Managing an Alumni Network
From looking at the benefits of a network to how to measure its success, we explain the complete picture of setting up and managing your own alumni network.
- What is a Company Alumni Network?
- Do You Need an Alumni Network?
- The Benefits of an Alumni Network
- Do I Need a Software Solution?
- How Do I Onboard Alumni?
- What Content Should I Create?
- How Do I Create an Alumni Engagement Plan?
- Do I Have to Create All the Content Myself?
- What Events are Popular with Company Alumni?
- How do I Measure Success?
What is a Company Alumni Network?
A company alumni network is a platform which brings together former employees of a particular company. Traditionally, once a person left an organization they would be forgotten about. They were no longer with the business and so the business felt no obligation to them. However, in today’s job market - where employees will move around more often and spend more years of their life working than previous generations - it can make sense to see former employees not as a distant memory but as a more active part of your business, as alumni.
In the same way that university alumni still contribute to their alma mater, even if they no longer study there, company alumni can still be of benefit to your business. At EnterpriseAlumni we define alumni as anyone who has worked for an organization - they don’t have to have been full-time employees or served for a particular length of time. If they’ve been part of your business and have now moved on, they’re a company alumnus. Our experience powering some of the largest alumni networks means we know what it takes to create alumni networks that not only deliver for their members, but also for businesses.
Do You Need an Alumni Network?
If you’ve ever employed anyone who has subsequently left the business, then you already have an alumni network. The question is not do you want to have one, but do you want to be able to maximize the benefits of it? A well-run, organized and engaged alumni network can deliver benefits such as savings on recruitment costs, increased referrals for open roles, new business, brand ambassadors and more. But these rewards require the business to be actively involved in the alumni network, to take ownership of the data and to champion it both internally and externally.
The Benefits of an Alumni Network
Around 98% of Fortune 500 companies have a company alumni program of some sort, including the likes of LinkedIn, McKinsey and Blackrock. So if you don’t have a company alumni network, you’re missing out. However, it’s not enough to simply collect the names and email addresses of your former staff. A well-run alumni network can deliver major value to your organization.
Talent acquisition: We know that recruiting the best talent for your organization is hard and making a mistake costs money. An active alumni network can help reduce recruitment costs. Passive recruitment results in a failure rate of 46%, and when the average cost of one hire is $4129 (below management level) it’s an expensive mistake to make. 62% of former employees would consider going back to a company they had left - becoming what are known as Boomerang hires. Boomerang hires typically have a 44% higher retention rate over three years, meaning that turning to your alumni network to fill those empty roles results in a more successful hire for both employer and employee.
Talent management: The employee life cycle has changed and successful businesses realize that the average employee won’t stay with one company for the entire of their career. The rise of the gig economy also means that more employees are looking for shorter-term contracts and greater flexibility in their roles. This means that employers need to create a candidate pool which allows them to quickly respond to changing staffing needs. LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman refers to a new type of employment, “tours of duty”, which see experienced staff being brought back to run short-term projects. An alumni network gives you the ability to respond to the changing job market and fill vacancies quickly.
Decreased time to fill: Time-to-fill is calculated by counting the number of days it takes for a new hire to accept a position after a job listing is posted. This can be made more challenging by candidates dropping out during the interview process, a problem that has been increasing amongst passive recruits. Stranger hiring - bringing someone completely new into the business - means that you’re running the risk of investing a lot of time and money into the recruitment process only for them to decide you’re not the right company for them. This problem increases if you have a particularly detailed recruitment process, with 78% of jobseekers saying they would drop out if the hiring process took too long. Boomerang Hires, on the other hand, already know your process because they’ve been through it before. They also know the business and what it’s like to work there, meaning they’re less likely to get cold-feet part of the way through. So your time-to-fill for the role decreases, as does the time to productivity.
Decreased time to productivity: once you’ve hired someone for a role, you want to get them onboarded and up to speed with the business as quickly as possible. Hiring an alumnus reduces the time to productivity by up to 50% because they already know your processes and have relationships within the business.
Driving new business: Enterprise Alumni research shows that 80% of alumni want to buy from their former employers. Creating a platform where you can bring these potential customers together and easily engage with them should be seen as business critical. Companies which actively engage with their alumni communities and use them as a source of business development can see an increase of 44% in new business. Your alumni already know the product you create and the value you can add: they’ve been a part of it, so it makes sense that when they’re on the buyer-side they’d want to do business with a brand they know and like. Building a strong relationship with your alumni means you’ll be first in line when they’re looking for someone to work with or recommend for work. In fact, we know that alumni brand advocates are worth five times the value of an average customer.
Improved employer brand: Research into the impact an alumni network has on employer brand shows that it impacts not only how your former staff feel about your business but also how current and future staff feel. Businesses with an engaged alumni network see a 4.5% increase in their Glassdoor approval rating and a 10% increase in brand sentiment.
Do I Need a Software Solution for a Company Alumni Network?
Traditionally companies have claimed to have an alumni “network” but in reality, this amounts to little more than a spreadsheet with the email addresses of former employees. While you could try and run your alumni program off this, in the long-term you would be missing out on building the depth of engagement that an alumni management platform can bring you.
The key advantages of using dedicated alumni management software to power your alumni network are:
Personalization: Sending the same email to your entire database is going to result in low engagement and finally people opting out of receiving them. If you want to create an engaged alumni network, then you need to give your users something of value to them. That might be inviting them to events in their local area with speakers that work in their industry. It might be telling them about opportunities that directly relate to their experience. It might even be letting them know when one of their former teammates has achieved something they’d want to congratulate them on. The point is that your communication with them should be relevant for them. Alumni management software will know where your alumni are, what they’re interested in and what they might be looking for. They can ensure they are connected to their peer group and that they’re matched with opportunities that are right for them.
Data: Using a dedicated alumni network platform should allow you to see what is working (and what isn’t) in your engagement with alumni, meaning you can create a more thoughtful and effective content program. In the long-term, data analytics will help you refine your content, ensure that your job opportunities gain the maximum response and mean that any opportunities for new business or referrals are seen by the right people. The other advantage of having your own alumni network is that you own that data. Many companies run alumni pages on sites such as LinkedIn. While these can be useful marketing for the organization, at the end of the day you don’t own that data, so you have no control over what happens to it in the long run. You also won’t be able to segment and personalize this data in the same way that you can with your own platform.
Brand identity: Owning the platform on which your alumni network is run means that you can ensure it fits with your company’s brand identity. This could be from an aesthetic point of view - ensuring it blends seamlessly into the rest of your HR software. It should also ensure that the terminology and language used matches your company in both tone and style. Running your alumni network on an external platform means you will be limited to their branding and features, some of which won’t be relevant or won’t match the language and style of your brand.
How Do I Onboard Alumni to the Network?
Start at onboarding: At EnterpriseAlumni we believe that you should be thinking about how you bring an employee into your alumni networks not at the point of their departure from the company but at the point of their arrival. When they join, make a point of having them opt into your alumni network as part of the onboarding process so that when they leave, they are already a part of it.
Review the data you already own: Nearly every company will have the foundations of an alumni network, even if this amounts to little more than a spreadsheet of former employees’ email addresses. To begin to build up your alumni networks, start by assessing the data you already hold. How up to date is this data? Where does it sit within the organization and who is responsible for it? Usually this data will be held by the HR team but if, for example, your new alumni network will be run by the marketing department then you need to make sure that both teams are onboard and aligned with who will own the data going forward.
Promote your network: In order to attract company alumni to your network you will need to make sure you actively promote it. Some actions that our clients take when setting up their networks include asking current employees to recommend the network to any former colleagues with whom they’re still in touch. They will run email marketing campaigns to any alumni for whom they hold data, offering rewards for signing up and explaining the benefits. Many organizations will find there are already informal networks running on social media sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook. Teaming up with these networks can be a way to encourage alumni who are already actively looking for ways to engage with your organization to join your network.
Create inviting content: the best alumni networks offer their members a selection of curated and personalized bonuses for being part of the alumni network. One of the benefits of running your own alumni network on alumni management software designed for this purpose, is that it allows you to subdivide your members and make sure you’re offering them the sort of content that will most appeal. At a minimum you want to make sure you’re engaging in regular contact with your members - through newsletters or targeted email campaigns. But the most active alumni networks, and those with the highest alumni engagement, understand the benefit of offering members exclusive perks just for them.
What Content Should I Create for my Alumni Network?
To create engaging content for your alumni network you should first define who your audience are, what they’re most interested in and what your priorities are for the alumni network. For example, if your first priority is around boomerang hires, then you’ll want to make sure you’re offering regular job opportunities, advice about applying for jobs with your business and examples of alumni who have returned to work for you. Equally, if you want to use your alumni network to bring in new business opportunities then your priorities should be regularly updating your alumni on your business offerings and using events to get them in a room with you sales teams. At EnterpriseAlumni, our most successful customers use a blend of in-person and online events, regular newsletters and information on the company, job opportunities, networking options, exclusive offers with partner brands and training courses to keep their alumni engaged and finding value in the network.
How Do I Create an Alumni Engagement Plan?
Once you know the priorities for your alumni network you need to create an alumni engagement plan. This means defining what content and events you will be offering them and at what regularity. If you’re new to alumni management we recommend starting simply: providing regular, targeted content will be more effective at building up engagement than doing huge but sporadic events. You should also start to tailor your content to your audience. For example, you don’t want to be emailing alumni in Asia about an event in San Francisco, so look at how you will segment your alumni and make sure your alumni engagement plan reflects the diversity of your network.
Do I Have to Create All the Content Myself?
Absolutely not. You’ll probably find there is already a lot of content within your organization that you can repurpose for the alumni network, making your life much easier. You might want to look at company reports, press releases, job adverts and internal communications to find content that you can share with your alumni. If you regularly publish thought-leadership around your industry, pulling this into one place for your alumni gives them easy access to useful information that they can take into their own work. It makes your alumni network a place of authority and instantly gives your members value. Overall, you should think of your alumni network as a curated source of information about the company, rather than as the creator of lots of new content.
You might also want to create some simple formats or series, which you can create in bulk. For example, our Alumni Stories series is a simple interview format that companies can use with former employees in talking to them about their career and what they learned from their time at your company. (You can see some examples of Alumni Stories here.) Or, if you want to send a regular newsletter, make sure the format you create for it mirrors content you will already be producing. For example, have a regular space for job adverts and for news about the organization. Since both of these pieces of content will already have been produced within your business, you can easily repurpose them for your alumni.
What Events are Popular with Company Alumni?
Alumni events are a good way to add value to your alumni network and provide opportunities for networking and building relationships. The first thing to consider is what you want to achieve from the event. Is it about giving your sales teams a chance to meet potential customers? Do you want to tempt back boomerang employees? Or are you trying to enhance your employer brand by building loyalty and good will with your alumni? A good event might be able to do all these things, but you stand a stronger chance of it being successful if you have a specific goal in mind.
You will also need to think about whether you want the event to be in-person or online. This will partly be determined by how spread-out your alumni are, but also by the goal for the event. If you want the event to be a business development opportunity with connections being made and relationships developed, then a small, very targeted in-person event will serve you better than a webinar. Equally, if your motivation is to bring back boomerang hires, a series of online events helping former employees upskill or think more strategically about their career could be the perfect launchpad for a recruitment drive.
How to Measure the Success of Your Alumni Platform?
A properly engaged alumni network can drive sales, save you money on recruitment costs and enhance your employer brand but it’s also an investment of time and money, so how do you know if your alumni network is a success? At EnterpriseAlumni we recommend tracking seven key metrics.
- Registrations to the network - the first and most obvious metric to track is simply the number of alumni who are signing up to hear from you and be part of your network. This can show you both the strength of your current brand loyalty and how appealing your alumni offer is.
- Email open rates - sending regular email newsletters is important but by tracking the open and click through rates of those newsletters you can see whether your content is appealing to members and start to understand what drives engagement.
- Return visitors - How many people regularly return to your alumni network platform? If the number is lower than you’d like, it could be a sign to tweak the content or design.
- Social mentions - When your alumni community is engaged and excited about the network, they are more likely to mention it on other platforms. Tracking social mentions is a great way to see what your alumni think is worth sharing with their networks, helping you prioritize your content.
- Alumni engagement in platform - what are your alumni actually doing within the platform itself? Are they interacting with job adverts, clicking on articles or sending messages?
- Retention rates - this is how long your alumni stay as members of your network and the amount of time they spend on the site itself.
- Survey responders - taking time to survey your alumni network and find out what they enjoy about the network, and what they want more of, is key to developing an engaged alumni network.
You should now have a clear understanding of what a company alumni network is and what it takes to get it up and running. The business benefits of an alumni network are clear: reduced recruitment costs, increased opportunities for business development, the creation of brand ambassadors and deepened brand loyalty. You can find out more about what makes up an excellent alumni network platform by clicking here.