Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alumni Engagement: One Student's Successful Idea

"What advice do you have for the Class of 20XX?"

This is one of those questions I see a lot of colleges and universities asking their social communities in the days and weeks leading up to students moving in. Alumni jump at the chance to reminisce and offer tips on classes, places to eat and things students must do during their years on campus. Even current students and parents jump into the mix and offer their own. It's a natural question to ask, but what do you do with the answers?

I've always wanted to do make sure the responses made their way to our new students, but also find a way to make sure those responded knew we valued their time and engagement and somehow make them feel included in the move-in festivities. Last year, we compiled a bucket list after we received over 100 responses which was wildly popular, but this year one of my students took it to another level.

Kelly Appenzeller, a member of our Class of 2015 and president of our student government, came to me a few weeks before students arrived on campus. She had the privilege of giving a speech to the Class of 2018 and their parents at Matriculation. She knew it wasn't going to be easy trying to keep hundreds of people engaged with her speech for 10 minutes, especially during such an emotional moment as parents and students prepared to say goodbye to one another. She wanted to find a way to bring our community into her speech and had a great idea on how to do it: crowd-source her speech.

She needed to get in touch with our alumni, parents and students so she could ask what advice they had for the newest members of our community. We posted the question on our main university channels, and Kelly interacted with those responding in the comments in order to make sure she got all of their pertinent information, including class year.

Kelly Appenzeller '15 (Photo by Tara Freeman, St. Lawrence University Photographer)
Her speech featured advice from 20 alumni and students. She included their names and class years as she read aloud their words of wisdom to an audience eager to listen.

Kelly's idea gave us a destination for some of the social content shared and it was a very direct way of making sure it ended up in front of the intended audience. A big bonus: people who were there not only listen, but absolutely loved it, which is evident not only in the comments when we shared the speech on Facebook, but also in our analytics - it was the fourth-most read story last week. An even bigger bonus? How excited our alumni were to find out their advice made it into the speech! It was a great way to bring our alumni into the fabric of one of the biggest events of the year.

Crowdsourcing speeches is nothing new, but I was really impressed with Kelly's enthusiasm and creativity for finding a meaningful way to include alumni and students during such a special occasion. In a moment where she could have shined all on her own, she wanted to include as many people as she could in the spotlight. It was a fantastic way to bring our community together to start the new year.

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