I was pretty darn excited when I got a scholarship offer to attend the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), and even more excited when I made the life changing decision to actually go there versus the safer route of a liberal arts college with a strong studio...
I was pretty darn excited when I got a scholarship offer to attend the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), and even more excited when I made the life changing decision to actually go there versus the safer route of a liberal arts college with a strong studio arts program (my anticipated course of action). Once I decided, I was all in. I made the most of my education and of every opportunity I had, and when I graduated, I felt very strongly about the place that had fostered all that learning and growth.
It's not hard to find me, or other grads from CIA. We are out and about on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube. We don't have organized events like reunions or get-togethers (you know, artists hate that kind of crap), so we depend on the occasional alumni magazine or email blast from the school to know what is going on. And, during fits of nostalgia, I will visit the website and look for areas where I can connect with past alumni, check that my info is up to date, or even see if there are ways I can stay involved with CIA. Sadly, my knocks at the door are left unanswered.
- If I feel more like an afterthought then a critical brick in the foundation - I will go away.
- If I feel more like an output instead of a family member - I will go away.
- If you come at me out of nowhere, with your open hand asking for my money - I will go away.
- If you express no interest in my successes, and in ways I might be able to support you - I will go away.
- If you seem confused and indecisive as to who you are - I will go away.
- If you don't cherish your community of graduates - we will all go away.
I see amazing stories of success and perseverance, of growth and insight, posted daily by my classmates on Facebook and elsewhere online. It's a damn shame that my undergrad isn't more involved in connecting with us, sharing our stories, seeing what the end result has been from our years at art school. But it's OK, I stopped caring a long time ago, and I went away.
Are you an organization or school trying to reconnect with your alumni? Here's how to start.
1. Know your stuff. If you are responsible for engaging with alumni, you better start studying and researching. Find out who were the top grads, who went to live in foreign countries, who was stirring up stuff during school. What was going in in 1990? If you don't know, you better start figuring it out.
2. Listen! Set up your Google alerts, your Tweet Deck columns, your hashtag monitors and see what people are saying. Then, respond and join the conversation. Of course, avoid inflammatory situations, but if there are things you can add to, find interesting, or want more info about, engage!
3. Ask for help. Use your networks to expand your audience. Don't try to do it all alone, get your networks to help by spreading the word, directing others to you, and providing information.
4. Start a dialogue. Sure most of you probably already have your Facebook and Twitter pages and accounts (what you don't? Go do that now!), but how often do you engage with your "fans and followers" in conversation? Start out by typing "Hello Alumni! What is everyone up to these days? Send us your stories so we can brag about you!" If you hear crickets, try again - and get more and more specific until you start getting responses. Still crickets? Seed your Facebook page with responses. Ask questions some of your most recent alum or even current students can answer or respond to, and get the ball rolling. After all, no one likes to go first.
5. Lastly, keep it up. If you don't have someone dedicated to fostering these relationships at your institution, you are already behind the eight ball. This should be a daily occurrence, on multiple networks and in a variety of engaging and authentic manners. Not only on social networks like Facebook, but on blogs, features brought into your own Website, the development of alumni portals where classmates can reconnect in meaningful ways, sharing of success stories, announcements on Twitter. Celebrate your alumni and the community it represents.