Build Alumni Engagement with Dynamic Content and Website Personalization

June 16, 2015

Alumni associations “face myriad challenges staying relevant in today’s world” with membership at many schools “running flat or declining.” Alumni engagement is competing with:

  • More than 1 million non-profits in the US that ask for support and involvement
  • Dozens of crowdsource platforms that show the immediate impact of donations
  • More connection points via social media that make alumni websites less relevant
  • Increased student debt that is decreasing or postponing alumni giving

As alumni events have been replaced by virtual connections and with so many organizations competing for alumni attention “the role of alumni engagement executives has never been tougher.” Alumni directors need to find new ways to engage alumni. As one recent study reports: “Institutions must take, without the luxury of added resources, a far more personal and proactive approach to managing student relationships than traditionally has been done in the past.”

To continue relevance and expand the number of touchpoints, alumni organizations are turning to leveraging digital channels to provide a more personalized experience. One approach to improving the level of personalization is to turn to the use of dynamic content on alumni websites. This strategy benefits alumni engagement in two ways:

  • Improves the overall web experience for alumni by being more relevant – this increases the online engagement of alumni
  • Provides a new means to build the alumni profile by better understanding interests of each alum

Improve Alumni Websites with Dynamic Content Personalization

Dynamic content can extend website visits and increase engagement by providing a more personalized and proactive experience. Without requiring any login, alumni organizations can automatically change or test content on a website. As an alum travels the site, their profile can be built and used to generate more personalized content.

  • Based on location - content can be personalized to point them to local alumni clubs or events
  • The website can infer the age of the alumni based on a variety of content factors – frequent visits to the young alumni club content or recent class notes – and then begin to tailor events or articles based on this information
  • Based on reading specific categories of articles – donor stories, athletics, stories about environment – the website can start providing additional articles or content about the topic that the alumni cares about

All of this results in a more engaged alumni and more personalized online experience.

What can you do with this information?

But, this data is not just for improving the user experience for the alumni while on the website. The preferences can be used to create additional engagement touchpoints. In the same way that alumni offices track touchpoints in the real world – reunions, donations, events – we can start tracking digital touchpoints, storing these in a CRM, and using these to drive engagement.

  • If an alumni reads lots of articles about the environment, the school can reach out and engage them if they are starting a sustainability initiative. Plus, this reaching out can be done on the website too – the site could display unique calls to action buttons to recruit people.
  • Based on reading interests, this information can be used when approaching an alum about making a significant gift
  • Tracking overall online engagement can be used to see interest
  • Find mentors for young alumni
  • Identify social media champions

How to Use Website Personalization and Dynamic Content to Build Alumni Engagement

Step 1: Create a compelling experience that requires a login. Fortunately, this is pretty easy for most colleges. Content such as alumni directories and job boards are behind a login. What’s important is that you create a motivation for the alumni to identify themselves on the website. Some simple strategies include asking for advice with a form or survey or looking to have alums sign up for an email newsletter. Once you know a user through the email, you can use tracking tools like Acquia Lift or other personalization tools to track that user on future visits and provide a personalized content experience.

Step 2: Create content to attract alumni. A consistent channel of outbound email and a strong web landing presence are required to bring alumni back to the website.

Step 3: Define your goals. What are you looking to learn about your alumni? What actions do you want them to take? Are you looking for engagement, donations, or to increase event attendance?

Step 4: Define content funnels. This is the most important step. To start gathering data about your alumni, you need to create content that maps to your goals. Once you start seeing people go down a particular funnel, then you’ll begin to know how to engage that person. You can ask them to lead an initiative or understand how to reach out for a donation.

  • Lead a local city group
  • Become a regular member of a group

The basic approach involves shifting the content generation to be focused around a taxonomy of terms that provides additional information about the interests and behaviors of your alumni audiences.

What are the barriers?

There are two primary barriers.

First, putting a system in place that makes the information gathered actionable. After you collect information from the tagged content, you need to establish a system that sends this information to your CRM system to be used in other communication efforts.

Second, alumni relations need to shift their content development efforts to writing about content that aligns to the goals. Without content it is difficult to collect meaningful and actionable data that builds the alumni profile.

These strategies help to build a stronger more engaged alumni base that already leverages the content and web properties that you have.

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