5 Schools That Create BuzzFeed-Inspired Content for Alumni and Students

BuzzFeed has flipped the journalism world on its head. From humorous top-10 lists to high-level news reporting, the tech company excels on both ends of the spectrum—and has done a great job of drawing in a younger audience because of it. Visitors might come for the quizzes, but they stay for the breaking news and investigative reporting.

There’s a good lesson here for higher-ed alumni relations and communications teams. By attracting alumni to your site with fun content, they may be more likely to see important information like fundraising appeals, reunion details, or volunteer opportunities.

Here are just a few examples of institutions that have begun to experiment with the BuzzFeed model to reach young alumni and students.

Saint Louis University’s Admissions Quizzes

While this example is admissions-focused, alumni relations and fundraising professionals should take note: Saint Louis University (SLU) attracts potential applicants to their site by offering quizzes that are highly relevant to incoming college students (e.g., “What degree is right for you?” and “What student organization is right for you?”). The “would you rather” scenarios presented in the quizzes—similar to what you’d see in a DISC assessment—make the University feel personable and approachable.

Because the information provided in the quizzes could apply to any college experience, SLU’s admissions site has the potential to bring in traffic from Google searches like “roommate advice” or “what should I major in?” They’ve already cleared the first hurdle when it comes to reaching prospective students.

St Louis University Admissions Quiz


Ohio State University’s Alumni Spirit Quiz

Last year, the Ohio State University (OSU) ran a creative alumni engagement campaign supported by an interactive quiz called “Hey Buckeye: Are You Scarlet or Gray?” The 10-question quiz asks questions about university traditions, an alum’s former dorm room, the alumni magazine, and much more.

OSU Buckeye Quiz


Interestingly, since the campaign is geared towards alumni, OSU places two calls-to-action at the end of the quiz: make a gift to an OSU area you’re passionate about (which ties back nicely to the quiz), and/or share your results on Facebook or Twitter.

Colorado Boulder Alumni Association’s “Lists of 10”

Coloradan List of 10


Just as BuzzFeed thrives on publishing top-10 lists, the CU Alumni Association has its own “Lists of 10” series that provides fun, bite-sized content for alumni magazine readers. Many of the lists focus on the presence of CU in pop culture, such as “10 Songs that Mention Boulder,” “10 CU Olympians,” and “10 CU Pulitzer Prize Winners.”

Not only are these lists quick and easy to share on social media, but they also serve as a gateway to the more in-depth articles that CU publishes in its online magazine.

Memes for Dartmouth Alumni

Pinterest is under-utilized by universities and colleges. It’s a great space to catalogue different aspects of your alumni base’s passion for their alma mater, including pictures, school-inspired recipes, tailgating suggestions, and decoration ideas.

Dartmouth runs some great Pinterest boards that serve to rekindle alumni’s appetite for all-things Big Green. For example, they pin memes related to life at and after Dartmouth so that alumni can easily share them on social media.

Dartmouth Meme


Marquette University’s BuzzFeed Community Content

There are even schools that publish directly to BuzzFeed! The BuzzFeed Community section of the site allows users to create and post original content, which Marquette has been doing over the last few years. For example, Marquette has published a quiz to find out which Marquette legend you are; a list of 13 Marquette alumni who have made it big; and a one-question quiz called “How Marquette Are You?” The site allows you to quickly share your results on social media, helping alumni and students showcase their Marquette pride in a viral way.

Marquette University BuzzFeed


The next time your team gets together to discuss new content or the annual communications plan, think about how to incorporate a BuzzFeed-style strategy to get young alumni to your site. Consider the following:

  1. What lists can we create that will be quick, easy, and entertaining for alumni to consume?
  2. Can we enlist the help of alumni for creating these lists?
  3. How can we create engaging, short quizzes for alumni using our own technology?
  4. What type of call-to-action should we display at the end of a quiz?
  5. BuzzFeed successfully reports on breaking news while including individuals’ reactions to the news (usually from social media). How can we do the same when we communicate institutional news? Can we include reactions from alumni on Facebook and Twitter?


Publishing both serious and fun content can be a challenging act to balance, especially for a higher-ed institution. But BuzzFeed isn’t the only one who does it well—get inspired by the above examples and give it a try at your own institution.

A Guide to Annual Giving Donor Segmentation | EverTrue

Tim Ponisciak is director of graduate alumni relations at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. Tim also runs the blog Alumni Catalyst and is passionate about promoting how higher-ed institutions can learn from marketing agencies, advertising agencies, and great brands. Tim loves old movies and board games, and is currently trying to visit all 30 major league ballparks.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthames Matt Hames


    Related question: how does having a meme or a buzzed listicle impact the seriousness of a 200-year old brand?

    I’m not saying it does. I struggle with this. I think a 200+ year old brand can be irreverent. We one time put out a video saying we were opening a dental school. On April Fool’s day. We have sparingly used the condescending Wonka meme for Toothpaste jokes. Very sparingly.

    I’m intrigued by where people see the line, if anywhere on how a buzzed listicle can impact a highbred brand negatively.

    Jaguar doesn’t use listicles.

    • Tim Ponisciak

      Matt, that is a good question, and something that necessitates a good amount of planning if a school is considering creating this type of content. I think it depends on the particular department that may create and distribute the Buzzfeed-style post, and who the main audience is for that department. Alumni Relations departments are often viewed within the context of a higher ed institution as being the sociable, fun arm of a school, so I think these types of posts are well-received through that channel. I think Buzzfeed style posts also work to some degree for undergraduate admissions departments because the main audience is much younger and used to this type of communication. These types of posts may not be as well received if they were done by the main marketing communications team for a higher ed institution’s administration or by a particular college or school within the institution that is looked at from a more reverential viewpoint.