Building the Next Generation of Online Communities
Estimated Reading time: 5 minutes
When you dig down to the fundamentals - the most significant challenge with alumni relations is the same for most of us.
“How do I continuously engage all my alumni, yet remain personal, at scale, with a small team and limited resources?”
Not easy. Certainly.
Over the last five years, we’ve been doing much research to try and address this.
What we’ve come to believe is that there isn’t a silver bullet that will solve this problem. What we’ve also come to realize is that alumni will not regularly engage amongst themselves without something external that drives them to do so.
This is precisely why social network groups (Facebook/LinkedIn) fall flat. Over time, the group and the content within it become stale. The content that does get added becomes irrelevant and fails to provide enough value to its members. Since there isn’t anything of value to bring people back to the group, the group eventually dies out.
This is an age of specialized solutions for specific problems. It’s no different with alumni. They are most likely to listen when they’re receiving communication relevant to and targeted at them. If not, they tune it out.
So, what is the solution?
Like I’d said - there is no silver bullet to this problem. However, we are attempting to solve it - step by step.
The first step: Groups v1.0
Our first step to address this was taken last year -- with v1.0 of the Groups module on Almabase. With this, we wanted to understand how effectively a group would engage when someone drove the engagement.
Of course, we understand how stretched alumni offices are. We needed to do this without adding additional load to you and your team.
So, we built groups 1.0 focused around ‘Group Admins’.This would help you break down your alumni into smaller chunks, and help you delegate this responsibility of engaging smaller communities to those who are possibly more attached to the community.
Like a class leader for a class, a football coach to former football players, or a chapter president for a regional group.
We learned a few valuable lessons from this first step:
1. For the most part, Group admins, on their own are not always incentivized to drive engagement
2. Fresh, valuable content drives engagement - and the group admin(s) alone cannot generate enough content to keep a group from going stale.
3. Unlike social networks - the purpose of an alumni network is more specific. Members arrive with particular objectives in mind (attend an event, reconnect with classmates, career networking, seek advice, find a job, etc.) The frequency of interaction is much lesser - so it’s all the more critical that the content they interact with be very relevant to them.
4. Different kinds of groups have different requirements from their administrators - some might want to be deeply involved, and some just superficially.
5. The frequency of engagement is vital - too frequent, and your community tunes out. Too infrequent, and your loses relevance and becomes stale.
We summarized this into three key challenges that we need to address, to be able to engage alumni:
Creation: Creating valuable content, frequently, without the burden for this falling on one or a few people.
Curation: Collating content such that each member of the community receives relevant content that is of value to them
Distribution: Distributing this curated content to appropriate people at a frequency with which they are comfortable.
Earlier, each of these three challenges fell on the shoulders of you and your office.
We want to build a solution that shifts most of this responsibility to the technology that powers almabase. It will automatically take care of Curation and Distribution while driving people to Create more content.
We are building a ‘Feed.’ All users can now post, like, comment and react. Content creation is no longer a job for just admins. Everyone can contribute to communities that they care.
The system will look across the groups that are relevant to each alum, and curate content that they are most likely to find value. For instance, if someone is part of the groups for ‘Class of 86’, ‘Law Alumni,’ ‘Alumni in San Francisco’ and ‘Baseball,’ the system will take care of curating the most relevant content from those groups and then send it to this person.
The feedback loop. We’ll be building an automated digest that is curated and personalized for each member based on what they choose to stay connected with. It will then be delivered at a frequency of their choice. All without you having to get involved. This will drive alumni back to the platform and hopefully urge them to create more content and close the loop.
What does this mean for you?
1. Groups are going to become very central to all engagement on your alumni platform.
2. As it ties together all these different components for engagement, the product going forward would focus a lot on ‘groups.’
3. Increased peer to peer alumni engagement
4. A ‘feed’ within each group or module will allow users to post, like, comment, and interact with others in the community.
5. Distributed Fine grain control for group administrators
6. You’ll have much more control over the permissions of each group administrator. You can set different levels/combinations of permissions for each. E.g., if you want a group admin to be able to approve users, or update profile data of members - but just within that group.
7. Personalization gets more powerful
8. Customized email digests, notifications, segmentation based on engagement on the ‘Feed.’
9. ‘Chapters,’‘MyClass,’’ Sub-Colleges’ will get deprecated by November 2019
10. These discrete modules all going to be absorbed into groups. For those of you that use it, we’ll help you migrate to Groups.
We wanted to be upfront about this.
All of these are hard problems to solve and will take time to get them right?
However, we’ll get there.
Such an integrated system is something that has not been attempted before in the industry, but we’re finally at a time where we have the technology to pull it off.
We’re going to build this step by step, and we’d love to hear feedback along the way. Bear with us till we reach the final state, and I’m sure you’ll come to love the product. :)
1. The first noticeable change on the product is going to be with events
2. You’ll now see a Feed within each of your events where alumni can post, like, comment, and interact with each other.
3. Events are always a gathering point for people to interact with. It’s currently the single most significant driver for online alumni engagement across our partners. Adding a feed within events first will give us a lot of great insights that we can take back to the drawing board before rolling it out to groups.
4. Within the next one-two months, you’ll see Feeds within Groups as well, as well as the first version of the notification system!
Big changes ahead!
We’re excited. Hope you are too :)