If you’re like most social media marketers, you hope that alumni check your Facebook page, retweet your posts, and like that awesome photo of a sunset over campus.
But is that where your focus should end? What would happen if Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn changed the “rules” and suddenly your access to thousands of alumni ceased? Now what?
It’s just as important to connect alumni to the world beyond social media. Take the next step and get their email addresses so you can have another method of contact and so that they can join you at events, hear about campaigns, and become more engaged with your school.
Before I go into a detail about how to collect email addresses, three quick things to keep in mind:
- Respect the inbox. Be transparent about how often alumni can expect emails and what type of content they are signing up for. If you promise one email a month and you’re sending messages daily, you’re doing it wrong. In the same way, if you promise updates about the Tech Council and suddenly they’re getting information for Adult Learning courses, you’re doing it wrong.
- Make it valuable. What is different about your emails versus your social media? If it’s the same content in both, that’s not a compelling case. On the other hand, exclusive access to information might impel them to click.
- Make it easy. Find a friendly neighborhood website developer to build a page (and URL address) to collect emails. Remember these rules:
- Make sure the form only asks for the basics (why do you need my home address if I’m just signing up for email?) and that the page is easy to navigate.
- Make sure it’s an easy URL for anyone to remember. I recommend something like yourschool.edu/alumni/email if you’re stuck.
- Communicate with the advancement team that this page exists—the more people know about it, the more people will use it.
With the above guidelines in mind, here are some ways to collect more email addresses for your database:
If you have a social media manager covering events and posting images to various networks, you should give them the tools to collect emails as well.
While at Boston College (BC), I would roam hockey games, holiday parties, and other events with a camera. When alumni asked me how they could find the photos, I’d hand them this card and tell them to check us out on social media:
In hindsight, I could have done more. I could have asked them for their email addresses and later sent them the link to the Facebook album. They would have been motivated to receive the message, so they’d be more inclined to hand over their email address. From just walking around a party and taking 20 photos, you’d be guaranteed 20 potential new email addresses.
It could be an electronic form to sign up or simply the “Notes” feature on your phone, but a pleasant social media manager who can get names and years for photo captions (with ease!) should be able to get an email, too.
2. LinkedIn Groups
BC has one of the most active alumni groups on LinkedIn (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention its creator, David Frankel ’93). Managers of LinkedIn groups can post conversations to the top of the group’s feed—so why not post a conversation with a call-to-action to sign up for email? Make sure to include a link in the description (with the easy URL).
Additionally, since networking events are huge on LinkedIn, you could ask a social media ambassador to write a recap of an alumni networking event and share it to the LinkedIn group. At the end of the post, have them include a call-to-action to sign up for notifications about future networking opportunities. You’ll be surprised how many emails come through.
While at BC, I started a Storify account for BC alumni. Our first “real” test was BC’s 150 On the Road, a service campaign where we packed meals for families in Africa. Using the hashtag #WeAreBC150, I encouraged alumni to share photos and posts of their time at the event. As we shared the digital stories from participating cities, we saw the attendance in other cities go up.
Sharing a Storify is a great way for people to get excited about future events—and they’ll be more apt to “sign up for email so they don’t miss it.” At the beginning or end of Storify, use the easy URL to point people to give their email address so they can be notified about future events/how to support your school’s initiatives. For example, for any outreach programs for The Ariel Group, my current company, I always point back to the organization and ways you can support them. Do this with an email sign-up page.
Read this Storify from BC Reunion weekend in 2013. This tweet from a beloved BC Eagle, the late Dick Kelley, illustrates the point perfectly:
4. Trivia Contests
Social media is, in my opinion, a form of entertainment and distraction—and trivia contests are a great way to get your hands on a population of people who want to be entertained. Buzzfeed has capitalized on this. What dog personality do I have? Which Friends character am I? Which Disney character matches my Zodiac sign?
These are things I need to know. Clearly. And your alumni want to know how well they know their alma mater’s history, athletics, and alumni celebrities.
While at BC, I ran multiple trivia contests on social media. Using websites like Polldaddy, we not only generated participants, but we also requested the names, class years, and email addresses of participants. Yes, many of the same alumni participated no matter what the trivia was about, but many alumni also found their way back to BC through these contests.
Pro tip: If you want to encourage more email signups, offer a harder quiz that will only be given out via email.
Learn more about how I held trivia contests at BC in this post.
5. Facebook Buttons
Did you know that Facebook has a button to help you collect emails?
Most advancement organizations select the “Donate Now” option when they create their Facebook page, which drives fans to a donation page on their website. However, Facebook has many other options: “Book Now,” “Contact Us,” “Shop Now,” and of course, “Sign Up.” Try changing your button to “Sign Up” for one month, and remind fans that they can sign up for newsletters, events, and more via the button. Track the success using UTM codes and see how many emails you get. It may be something you want to try right after your fiscal year ends or before a major campaign launches
6. YouTube Videos
Have you seen some of the videos that BC has created lately? They’re simply gorgeous. And people watch them.
Add calls-to-action and URLs in your videos to encourage people to subscribe to emails. You can also include links to sign-up forms and event pages in your video descriptions.
Adding a link in your Instagram bio can drive traffic to your website. If you post pictures after an event, write in the caption that alumni can learn about future events by signing up for email via the link in your account’s description. Again, if they see how wonderful everything looks, they might have more of an incentive to get information for next year.
How much is an email address worth? We crunched the numbers to find out. Here’s our verdict.
Stephanie St. Martin is the Marketing Content Manager at The Ariel Group. Prior to this, she was the Social Media Manager for Boston College University Advancement, i.e. the person behind @BCAlumni on social media. When she’s not in the digital marketing trenches, Steph can be found writing, playing/hosting trivia, and driving around the USA in hopes of seeing all 50 state capitol buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter if you dare.
Now that you know how to contact your alumni, learn how you can increase engagement (without increasing your budget).