I received the following email from a listerve. The topic of closed alumni communities versus social media is on the minds of a lot of university staff, so I’m posting this along with my response.
I’d like to hear from anyone who is using the social networking function of Blackbaud Net Community. We are purchasing Net Community for some of the other things it offers, and we’re trying to decide if we should pursue social networking through it or use Facebook, etc. What we see as a benefit is the thought that perhaps using the Net Community, it might be a little more professional than having a group on FB or MySpace. A negative, though, is that most people are currently using one or more social networking sites – will they use this one too? We are on Linked In and hardly any of the alums use it.
Thanks for any feedback!
Here’s my take:
This question is coming up a lot these days. You need to weigh the benefits to your alumni that can only be obtained through the closed community (NetCommunity in this case). What are you offering, and will they value it sufficiently? And is there another way to offer those benefits without the closed community (e.g., a password-protected online alumni directory), perhaps at a lower cost and with fewer resources?
It’s not an either/or proposition. You can also set up a Facebook page and/or group, and a LinkedIn group. But you need to ask the same questions about these tools as NetCommunity: What value are they providing? And will your alumni respond? (Have you asked your alumni what they want from your online community–whether that’s on LinkedIn or NetCommunity?)
I’m not sure whether you’re considering whether or not to buy NetCommunity, but if so, you should also consider the benefits it provides other than social networking: online donations, event registrations, mass emails, self-service for data updates, etc. (There are other ways of providing most of those, of course.)
FYI, here’s an article on using LinkedIn for alumni groups:
Some of the key points are: What are your goals for the group? How will you measure them? How will you market the group?
And here’s a blog post from Andy Shandlain at Cal Tech about the subject:
Cal Tech does not have a closed online alumni community, but they do have a password-protected online alumni directory.