Are traditional Alumni Associations passé?

A few months ago, a representative from my alma mater called to confirm my personal and professional listing information for a book they were putting together–an alumni directory. It was free to be included, but (of course) I could purchase a copy for myself for the low, low price of $65.

Book

We’ve seen or heard of these books before. They’re right up there with those “Who’s Who” books that are completely bogus collections of folks who paid to be included. In fact, I think my parents paid for me to be in the Who’s Who of American High School Students publication back in 1995. Yes I was a great student, top 5 percent of my class, but it was at one of the worst high schools in the nation so I really doubt that I was spectacular enough to be included in such a prestigious (looking) national publication. Nonetheless, there’s now a book with my name in it on a shelf in my parents house.

I understand why a college would want to put these books together (of course it’s to make money) and I love to support my undergrad college and their fundraising efforts, but I just couldn’t get past this one question: How is this book better than LinkedIn? The caller was getting annoyed with me for asking it again and again. But, think about it: This book will be outdated the day it’s printed. This book cannot possibly include the number of alumni I can find via LinkedIn using a simple university search. This book is heavy and expensive to produce, print, and ship.

This book, however, is an example of the “olden days” of alumni relations and fundraising tactics that are (unfortunately) still alive today, probably due to those old people at colleges and universities across the United States failing to realize that new technology is making these types of programs and approaches obsolete.

Case in point: With last week’s official launch of LinkedIn University Pages, colleges and universities now have easy access to thousands of graduates who have “claimed” them in their online profiles; whether they’ve official joined the college’s on-campus Alumni Association or not is a totally separate matter. This is powerful stuff. For example, a college may boast an “official” Alumni Association of a couple hundred, but through LinkedIn University Pages, the “virtual alumni association”–a bi-product of the tool’s creation–could be in the thousands.

Read about the establishment of LinkedIn’s University Pages

College’s and Universities should be looking at this tool and examining ways to cultivate the contacts connected with them in a social media capacity in order to convert it to a more meaningful, offline connection. This tool opens up doors for planning and announcing alumni events and fundraising campaigns…your pool and your “mailing list” of potential attendees and donors has now grown exponentially!

For marketing and PR professionals like myself, we can tap into the tool’s “notable alumni” feature to highlight how former students are using their training and degree today. We can ask to highlight them in our marketing materials, or solicit them as guest speakers for campus or community events. These “notable alumni” are also ones that the college Foundation will want to court, since LinkedIn merges both education and career metrics to showcase the college’s most successful grads. They are the CEOs, VPs, business owners, and trailblazers who have the capacity to give, and–with their already established connection to you–the higher-likelihood to give.

With the successful rise and obvious popularity of LinkedIn, the LinkedIn University Pages, and Facebook, will traditional, campus-controlled Alumni Associations survive? If so, what will they be able to offer (besides a book) that I cannot already get online? How will colleges and universities motivate and engage their online de facto alumni associations? This is a new challenge, and it’s an exciting one.