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February 10, 2016 // 7:00 AM

Leveraging Alumni to Help Drive Inquiries and Applications

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Nearly 80% of alumni feel positively about their alma maters. That doesn't translate to 80% of your alumni making donations to the school, but according to the same study — nearly half of non-donors do want to find ways to get more involved with their schools. Are you using this fully to your advantage?

Ask yourself: When was the last time you asked your alumni to contribute content to your school blog, newsletter, or annual report?

We don't mean asking them to be featured in an annual review or give a testimonial (although that's probably already a part of your plan, if not, it should be). We're talking about having your alums write articles about their life experiences, or tips to share, or whatever else is going on in their lives that would be inspirational to students.

Why Alumni Content Works to Convince Prospective Parents and Students

Your admissions team already uses alums as school ambassadors. They conduct applicant interviews or have meetings to answer their questions. Alumni may also participate in local career events. These events all make good use of alumni but have their limitations. 

First, there are logistics. Alumni involved in these activities must be willing and able to donate their time. In many cases, they also need to be in the right location to participate. Second, the reach of these types of interactions is limited. They're valuable for those prospects such activities do reach, but that's a small sample compared to the broader audience of potential students out there.

Using alumni content extends the power of these great ambassadors to influence a wider pool of prospects. And influence they have. Eduventures researched the key drivers influencing students' enrollment decisions. They found that among school personnel, alumni were the most influential, after current students and admissions officers, in getting a prospect to enroll. Alumni had more influence over their decision than teachers, faculty, or coaches. 

It's not hard to understand why. Alums once wore those students' shoes and chose to go to your school. They can speak with an authenticity based on first-hand knowledge. They can share how and why they decided to attend your school. They can share their experiences of what life is like as a student there.

It's far easier for prospects to connect and identify with another human being than to connect and create a relationship with an institution. Alumni stories personalize your school in a way no other group can.

Of course, prospects don't just think about life at your school when deciding where to apply. They're also thinking of how well your school can position them for success in the next stage of their life. Parents want their kids to get into a great college because they know how important a life choice college is. College students want to be attractive to employers in a difficult job market. Alumni are the living proof of the ROI a prospect could achieve.

What Kind of Content Can Alumni Contribute?

Interviews and "where are they now" pieces are always valuable. Focus on their journey from the potential students' perspectives. The audience for this content isn't fellow alumni. The best times to approach specific alumni for an interview, or to write a story about them are after winning an award or another achievement. Telling the stories of the ones who took the road less traveled, or the ones who just returned home from a stint overseas, can broaden your prospective students' horizons and unlock their imaginations.  

You should also encourage alums to create by-lined content. Don't wait to interview them! Run campaigns encouraging alums to post content on your social media sites. How about a selfie in their cool office on Instagram? Or updates on your Facebook page when they're starting a new job, got promoted, or overseeing a juicy new project? What about photos of art, ads, or products they've created on Pinterest?

These aren't alumni-siloed social media profiles. Direct the alumni-generated content (AGC) to the social media pages that prospects visit. Create a branded hashtag they can use to tag alumni stories. Promote these hashtags in your admissions content. Tell prospects to use them to hear from and connect directly with alumni.

You can also run AGC campaigns asking specific questions: "What I wish I'd known at 15" or "My favorite school memory." Alumni can email back responses or post directly to your social media channels with a campaign-branded hashtag. Then curate the best responses into a blog post. You can also drop individual responses into relevant spots in your admissions collateral.

Don’t forget about distribution. In addition to social media, you can promote and include alumni stories and AGC in newsletters, emails, and your school's blog.

Alumni Content — the Best Credibility Builder

Alumni content is the ultimate credibility builder for prospects. It attracts prospective students because they want reassurance about the unknown of probably the first, and most important decision of their adult lives. It helps alleviate the fears they have of making "a monumental mistake."

Alums' stories help prospects picture them living those lives, having those experiences, doing those jobs. Such stories can deepen your prospects' emotional attachment to your institution. Because they can imagine having the same, or better experiences, than Bill and Judy Alumni. The personal experiences these kids have on campus, plus the current students they meet, capped off by your alums sharing their success, are the 1-2-3 punch that can cast away their doubts, and seal the deal for your prospective students and their parents.

Younger Alums Offer Different, but Equal Value

How much will your younger alumni appreciate hearing from you without being asked for money? Tons! Many alums are still at the beginning of their life's journey and don't have much money — yet they've got time and energy to spare. Their fondness for their school is still strong. But they're embarrassed when they can't give money. Ask them too often for money when they aren't in a financial position to give, and resentment can set in.

Recognize that until they hit their mid-30s, early 40s, they're busy building a career, starting families, and getting set financially. They don't have a lot of extra cash lying around to give to your school.

Try a different path that yields equal, if not greater, value.

Ask them to share their memories and "hard lessons learned." What advice can they offer students just starting college? What secrets did they learn that helped them succeed in school?

Reliving those memories and sharing their thoughts will do more to deepen your alums' school bond than pleas for money ever will at this stage in their lives. Eventually, when they reach the point where they can give back financially, you'll get your donations — and more!

The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing for Schools  

Topics: Education

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