Tried-and-True Strategies for Engaging Young Alumni

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Recently graduated alumni are one of the most challenging cohorts to engage in the realm of alumni relations. Not only do we have to figure out where they are and how to contact them, but we also have to talk to them differently than we do our mid-career, family audiences.

So how can we tackle the young alumni “beast”?

I can’t claim to have all of the answers, but our alumni relations team at Longwood University has tried a lot of new tactics this year to engage recent graduates and bring them into the fold earlier. Below I’m sharing a couple strategies we’ve used to drive young alumni to events, increase email open rates, and more.

If you’d like to learn more about our alumni events strategy at Longwood, check out my last post

Get Accurate Contact Information Before Seniors Graduate

Nearly every alumni relations team struggles with pinning down seniors after graduation. Some graduates travel, some begin a career or grad school in a new city, and others return home to live with their parents. It’s tough to determine their whereabouts and how to contact them digitally.

As a solution, many institutions allow graduates to keep their .edu email addresses when they move on—which unfortunately means our databases are full of non-preferred contact information. Case in point: at Longwood, we found that alumni under age 30 for whom we had preferred contact info opened emails more than twice as often as those alumni for whom we had .edu addresses. Imagine being able to double your open rate for such a large population of individuals.

 

The best way to capture young graduates’ preferred email addresses is to engage with them before they leave campus. Try holding an event during Senior Week or towards the end of the academic year with the goal of bringing graduates into your digital network.

In exchange for their preferred contact info and their plans post-college, you might consider offering an incentive. It’s as easy as giving away a T-shirt or a small piece of swag as a warm welcome to the alumni community.

Here are some other creative ways to capture alumni email addresses.

Include Young Alumni in Your Summer Programming

In addition to meeting seniors while they’re still on campus, make sure you have a game plan for engaging them in the months after graduation. At Longwood, we’ve done this by keeping young alumni in the loop about summer programming and by holding special events to celebrate their status as newly-minted alumni.

As part of our Senior Week, we promoted regional programming and raffled off chances to attend some of the larger events for free. We also hosted a week of happy-hour style events this August called “Welcome to the City” specifically to inaugurate the Class of 2016 into the alumni family. (Any alumni could attend, but new graduates got into the events for free.)

These get-togethers gave older alumni a sense of productive mentorship and gave young alumni a chance to network, get advice about post-grad life, and learn about opportunities to stay involved with Longwood.

 

If you’re looking to host a similar series of events, I would recommend waiting until August or September rather than rushing to hold it in June. This will give your graduates a chance to settle in, both in terms of geography and thought processes following graduation.

Liven Up Your Email and Social Media Outreach

We all know that relying on our traditional communications strategy to engage young alumni is not going to yield optimal results. So why do we keep doing it?

Embrace the opportunity to mix up your outreach strategy. Although speaking to a younger audience may seem daunting, it can actually be a fun chance to get creative with your email/social media messaging. Be sure to hire a millennial in a role like social media manager or graphic designer—or, at the very least, consult with students about the way you’re marketing to young alumni.

What I’ve found is that if you try to lecture recent graduates about the importance of a professional networking event, they probably won’t open your email—much less respond. But if you have a little fun and use a subject line like “Your first one is on us,” they’re more likely to open the email and register for the event.

Even better, with some of the impressive CRM and email systems available today, we have the ability to segment out our audiences to create messaging that is tailored to different class years and age groups. Take advantage of it!

Learn more about donor segmentation and personalization in this EverTrue whitepaper

We ran an experiment at Longwood where we sent emails to our regular alumni base for our “Welcome to the City” events (mentioned above) and ended up seeing about a 25% open rate in the selected cities. For the Class of 2016, however, we used data collected from our Senior Week event and other files to create a separate, micro-targeted email with a different tone and look than our other invites. The result? A 49% open rate.


Beyond email, the other challenge is social media. We pound away on Facebook and Twitter, but that content doesn’t always gain traction with younger audiences.

The simple answer here is that you have to embrace Instagram and Snapchat. It’s impossible for me to prove the ROI of using these platforms, but I’ll say this: when we post the same graphic on Instagram and Facebook, it gets twice the amount of engagement on Instagram as it does on Facebook. And while it’s possible to connect these platforms so that you’re posting the same content on each, do take the time to add some variety.

These are just a few of the avenues we’ve explored at Longwood to engage young alumni; I hope you’ll be able to take some of these ideas and apply them at your own institution. Marketing to recent graduates may seem like a colossal task, but it’s easy to work into your annual cycle. Start by collecting preferred information from your senior class through creative, fun programming—then make them a priority as you plan your regional events—and you’ll be laying the groundwork for a fruitful, lifelong alumni relationship.


Parks Smith is the director of alumni relations and a 2008 graduate of Longwood University. You can follow Parks on LinkedIn or on his Twitter @RVAparks.

 

Wondering how you can provide more value to your alumni? Mike Troiano of G20 Ventures has a few ideas.

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