How do you get almost 900 Facebook fans in just five months? Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS) did just that recently and
shared their story with edSocialMedia. Read on for tips you can use at your school or university as well.
MICDS Director of Development Kelly Dopman and Director of Development Services Rebel Saffold III are part of a three person team focusing on development and alumni needs for the school. Originally two single sex schools (Mary Instiute, Saint Louis Country Day School), the K-12 school is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
Looking at their alumni database, Dopman and Saffold realized that less than 50% of their graduates actually lived in the greater St. Louis area, and even that number may be too high given that many alumni still have parents’ addresses on file. The challenge becomes how to continually engage alumni and not simply ask them to come on campus for events when it may not be feasible for them to do so.
MICDS has over 8,000 alumni on file with only 600 lost and emails on over half. This is not simply a happy accident. Dopman has for nine years emphasized the importance of capturing alumni e-mail addresses, something many schools may not do as well. She reports that even older generations are online despite common perceptions otherwise.
Last year, they began sending out push pages with video and robust images and this year wanted to step up to the next level: social media. In March 2009, Saffold rolled out an official alumni page on Facebook but not without checking to see who else was on Facebook. Turns out there were 52 other unofficial groups/pages by MICDS alumni out there already. One by one, he contacted each and encouraged folks to migrate to the official page. Overwhelmingly the response was positive.
Even in the summer, MICDS’ Facebook page is updated weekly if not biweekly. The school’s YouTube channel and Flickr photostream are pulled in as is its athletic and school news feeds from its school Web site (hosted by Whipple Hill). Go to the Wall and filter for just fan comments and you’ll see several a month, a great start for a young page.
To keep the page fresh and to keep his own sanity, Saffold uses Flock, a social media browser that allows him to see all MICDS’ sites at once. He can post simultaneously to numerous sites, saving time and recycling content this way.
Important note on naming your page: MICDS chose to name its page “Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School” because alumni would have graduated from either school or from the combined name. The abbreviation means less to that constituency.
When asked about the value, the return on investment from his time spent maintaining this page, Saffold says the jury is still out. Right now, he’s focusing on keeping a robust presence and excited that the fan base jumped so dramatically to almost 900 fans in just five months. He experiments with different types of posts and feeds to see what fans responds best to.
During the 2009-2010 school year, the emphasis will be on fund-raising and perhaps working with the school’s communication and marketing team on a general school Facebook page to supplement this alumni-specific one.
- Get those e-mail addresses — Before you can have an online presence, you need a way to talk to your constituents. Whether they are alumni or parents, make sure you are capturing their e-mail addresses and are keeping these current in your database at all times.
- Search for other Facebook presences — If you are just now jumping into Facebook, chances are that students, parents and alumni are there before you. Do a simple search on your school’s name (and nickname and abbreviation(s)) and if you find an unofficial presence, decide how you will handle that group/page. Sometimes it’s worth it to approach them and encourage them to move over and sometimes it’s worth it to leave them alone.
- Keep it robust — MICDS’ Facebook page is constantly freshened with content either posted or pulled in from other sources. Give fans a reason to return and, more importantly, to comment/share/like what they see.
- Stay on mission — MICDS wanted to engage alumni spread out across the world. Facebook helps them do that. What is your marketing goal and how can social media help you accomplish that?