, LinkedIn profiles, CRM databases, and even decades-old scanned gift agreements to develop more robust profiles of alumni and donors to inform strategic communication and fundraising initiatives. You’ve gotta see the tweets to believe it. Brett also kept it real—I learned that when he’s not geeking out about machine learning, he’s a big fan of squirrels, hamburgers, and paranormal activity.

Develop a Digital First Mindset

Mike O’Neil, Associate Director of Digital Engagement in Cornell University’s Alumni Affairs and Development Division, closed out the conference with a killer session on what it means to be a digital-first organization. He shared their division’s process of developing a digital-first mindset, which means they put the needs of their digital audience ahead of, but not in place of, in-person audiences. This makes sense when you consider that on many platforms, their digital audience is larger than their in-person audience in a major metropolitan area like New York City. This mindset resulted in improved online and offline experience for alumni, and helped them rethink how they calculate their alumni engagement metrics. Starting in the 2017 fiscal year, digital engagements such as logging into a live stream, interacting on social media, or volunteering as a social media ambassador count as engagement activities. Here’s the tweet thread; I tried to add a few GIFs to match Mike’s amazing GIF game.

Do You Dream In Data for 2019?

These are all fascinating ways to use social listening to drive alumni engagement and advancement. I know there were only a handful of Brain Waves subscribers at the CASE Drive/ conference, so I hope this recap was useful and provides you with some ideas for action on your campus If you think you could be a contributor to this conference, the call for proposals for the 2019 conference in Baltimore is open now, with a deadline of April 27.

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The post Social Media Data for Alumni Engagement and Advancement originally appeared on the Campus Sonar Brain Waves blog.

Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. A recognized expert, data-driven marketer, and higher education researcher, Liz specializes in creating entrepreneurial social media strategies in higher education. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and strategist who was named a 2018 Mover and Shaker by Social Shake-Up Show and a finalist on GreenBook’s 2019 GRIT Future List. Liz has more than 15 years’ experience in higher ed and strategic social listening programs. She received a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University, and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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