Creating a bustling online alumni community from scratch is a journey filled with exciting challenges. But with the right tools and strategy, you can unleash the potential of a virtual platform that brings together your extended school network. Michelle Collin, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at the American School Barcelona (ASB), has leveraged her expertise to build a 550+ strong (and growing) online alumni community. Alongside ToucanTech’s seven steps to success, Michelle shares her top tips and insights on how to build a successful online alumni network, so that you too can create a thriving platform that connects and engages your alumni.
Start by defining the goals and purpose of your community. Why do you want to build it? Who is your target audience? What do you want to achieve by having this community? Having a clear vision and understanding of your community’s objective will give you a roadmap to success. For example, you may want to create a space where alumni can connect, network and promote their own businesses.
Michelle says: "For us, we needed a platform which would accommodate our global network of alumni. We therefore loved creating hubs for our alums in different geographic locations, as well as industry and university hubs too, and found they were very engaging, especially for our newly registered members."
Once you have a clear understanding of the purpose and goals for your alumni community, it’s time to choose the right platform. When selecting your alumni platform, consider factors such as cost, ease of use, and the level of customisation and features offered.
To get alumni to sign up to your new platform, it’s important to create a sense of excitement and exclusivity around the platform. Reach out to former students through a multi-channel approach including emails, social media, and in-person events, and consider offering incentives such as exclusive access to events or special features such as careers support. Don’t forget to encourage current students to join too - they’ll be more likely to sign up once they become alumni!
Michelle says: "We always make sure to promote our alumni online community to our graduating seniors and encourage them to join before graduation. Sometimes we have our alumni come to speak with our seniors about the benefits they see from joining the online community."
One of the key components of a successful online alumni community is engagement. Encourage your members to participate by regularly sharing articles, photos, and other content that is relevant. You can also send regular newsletters with updates, news, and other information that will keep them engaged.
Michelle says: “We always share regular newsletters with our alumni community with links to articles and photographs, and also have our own social media pages - our Instagram alumni account currently has the most engagement. We’ve also published over 240 articles on our platform to keep our alumni informed and up-to-date!”
To determine the success of your online alumni community, it’s important to track key metrics such as the number of members, the number of event registrations, and the number of connections between members. This information will help you identify areas where you can improve and make changes to your strategy as needed.
Michelle says: “At ASB, one of the ways we measure the success of our alumni engagement is by the number of opt-in records we see on our online community. Our online platform also shows us useful metrics, like the percentage rate of opening emails, number of new registrations, number of event registrations, and number of connections which help us understand how engaged our alumni are”.
Consider offering additional features and opportunities to your members to further engage and connect with them. For example, you could launch a mentoring programme or provide a business directory feature where alumni can promote their own businesses and services. Encouraging alumni ambassadors to host their own events and create their own content on the platform can also help foster a sense of ownership and community among members.
Michelle says: “We want our alumni to use our online community as a tool for networking, as well as a hub for promoting their own goods and services. To support this, we use the Business Directory feature and share it with our current school community to gain more visibility of alumni businesses. This is working well for us, and we have over 40 alumni businesses showcased on the platform! We also are looking to launch a new mentorship feature soon too.”
Gathering feedback is one of the most important steps for ensuring your online community is well-engaged. Take the opportunity to find out what your community likes about your platform, which features are used most, and which parts are hard to navigate - and collect this feedback through surveys, questionnaires and analytics, as this information is essential for improving the user experience. Remember, a happy community is going to be a more engaged one!
Michelle says: "Our alumni love our online community! They have shared how professional it looks and appreciate that the school is offering them a place of their own to reconnect with former classmates and teachers, as well as stay up to date with the school."
Building an online community from scratch may seem like a big undertaking, but with the right strategy and tools, it can be a powerful way to engage and connect with your international alumni network. By following these steps, you too can create a thriving and engaged community that will continue to grow and evolve over time.
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