A look at the first 90 days of launching a corporate alumni network: an insider view from Jillian Caffrey, Alumni Network Manager at Blackrock.
Thank you to our guest speakers: Jillian Caffrey, Alumni Network Manager at BlackRock joining hosts Phil Sanford, VP of Customer Success and Emma Sinclair MBE, CEO at EnterpriseAlumni.
Those at the top often want to start their own alumni networks …
“After realizing that BlackRock didn’t have an alumni network, I discovered that our vice chairman had been wanting to start one for years …”
It only takes one person to get the ball rolling
“You don’t need a huge cavalry behind you. What it really takes is a singular vision, and that can come from one person …”
Registration can be critical, but don’t put people off …
“Registration can be critical to make sure you’re getting accurate information from your alumni, but equally you don’t want to make it burdensome for them to sign up …”
Make sure you engage equally with all alumni …
“We had over 1000 sign-ups within the first week. But it’s still quality over quantity, and important to ensure you engage with everyone from senior leadership to the former employees who are now CEOs …”
Don’t get hung up on how long creating your alumni network takes …
“You want to show that you care about rehires, business referrals, and brand ambassadors. But don’t think: we have to have achieved a certain number of alumni by a certain date. For a lot of alumni, you’re still trying to instill a new behavior …”
“The insights and metrics we get from our EnterpriseAlumni portal are just not something we could get from other online networks.”
Jillian: I’m a big fan of the Harvard Business Review podcast, and around a year ago, found myself listening to an episode on corporate alumni programs. Although I’m involved with my university alumni program, I never realized this was a thing for corporations, so I thought: “Why doesn’t BlackRock have an alumni network?” I discovered that my boss – the vice chairman of BlackRock – had been wanting to start an alumni program for years! So that led me to work with Phil and Emma at EnterpriseAlumni to lay the foundations, and we’ve spent the last nine months creating an alumni program from scratch.
Jillian: Although the program started with senior level support, we calculated that our alumni is around 30,000. So I reached out internally to leads in corporate communications, strategy, legal, compliance and data privacy to make it a priority.
Philip: The short answer is: no. You shouldn’t be discouraged if you don’t have a cavalry behind you. What it really takes is a singular vision, and that can come from one person.
Jillian: People on LinkedIn who say they work at BlackRock may well not do so anymore. So registration was critical to make sure you’re getting accurate information from your alumni, but not so that it’s burdensome for them to sign up.
Jillian: We launched on January 10th and had over 1000 sign-ups within the first week. But it’s still quality over quantity, and important to ensure that we’re engaging with a variety of different people from senior leadership to the former employees.
Jillian: Once Covid restrictions started to drop, there was a natural push where people were dying to reconnect in person. So we held cocktail receptions with no formal agenda other than a few words on why we are doing this alumni network. We’ve done this four or five times across the globe.
Philip: Whether you are a big or small organization, the things you spend time on should be the same. You might go for the pyramid approach, with VIPs at the top who have one-to-one relationships with your executives, rubbing elbows with alumni at cocktail receptions. Equally you could have training class reunions, or event-based reunions, where you reconnect with the people you’ve worked with on a specific project.
Jillian: We all get a lot of email, so we really wanted to be selective in what we send out. Any leadership or high level changes that might get picked up in the press, we try to communicate early on. People are always interested who is leaving BlackRock and who’s joining, and things like our annual diversity report. Like Instagram, people also love seeing pictures from events.
Philip: Human-interest stories always get the most attention. Your alumni community will relate to pride and fear of missing out. When it comes to planning alumni strategies, you don’t have to build Rome in a day. Use bite-sized chunks, repurpose content and really curate the human-interest stories.
Philip: Although a lot of people are on LinkedIn, LinkedIn is not verified or accurate. So while it’s a vital resource, it’s best used to supplement to your own dedicated resource.
Jillian: So many of our new applicants say they heard about a job through the alumni network. Social networks have been incredible for us, although alumni networks are the key to ensure you accurately control what is being distributed to your alumni.
Jillian: Showing that you care about your alumni. You really to make sure that people feel supported. Something that I learned from EnterpriseAlumni is that you can see on LinkedIn when people get new jobs and retire. So let’s celebrate them, but ensure people feel like they’re being taken care of and have the ability to network.
Phil: You have to have your pillars of success. You want to show that you care about rehires, business referrals, and brand ambassadors. But I would caution on saying: we have to have achieved this number of alumni by this date. For a lot of the alumni communities, it is going to be a new behavior that you’re trying to instill.
Jillian: As Phil mentioned, it’s not all about the numbers, but I am particularly focused on growing the network. So I really want to make sure we get people in early on, while the network is still new.
And future plans include as many in person events as I can manage as a team of one!
Jillian Caffrey, Alumni Network Manager at BlackRock
Phil Sanford, VP of Customer Success at EnterpriseAlumni
Emma Sinclair MBE, CEO at EnterpriseAlumni