Its Not About The Likes. Reach Higher in Your Online Alumni Engagement.

Originally posted on EJewishPhilanthropy

As part of the #NetTalks Alumni Engagement Webinar Series, Beth Kanter, nonprofit social media and engagement guru, taught an important lesson during her recent presentation: you must invest in building your online alumni ecosystem, and then you can turn to activating it to achieve your stated goals.

You don’t just want people to “like” you. And you don’t actually want them to start engaging the moment they become alumni. And you don’t really want to share information about your program with them. Really.

Why?

  • Because “liking” your Facebook page or your content is just the beginning. It’s potential, but it’s not the goal. You want alumni to follow you, engage, advocate for you, and donate. The “like” is merely one early step along this path.
  • Because beginning to engage should happen before they become alumni – focus on developing long term relationships and mature communication channels that flow in both directions!
  • And finally, because you want to be in conversation with alumni, not broadcasting information at them.

Building your online alumni ecosystem cannot be based on one-directional broadcasts, nor rest primarily on reminiscing about the past. The opportunity to leverage social media and networks is huge, but requires that we pivot our approach to be more empowering, more conversational, and more personal. (Join the next webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19th to learn about “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”.)

Take this example from URJ Camp Kalsman: When beginning to hire staff for the summer, they turned to their alumni (and potentially current older campers and parents of current campers) on Facebook to ask, “We are in the midst of hiring our summer staff and we want to hear from you! What do you love to see in a camp counselor?” By asking a question, the camp invites engagement, values the perspective and experience of alumni, and gains important insight for their future hiring. They’ve moved from “liking” to “engaging” and those who respond actually may influence the experience of future campers.

Beth also showed several examples from schools that are using reminiscing as an entry point to strengthen their network. Their “Throwback Thursday” photos are intended to go beyond reminiscing – they are getting alumni to tag their friends in the group photos, which creates or re-creates a strong group dynamic and builds energy.” It’s not about the school, it’s about the relationships that were fostered there. The Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn, NY had 78 comments on a photo from the 1970′s, as alumni talked with each other and reconnected with old friends.

Moving from engagement to activation, The Jewish Community High School of the Bay featured photos of beloved teachers and coaches holding signs (“Coach says GIVE!”) that prompted alumni to join in the communal effort to reach their fundraising goal – tagging friends to contribute and asking for photos of their favorite faculty.

Social media is social as much (or more so) than it is media. As a professional seeking to engage and activate your alumni community, consider yourself more “party host” than “alumni magazine editor”. To play this role, you must have the right tools in your toolbox and know how to use them. However, doing it well goes far beyond technical proficiency. Be a good listener, steward conversations, and empower your biggest fans to enrich the network with their voice, actions and relationships.

If you missed Beth’s webinar, view her presentation here. To learn more about activating an alumni network, join the next #NetTalks webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19 on “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”. Register here.

Becoming Social: Risk Taking, Transparency and Innovation

Prior to participating in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, our school culture was pretty conservative when it came to social media, so many ideas that we brought home from the kick off meeting felt very risky and foreign to us.

Within the first week of this program, we turned on the tagging function on our Facebook page to allow for interaction and transparency. At the time, letting go of this control felt unintuitive and scary.

zumba.pngThat same week, we noticed a student-led Zumba class happening in the courtyard and we impulsively took a 30-second video. We never would have posted something like this previously because it felt personal and exposed in terms of the students, and it was also an activity that was wholly social and not connected to any mission-specific message. In short, it was just fun. In response to the post, we received an unprecedented number of likes, comments and shares from students, parents and community members. This “experiment” started a ripple effect in terms of taking risks.

The only video that had ever been leveraged for fundraising at JCHS was very high-end, in that it was professionally shot and produced. So Lisa Colton’s suggestion to “be brave” and do quick and dirty videos was intriguing and exciting. The discussion at the kickoff meeting about how to deal with negative online feedback made us feel as if we could jump and go for it with our own videos.

We shot a short video with teachers and students that showed areas the Annual Fund supports at JCHS such as athletics, drama and science.  We shared this video on our web page, through eBlasts and on Facebook which added a much-needed spike in parent momentum/interest. The video resulted in 12 online gifts the first night we posted it – which was also unprecedented. From here we became addicted to both making fun, creative videos and the momentum they inspired. We got sillier and people liked it.

As the year progressed, through the Annual Fund and into our Darim fundraising challenge and spring fundraising event, we became comfortable – and quite happy – with this new cultural norm of risk taking, transparency and innovation. Our “capstone” project for the Academy was a fundraising challenge to our 271 alumni. The greatest percentage of them to give in one year to date had been 9%. We challenged ourselves to receive at least 50% participation from our alumni during the month of April to receive a matching grant from AVI CHAI. JCHS is only 12 years old. Most of our alumni are still in college and not financially independent, so this was a big challenge for us.

teacher.pngWe kicked off our alumni campaign with a slide show of 8 JCHS graduation ceremonies.  This video created our first wave of momentum, but we noticed immediately that the “fire” required constant stoking to keep gifts rolling in. We then came up with a teacher campaign asking students to give Our alumni mavens were key in tagging these photos and creating a buzz that increased with each new teacher photo. During this photo campaign, one of our alumni mavens suggested that what would really work with older alumni is to see photos of their teachers from the early years who are no longer teaching at JCHS. As one of us has been here for 10 years, reaching out to these teachers on Facebook was easy and they all responded quickly and enthusiastically.  See an example of the reactions on Facebook. 

Not only did we achieve our 50% goal, but in the final push, which was very targeted from alum to alum, we achieved 61% alumni participation (166 alums). The impact from this challenge continues to show through feedback about how much they enjoyed talking to each other and reminiscing about JCHS, to a record number of alumni attending the spring fundraising event. This year of social media was educational, fun, and it truly shifted our culture in a way that supports community at JCHS.

Julie Vlcek-Burke has been at JCHS since 2003 and is the Director of Development. Maura Feingold has been at JCHS since 2007 and is the Marketing Manager.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.

Social Media Brings Alumni into the Conversation at Brandeis Hillel Day School

As a two-campus school serving 600 students and their families in the San Francisco Bay Area, we keep our community engaged and informed through a robust website, two packed weekly e-newsletters, class-specific updates and other publications. Yet, as our 50th anniversary approached last year, we wanted to quickly and effectively invite alumni and alumni families – along with the rest of our community – into the celebration (and conversation).

At the time, our Facebook page was in its infancy, with a few “likes” and content mirroring our website. Our separate alumni Facebook page had waxed and waned – and seemed disconnected from our daily life as an institution. Then came the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy– and everything changed.

Within the first few months, we developed a plan to invite alumni back into our daily conversation – as part of our extended BHDS family. We decided to focus our social media efforts on just one Facebook page, where our entire community could celebrate our 50th anniversary – as well as our daily life. We thought more creatively about making putting the “social” back in our social media by inviting more two-way conversations – and by experimenting with content and types of media. 

Some posts worked well – some did not. We learned as much from our failures as we did from our successes. Most importantly, we “discovered” much of what we knew all along – that our alumni have treasured memories from their years at BHDS, and that they they like photos and video from school days. We also noticed that they like to see news from the present…and that they care about helping the school build its future.

Encouraged by our coach, we decided to take a big chance on online fundraising. Thanks to the generosity of the AVI CHAI Foundation and all our learning through the JDS academy, we designed a fundraising drive to challenge our alumni to a 2:1 match to a donation of $18 or more to the school through Razoo, a social media fundraising site. The results were thrilling. Thanks to the enthusiastic response from our alumni and their families, we raised an unprecedented amount for BHDS in two weeks. More importantly, we brought our alumni and their families into our conversation and celebration in a way we never had before.

We learned a great deal from the chances we took this year – how to set up a social media-based fundraising drive, how to think through posting challenges and how to connect with our alumni in a more authentic way. Most importantly, we ended up with perhaps more even more valuable takeaways from our failures – knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does.

Our social media foundation is strong. Our Facebook page has become a critical tool in our daily interaction as a community, more than tripling in users and updated with frequent, fresh posts several times per week. We recently launched our YouTube page, and we’re experimenting with best practices there as well. We’re considering additional social media tools, and look forward to build on the progress we’ve made. Along the way, we plan to take chances, experiment, and continue to learning as we move forward.

Join our conversation! Visit us on Facebook or contact Sonia Daccarett, Director of Communications at Brandeis Hillel Day School at [email protected].
 

Joan Fishbein Feldman is the Director of Communications of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, Maryland. Beth Tfiloh Dahan is the area’s largest coed Jewish day school, with students from PreSchool through Grade 12.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.

 

Power of Pictures: Lessons from the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy

We knew before joining the Academy that Facebook could be a great way to reach our parent body, but we just weren’t getting the response we knew was possible! Our first step after joining the Academy was to switch our Facebook profile to a page so that we could garner more likes from our parents and the broader community. Then we started thinking about what content would create the most buzz…

It was obvious after a few weeks that posting pictures was a primary way to go – everyone loves to look at pictures of their kids! But in addition to drawing more traffic to our page from parents who want to see pictures of kids, pictures that capture kids also gave us the opportunity to showcase the program and events going on in school. We were able to choose the pictures that showed our beautiful campus in the background, or a Zionistic program, or an academic achievement or some other message we wanted to be projecting to our current and prospective parents. With catchy titles and questions to go along with the pictures, we were able to illicit responses from our Facebook friends. And by including current students in the pictures, we gave parents a reason to visit our Facebook page, and even more beneficial for us, we gave them a reason to share our posts on their personal pages. Allowing us to be seen by their Facebook friends as well meant that the messages we were transmitting about our school were able to reach a wider audience, and could entice prospective parents that we didn’t know were even out there.

Pictures also helped us reconnect to our alumni (we switched our alumni profile to a page as well shortly after joining the Academy). Once a week, on “Way Back Wednesday,” we posted archival pictures that alumni got excited about – and they not only reconnected with Westchester Day School, but also with classmates with whom they may have lost touch over the years. The feelings of nostalgia – “Can you believe how young we were?!” – put positive thoughts about Westchester Day School in the front of their minds. We also were able to re-post Westchester Day School pictures on our Alumni page. We learned that alumni were excited to see pictures of current-year performances and events that have been going on annually for years, and could comment on how well they remember their own “insert performance here.” It also allowed them a chance to see how much things in the school have changed and evolved since their time as a student.  

 

Allison Lyons is the Director of Admissions at Westchester Day School. Allison enjoys working on a beautiful 26 acre campus on the Long Island Sound.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.