Grading the LinkedIn Groups of America's Top Catholic Colleges

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Previously, I wrote at (painful) length about important elements of a successfully managed alumni LinkedIn group. Consider that your appetizer for a never-ending buffet of higher-ed LinkedIn group analyses. Although LinkedIn is arguably not quite as fun and dynamic as Facebook, it’s still an essential piece of any advancement social media strategy. LinkedIn engagement is traditionally low—but I would argue that’s on us. We can and must do better as an industry.

So which schools are doing it well and which need a pep talk? To kick things off, I decided to look at a small segment of peer institutions and compare their respective approaches to LinkedIn groups. These schools all have one thing in common: They placed top 10 in BestColleges.com’s “Best Catholic Colleges of 2014-2015.”

First, we’ll review each school’s group, focusing on metrics such as: percent of alumni in the LinkedIn group, discussions created, governance, and activity rating.* The order in which they appear reflects their BestColleges.com ranking. Check out an infographic with the results, followed by my detailed breakdown, below.

 

*Notes:

  • The number of other alumni groups on LinkedIn stops at 50 because for most of the big schools, there are too many to count, frequently in the hundreds.
  • The alumni giving rate is via the US News and World Report.
  • The names listed below are exactly how the group name appears on LinkedIn to help avoid confusion in the cases where schools have multiple alumni groups.

 

1. Notre Dame Alumni Network – EverTrue Grade: A

The Fighting Irish know how to scrap it out on the gridiron, but they clearly know how to tussle in the LinkedIn world as well. An impressive 54% of their alumni who are on LinkedIn are members of their central alumni group, and they have the most discussions posted (1/3 more than the next school!). Simply posting isn’t the key to an active group; their “very active”rating means that people aren’t just posting, but talking as well. Total all of those things together and you get a feel for the affinity Notre Dame creates. Their impressive 42% alumni giving rate is probably a direct result of this kind of engagement.

The only knock on Notre Dame’s LinkedIn presence would be their small number of subgroups (9) compared to the total number of groups they have on LinkedIn (50+). They have room for 11 more subgroups, and bringing more “rogue” affinity groups into the fold might be a good move. Then again, they seem to be doing quite well.

2. Georgetown University Alumni Group – EverTrue Grade: B+

The Hoyas have the second most alumni on LinkedIn, but they’re middle of the pack (31%) when it comes to percent of those alumni in their LinkedIn group. Still, they are rated as having a “very active” group, with 68 discussions posted in the past month. That number is second only to Notre Dame’s 90 discussions.

Like their Irish peers, Georgetown has a tremendous amount of groups on LinkedIn, but has only four subgroups coming off their parent alumni group. Bringing more of the groups into the fold could help approve upon that 31% adoption rate, while exposing existing group members to other niche discussions that might appeal to them. Or perhaps have Maria Shriver ’77 convince Arnold Schwarzenegger to do a LinkedIn AMA.

Aside from that, Georgetown seems to have a very good alumni LinkedIn group. Their 26% alumni giving rate, tied for 4th best among these schools, implies they have been effectively building relationships with alumni both online and offline. 

3. College of Holy Cross Alumni – EverTrue Grade: B-

When you consider that the College of Holy Cross has 47% of their LinkedIn alumni in their group, a maxed-out menu of subgroups (20), and a private, staff-managed group, you would think they’re killing it. There’s only one problem: Their group isn’t active. One conclusion you could reach is that they have a content problem. Only 15 discussions were posted in the past 30 days, and since that number isn’t the only factor that goes into activity rating, we can assume there isn’t much chatter within those 15 threads. More and better content could improve activity, but they have another major problem: governance.

There is another College of Holy Cross alumni group on LinkedIn, and while it has only a third of the members that the “official group” has, it has three times the number of discussions. Clearly, the alumni prefer to communicate in that group. When you look at Holy Cross’ 51% alumni giving rate, you know their people are engaged. In this instance, they’re engaged in a group that isn’t under staff supervision. This might be a situation where the school needs to reach out and ask the owner to add a staff member as a manager, or convince the owner to become a subgroup of the larger, staff-run group.

4. Boston College Alumni Group – EverTrue Grade: B

The Eagles are soaring pretty high on LinkedIn. They have 33% of their LinkedIn alumni in their group, which is middle of the pack in comparison to these other schools, but considering they have 82,000 alumni on LinkedIn (3rd highest among these schools), it’s not shocking to see a lower conversion rate. The more cats you have, the harder it becomes to herd them all into one place. What’s important is that they have an “active” rating, fueled by nearly 30 discussions created in the last 30 days. Their alumni giving rate is well above average, so there’s reason to believe they could poke the coals a little more and increase their activity rating to “very active.”

Like many of these schools, BC has hundreds of niche alumni groups on LinkedIn. The one area they could address is adding more subgroups. They currently have 10 subgroups, which means they could add up to 10 more. Again, subgroups put you in a position to run more alumni through your approval/prospecting filter and help get you closer to having all of your alumni under one umbrella. 

5. St. Lawrence University (SLU) – EverTrue Grade: B-

With a 45% conversion rate (4th best among these schools), it appears that the Saints are marching in to their alma mater’s LinkedIn group. While this is very good news for SLU, it sets them up to be labeled as a group not living up to its potential.

The group is alum owned but staff managed, which is good. However, there were only 10 discussions posted in the past 30 days, leading to a “not active” rating. This is especially unfortunate when you consider they have the 2nd fewest number of other alumni LinkedIn groups compared to the other nine schools.

This official group could build on their four subgroups, but more importantly, they seem to be in need of attractive content and discussions. If this is an issue for your group, think about using some current events to spark activity. There are some topics EVERYONE has an opinion on; try those out in your LinkedIn group and see if it catches fire.

6. Official Villanova University Network – EverTrue Grade: B

Perhaps the Wildcats are a little too wild to be contained—‘Nova has the 2nd lowest conversion rate among these 10 schools, and only 18% of Villanova alumni on LinkedIn are in their “official” group. Again, we see a governance issue brewing. Villanova has three central alumni groups, but two of them claim to be the “official group.” The group we’re focusing on is alum owned, but staff managed, and has nearly 16,000 members. Meanwhile, the other “official group” is alum owned/managed and has 24,000 members. While the alum-run group is larger, it’s “not active” versus an “active” staff-managed group. This is a problem because you have a group of 24,000 alumni who aren’t being engaged and are outside your ability to screen. Again, in these situations, it is advisable to try and merge the two groups.

Otherwise, Villanova is doing the best they can considering the volume of Wildcat alumni on LinkedIn. They have an adequate number of subgroups and discussions. One idea is to market this group in the other alumni groups, boasting their activity level and high-quality discussions. Then again, Steppenwolf says some people are just “born to be wild.” 

7. Loyola Marymount University Alumni – EverTrue Grade: C

LMU is another school that falls into the category of not realizing their full potential. Their 20% conversion rate is the 3rd lowest, but they’re in a great position to improve on that 20% mark with only 33,000 alumni on LinkedIn. Their issue is very similar to Villanova’s in that they have three groups claiming to be THE group for all LMU alumni.

One of these other alumni groups has 2,000 less members but 200 more discussions. Yet, this group has a “not active” rating, which means either those discussions are completely self-serving or the group has become a spam haven. The third LMU alumni group has about 4,000 fewer members than the group we’re featuring, but still has 80 more discussions. These groups have all very different makeups, but there’s one thing they all have in common: no staff managers.

Either the LMU alumni office is not interested in meddling in LinkedIn group business, or they have been unable to wrest power from these three alums. It’s hard to believe at least one of these group owners wouldn’t play ball with the advancement office, and it’s in LMU’s best interest to work out a deal. Their alumni giving rate of 20% is higher than the national average, but it’s 7th best when compared to the schools on this list. With that in mind, stepping up their LinkedIn game could help LMU discover an untapped donor pool and improve on that participation rate.

8. Santa Clara University Alumni (official) – EverTrue Grade: B

SCU has pretty respectable numbers across the board. They’re middle of the pack (6th out of 10) with 32% of their LinkedIn alumni in their group, they’ve posted 25 discussions in the past month (4th out 10), and they’re utilizing 11 subgroups (3rd out of 10). While the numbers are promising, like the majority of these schools, they’re lacking engagement.

Now, if you’ve been screening that group from the get-go, you could argue there’s still value in having a dormant large group. Even though no one is talking, at least you’re able to do a little data mining and discover prospects during the approval process. But I would argue that the REAL value comes when you get those prospects talking, networking, and advising other alumni & students. What prospects say in discussion threads could identify what they are passionate about and become the key to a gift officer breaking the ice.

SCU takes an interesting approach to group management—they’ve created a “personal” LinkedIn account under the name SCU Alumni Association. The advantage here is that your group manager(s) can interact as the school brand and not as a staff member. The disadvantages are that you lose a little bit of that person-to-person relationship building, and you run the risk of LinkedIn deleting the account since it doesn’t actually represent a real person.

9. St. John’s University, Queens NY – EverTrue Grade: B-

The good news: St. John’s has the 2nd highest conversion rate, with 52% of their alumni on LinkedIn belonging to the group. The bad news: The group is “not active.” Only 15 discussions have been posted in the past month, and it’s safe to assume those topics are not resonating with the members. SJU faces a challenge in that they have one of the smaller “alumni on LinkedIn” totals (9th out of 10), yet they have a plethora of alumni & university groups on LinkedIn. In that regard, they could help themselves by adding more subgroups (currently only 5) to help reign in some of the alumni scattered around LinkedIn.

What’s interesting about SJU is that they have the 2nd best conversion rate, but the lowest (by far) alumni giving rate. Alumni actively request to join the LinkedIn group, yet only 5% of alumni donate. This seems like a great opportunity for SJU to not only discover untapped donors, but to also use this community to provide value for alumni. The first step is experimenting with content in hopes of rescuing the group from its “not active” status. Once the group has life and alumni are benefiting from conversation, you could start posting discussions that get to the core of the low giving rate and maybe even convince non/lapse donors to jump in.

10. St. John’s University and College of St. Benedict Alumni – EverTrue Grade: C

Our final contender is the only to combine two schools in one LinkedIn group. College of St. Benedict (all female) is the school that made the BestColleges.com list, while St. John’s is their all-male partner school. Because they share a LinkedIn group, it’s hard to determine a conversion rate for JUST St. Benedict alums, but if you combine the two, only 13% of their collective LinkedIn alumni have joined the group. Currently the SJU/CSB group has only one subgroup, but considering there are only four other CSB groups on LinkedIn, there’s a great opportunity to have the entire LinkedIn alumni presence under one umbrella.

I won’t pretend to know enough about the on-campus interactions between SJU and CSB, but it feels like these groups should be separate. Then again, the group is alum owned with no staff managers, so it’s not shocking that the owner decided to consolidate. It is, however, a little surprising that no staff member has made a play to become a manager. These small colleges have an advantage in that they have smaller alumni populations, so setting up networking opportunities doesn’t feel as daunting.

The group currently has a “not active” rating, but it’s hard to know if the group members simply aren’t interested in talking, or if someone just has to start posting more (interesting) discussions. Even a small group needs more than three discussion posts a month. CSB’s alumni giving rate of 19% is above the national average, but they’re 9th lowest amongst this group of peer institutions. There certainly seems to be an opportunity for St. Benedict to leverage LinkedIn, but they have to get staff involved to help inject meaningful discussions into the group. Once engagement improves, they can start to look for links between the group and fundraising.

LinkedIn and Your Institution

Well, that is quite a summary, huh? Hopefully you made it through and have some new insight into how this particular niche of schools approaches LinkedIn groups. Ideally, you were able to extract some tidbits to apply towards your own alumni group that will help you maintain high activity or transform your group into a vibrant world of alumni interaction.

Six of the ten schools are rated as “not active”; that’s usually a direct result of no one looking after them. These schools are well regarded for their academic prominence, yet most of them are ignoring LinkedIn. This is yet another reminder that we have to take online communities more seriously and understand the benefits, or the consequences, that can spill into the offline world if advancement turns a blind-eye to the tens of thousands of alumni opting in to a relationship with their alma mater on the world’s professional social network.

Learn more about optimizing your LinkedIn group in Keith Hannon’s post, “Why Your Alumni LinkedIn Group Demands Your Attention.”

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