A year ago, few alumni relations departments could have anticipated the dramatic changes that 2020 had in store for them.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt and crucial pivot—forcing alumni engagement strategies into the future.
Alumni relations departments had to adapt and overcome regulations prohibiting physical contact and rethink the traditional alumni engagement playbook to provide value to alumni in an online world.
Although alumni relations departments are still dealing with high levels of unpredictability heading into 2021, several trends have emerged that give us an idea of what to expect in the coming year.
#1 Greater Focus on Community Design and Accessibility
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed almost everyone online and increased the usage of digital products.
It is now more essential than ever to consider digital accessibility when creating online experiences. Online alumni portals are no different—we need to think about everyone’s experiences when designing them.
Online alumni communities in 2021 should take into account visual, hearing, physical, and cognitive differences amongst members. This can cover a wide range of elements from color contrasts and patterns and symbols to label text input fields and keyboard navigation.
Designing for accessibility enables alumni of all abilities to perceive, understand, interact with, and contribute equally to the community.
“Hivebrite is a tool to build communities, which is why providing a tool that can be accessed, understood and used by the broadest amount of people, regardless of age, experience, and ability is important to us.
Senior UI/UX Designer at Hivebrite
#2 Virtual Events Are Here to Stay
In-person events became pretty much obsolete in 2020.
The online event format has made events more accessible and affordable. Alumni relations were able to create more niche events that appealed more to small segments of alumni thanks to the (relatively) low cost of organizing virtual events.
Since the pandemic, Hivebrite customer, Cornell Hotel Society has moved all activities online. It has hosted a range of different event formats including virtual wine tastings, round table debates, and beer and food pairing lectures. Previously events were limited to the hosting chapter’s location. Now the alumni association can promote events to all appropriate members! Click below to download Cornell Hotel Society's community story.
In the coming year, alumni relations will have to think of “out of the box” ways to ward off webinar fatigue and to keep attendees engaged! Original competitions, real-time surveys, fun giveaways, and inventive interval breaks, are just a few ideas that alumni communities can experiment with.
Busy alumni lifestyles, distance from events, and cost concerns are all strong reasons to continue offering an online event option even after social distancing measures are relaxed.
Going forward live streaming will become a must-have rather than a nice to have option for people who cannot attend in person. Plus smaller, more targeted (and cost-effective) virtual events will remain a permanent fixture in event calendars to increase engagement amongst specific segments of the alumni community.
“Mastering online events is a crucial skill—both now and for the future. When offline events return, it will remain important to incorporate online components to increase each event’s reach and engagement potential. Finding an alumni management platform that can handle both on and offline events, like Hivebrite, is essential
Head of US Operations at Hivebrite
#3 Personalization Will Be More Important Than Ever
The alumni experience went fully online in 2020. As a result, a lot of alumni relations departments focused more on their content strategies to provide more meaningful engagement opportunities for alumni online—a trend that will continue in the future.
Personalization will remain key to creating a compelling community experience in 2021. Graduates today want to be part of an alumni community that listens to them, understands them, and pays attention to their specific wants and needs. This is where personalization comes in. It enables alumni relations departments to contextualize the messages, offers, and experiences they deliver, according to each member’s unique profile. And given that our attention spans are narrowing more and more due to being bombarded with so much information, personalization can also be an effective way to cut through the noise.
Knowing what graduates want is fundamental to providing the right type of content. However, 58% of alumni organizations report that they have not surveyed their members, and 38% do not collect data on alumni engagement. In addition to knowing what alumni want, alumni relations offices need to know who their alumni are. Data such as career industry, job role, social role, hobbies, and interests are in most cases much more meaningful than information such as graduation year and distance from campus—especially in an online setting. Bear in mind that this information may change over time and it must be kept up to date—healthy data is critical to the success of outreach efforts.
Personalized content is more memorable, help build a deeper relationship with alumni, and increases the likelihood that they will meaningfully engage. Below are some personalization techniques to experiment with in 2021.
Personalization gives the ability to reach out to specific segments of the alumni base. By collecting member data from list segments and surveys it’s possible to create more effective communication campaigns targeting segments based on their interests or engagement habits.
For example, if a sizable chunk of an alumni community are fans of a particular sports team, it could be a good idea to include fun references to the team in emails or forms.
Different content for first-time visitors
Displaying different content to first-time visitors is also an impactful personalization technique. For example, when a graduate connects for the first time it's a good idea to display community guidelines, tips, or helpful links to get them familiar with the community. Read more on how to create the best community onboarding experience here.
Creating content recommendations drives engagement in the community, encouraging graduates to read articles, attend events, and more. It’s possible to gauge future affinity based on the themes of the content that alumni have already interacted with.
"If you don't measure something, you can't improve it. Alumni management platforms, like Hivebrite, come with built-in analytics features to help track and understand the community’s behavior, as well as enable member data to be easily updated. This is fundamental for providing the best online experience for each member and growing the community."
Customer Success Manager
Hivebrite is the most powerful alumni engagement solution.
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