Ethan McCarty

Digital strategy | Social business | People-centric biznology

>Alumni networks

>I just met with Alan Hodgson of the United Nations Volunteers group — he found me while looking for a good model for alumni networks. I’m flattered — IBM has a big group, but it always feels like we’re running behind. Oh, and for those of you who don’t know, in addition to being the Editor in Chief of IBM’s intranet, I m the manager of our global alumni program, which is called the Greater IBM Connection.

At any rate, he asked my advice as he starts setting up an alumni group for the UN Volunteers…we spent a half hour on the phone but it boiled down to this:

1. Make sure you have really nailed your program goals — awareness and engagement look good on paper, but don’t really mean much. What do you want this group of people to do? Donate money? Come back for more volunteer opportunities?
2. Same goes for the value to participants — don’t assume you know what all the alumni want, ask them. We were surprised when we asked former IBM alumni and they ranked connecting with peers and access to IBM intellectual capital above career advice and job opportunities.
3. Use your email list very judiciously — if people get a sense that joining your network will just fill their inbox with spam, forget it. There’s a reason God invented Tivo.
4. Don’t get hung up on establishing participants’ identity with 100% certainty. Doing so is expensive. In all likelihood most of the people who join are legit, and if they’re not, it will quickly become clear. (And you can toss them out of your platform.)
5. Have a presence on open networks (like LinkedIn and Xing) but also build a homegrown network. You can decide later where you want to apply most of your resources, but one can compliment the other — and their advantages tend to counteract eachothers’ respective disadvantages. A basic group on many open social networks costs nothing or very, very little to maintain.
6. Let negative criticism happen on your site — instead of banning it or addressing it directly, keeps lots of great content flowing into your network that emphasizes the great things your alumni are doing. That sets a positive tone on the site and will, hopefully, get the conversation flowing in a positive direction. Make sure you highlight your alumni — much more than your institution. However, when there is negative criticism about the program itself, address it directly (e.g. comments about the website etc)

So yeah, it was fun to share with Alan what I’ve been learning about running a corporate alumni program. Will be interesting to see how things shape up for him.

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