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April 27, 2007


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Charlie, is it time for us to update our uptake graphs for the social networks?

Most of the admins I talk to every day are very eager to figure out how to plug into facebook and are ready to ditch their private solutions. they just don't have engagement or distribution.

thanks for the post.

Sixty Minutes piece on Facebook, including the backlash to Beacon.

I think this is an opportunity for schools to promote the fact that many our our communities are free of advertising.

Rob -- I think this is one of the really critical questions. Now that Facebook is open to all, anyone can create an account. Once you're "in" you can then join your alma mater's network. It used to be far more clunky, but this switch has really opened the floodgates in a good way.

Does anyone know how older alumni can join a school's FaceBook alum group when they don't have a vailid school email address anymore? I graduated in the 90s and its been many years since I used the schools email. Seems like a problem with the Facebook system if they want to foster new graduates connections older alums.

We are finding that older alums are interested in social networking, although not necessarily in the same way younger alums network.

Our older alums are interested in career networking (Is Yahoo's Kickstart really getting the plug pulled?) either networking for employment or offering career advice to younger alums. We have also some older alums, including one who graduated in '45, actively using listservs.

Alums of all ages enjoy searching the directory for their friends.

RJ - This is a good point. You should definitely be checking out Andy's blog at alumnifutures.com. He's the pro on alumni and social networks. It's interesting to hear about iModules and Facebook. That, in my mind, is where things are going. Stop fighting the mammoth in the room and latch onto its capabilities. But, and this is a big but, companies like iModules need to be flexible enough and have enough foresight to know that Facebook might become passe at some point. The idea is to be adaptable, so if the majority of one school's alumni is using Facebook, great. But if another's is using LinkedIn, that needs to be great too.

Is anyone getting at social networking through larger products such as iModules, Black Baud, Harris, or others? iModules is reaching into FaceBook through an API, thus connecting with the functionality of a proven provider. I'm looking at this type of solution because it also offers marketing and data management functionality. I'm just dipping my toe into this world and welcome any advice, thoughts, experience. Thanks.

Rob, I think you're right on building networks and the possible spinoff uses. To use an "older" technology as an example, the current social networking discussion seems to be about where we were with blogs a year or two ago. Blogging platforms are useful in a variety of settings, from open discussions to CMS. Same goes for Social networking. Right now, the focus is too narrow. I think you tip off some of the ways in which pieces can be used for event registration, etc. Great conversation.

Thanks for the insightful post Charlie. I'm surprised at the gap in social network usage between current undergraduates and current grad students at our school. I did an informal poll at our commencement rehearsal (about 780 students total) and I was shocked to see how few Gen-Xers and older use social networks and how many Millennials use them. In regard to building your own social network, don't bother. We did and it was terrible. We networked about 1,800 students adn alumni in a year, but we didn't provide any compelling reason for them to use our network versus Facebook or MySpace. Andy's right on that one. I don't know why people like Bob Sevier at Stamats and Brian Niles at TargetX are pushing schools so hard to make their own social networks, even for prospective students. I find students can get way more information and social networking oppotunities from third party networks. But I do see schools using a version of a social network for alumni for event registration, giving, etc. By the way, I like your new design!

"Do you think that could be problematic for sustainability?"

I don't think so, because there's a pipeline of new people coming into our audiences all the time, and they bring their networking needs with them. Also, we will start to see standards and best practices on how and when to network online, so people will see it as something you do all the time, not just when you need a new job or an investor. It's all still pretty new.

I'll probably write more about your posting above and these additional thoughts on Alumni Futures down the road. Thanks for including me in your blogroll Charlie.

Andy -

Agreed on the older alumni being more focused on social networks as a vehicle for business networking. Do you think that could be problematic for sustainability? I would think that those doing it for professional reasons might be more active when they're searching for a job and less active when they're hunkered down in a position or on a project. If that's the case (and maybe it's not), then the engagement trends would be cyclical rather than either flat or getting ever deeper. If they're social, on the other hand, there might still be some peaks and valleys (life change, new family, etc.) but an individual's social network would probably grow ever wider and deeper over time rather than moving in fits and starts. But that's just a guess.


This is an interesting exercise, and a useful one. I think a basic factor driving the choice of site by each cohort is the site's function: social vs. business networking. It makes sense for LinkedIn to have more older users, as it is business-focused (I blogged that here: http://www.alumnifutures.com/alumni/2007/04/online_business.html).

To address your questions, I think the groups further out of school will find business networks more valuable than social ones.

As for home-grown networks, there are tools for that (Affinity Circles, Ning, and now/soon Live@edu, Google Apps for Education, etc.). The "ups" are that the network will be branded with the school's imprint; the "downs" include the incredibly limiting nature of a one-school site. Would you rather network with your school's 50,000 alumni, or LinkedIn's 10,000,000? I think that for most users, volume trumps familiarity.

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