Gone are the days when social media responsibilities rested solely with a school’s marketing and communication office. Now, all departments of a university use platforms like Twitter and Instagram to engage their audiences and advance their goals. This includes forward-thinking development officers, who are wising up to the fact that social media platforms present a bounty of helpful background information about prospects, as well as an avenue for outreach that is both familiar and comfortable for the tech-savvy donor set.
Here are a few thoughts on how development officers can leverage social media for success:
Identifying new prospects
Look at your university’s page on LinkedIn: who has written glowing recommendations about their experience at your school? Check the LinkedIn alumni groups for your school: who are the frequent discussion contributors? Who regularly pitches in with helpful comments to students? On Twitter: who frequently interacts with your school’s account and proudly displays alma mater affiliation in their bios?
These are all signs of affinity and interest—important indicators when evaluating whether someone might be inclined to make a gift. You can also run targeted LinkedIn searches with specific criteria (such as job title, seniority level, group affiliation, or postal code) to identify individuals who may have high capacity.
Leveraging interests to hone outreach
It’s easy to get a sense of someone’s interests via a quick glance at their social media accounts. The information contained therein will likely be much more relevant to the donor’s current interests than the data in his/her alumni record on file. Does he post updates about theater and Broadway shows on Twitter? Does she list a leadership role with her sorority’s alumni association on LinkedIn?
Sometimes, noticing these small details can help you frame your outreach and determine a link between the prospect’s interests and the institution’s needs. Having this background information lets you come to common ground more quickly and develop strategies more likely to resonate with the prospect.
Reaching out to new prospects
While this won’t be an appropriate strategy for all prospects, some prospects might feel most comfortable hearing from their alma mater via a tweet or LinkedIn message as opposed to a cold call or an email. This works particularly well with younger prospects and those who are immersed in social media. It’s quick, familiar, and unimposing.
Earlier this year, for example, I initiated relationships via Twitter with three alumni who would go on to serve as panelists for an event about startups. These were senior managers with successful tech startups who were very active on social media. The fact that I reached out on Twitter showed that I understood and respected their worlds—I believe that’s why there was such a positive response. Keith Hannon tells a similar story here.
Staying in touch with your donors
Social media platforms aren’t just for first-time outreach—they can be helpful for maintaining relationships with existing donors. Beyond the official institutional accounts, many development officers choose to connect with their donors via personal social media accounts. See when she gets a new job or when he becomes a parent for the first time. Know when bad news strikes, as well.
Being connected on social media lets you have a window into the donor’s life and offers an extra opportunity to strengthen your relationship. (With that said, think carefully about which platforms you use for connecting with donors—depending on the nature of your relationship—and be especially mindful of donors’ preferences.)
More and more development officers recognize the importance of social media for identifying and reaching out to donors, especially the next generation. Integrating social media into your development repertoire could take as little as 10-15 minutes each day, but it can reap major rewards for your university.
For ideas on how to integrate social media into your repertoire in mere minutes each day, read Jeremiah Stevens’ blog outlining his daily advancement routine.
Dan Klamm is Director of Young Alumni Engagement for the NYC office of his alma mater, Syracuse University. He has six years of experience across higher education career services, alumni relations, and marketing. Feel free to connect with Dan on Twitter and LinkedIn.