Sunday, November 22, 2009

Something for Alumni Affairs and School Communications Directors to Think About Regarding Social Networks

My high school alma mater announced that it's started a Facebook page.

Well, thing is... they didn't exactly start it. Turns out an '03 alum had launched an 'unofficial' page years back that had gained about 700 followers and was steadily turning out information for alumni about what was happening at the school.

The alumni relations dude at the school stumbled upon the page and was amazed. So he and the director of communications staked out a deal with the alum who'd started the whole thing to take over as admins of the site and bring it all into line with the 'official' brand of the school.

I can only imagine how quickly those original 700 fans moved on to join a new unofficial page.

Nothing destroys a social network quicker than an institution trying to co-opt the resources developed by 'unofficial' means. As an alum, I find it much more interesting to occasionally see updates sent out by fellow alums -- real human-being fellow alums who aren't an institution trying to sell me alumni Beef-n-Beer nights and raffle tickets.

Fellow alums who can share the 'unofficial' history as well as state their own opinions on the current trajectory of the school. Not some nitwit admins and communications directors trying to re-brand the school into my brain.

I went there. I'm an alum. Remember?

If schools themselves are going to get into the social networking game, they have to realize that there are just certain aspects of a network that they'll never be able to replicate as an institution yoked by a necessarily limited voice.

Alumni Affairs folks, head's up: those original alums didn't link together in that network because of the existence of your school and your institution's varied publiciz-able successes. They linked together in that network because of their shared experience in attending your school.

They didn't link there because of you. They linked there because of each other.

And the shared experience of a student body has very little to do with what communications directors like to share with the public.

There are myriad ways institutions can use the Net -- and I hope my alma mater finds a way to make it work. But, taking over an alum's friend page probably ain't one of the most effective routes to building a grassroots community. You may see initial returns in terms of the number of friends you rank, but before all too long, your network will bore of soccer scores and mission-themed posts; and the heart of the communication that existed originally will find somewhere else on the Net to flourish.


  1. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about a new dynamic that I've been seeing on one the listservs I follow, devoted to independent school education: members of the National Association for Independent Schools leadership are participating on the listserv. Not ostentatiously. Not over-frequently. Rarely driving the discussion. More often responding.

    Seems like that might be the communication directors' and alumni affairs officers' role in these grassroots communities: listen, hear, respond, share.

    That is: be a member of the community. Takes work, though. And thought.

    And the thought is the really, really hard part.

  2. Absolutely. One of the crucial aspects of high-performing networks is that they are free to "unform" as spontaneously as the formed. Once that little collaboratively created silo runs the course of its usefulness... the participants move on to more immediately useful pastures.

    I am pretty comfy with this. This is one fo the reasons we have chosen to go with Ning for school PD networks. The old way would have been to create some behemoth locked down on a local server. A beast requiring expert resources to be constructed for permanence.

    The reality is that networks consisting of Web2 tools may really not even be around long. It is the nature of the beast. However, I think once you get comfy with the idea that networks need to be able to move and shake about almost... organically... then losing a bunch of aggregated interactions isn't a scary proposition.

    We "brand" networks even if it isn't done so purposefully. It's just that oftentimes when a network that was constructed organically as opposed to "officially" loses it's underground feel. And that -as you so nicely state here- is often a dealbreaker.

  3. Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.


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