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If you build it, have a launch strategy

Launching an alumni career network, from whiteboard to over 1,000 active alumni in under 90 days

· Alumni Relations,strategy,Career Networking

If you grew up in the early 90s, you probably remember Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams. A vision comes to him… “If you build it, they will come.” This is great stuff for inspirational kids movies, but not a great strategy for a launching a new product on your campus. Especially if that product is networking centric.

Through a development partnership with five premier institutions, Wisr methodically developed a launch approach to maximize alumni and student engagement. With a highly engaged group of schools, we went from nothing and a whiteboard to exponentially increasing alumni signups inside of 90 days.

We divided the approach into three phases, 1) pre-registration, 2) launch, and 3) growth.

1) Pre-registration Phase

Pre-registration was a time to generate early interest from alumni to build a critical mass of advisors in the network. The primary goal is to avoid the “chicken or the egg dilemma”, which is that the network isn’t usable without both user types, or in this case alumni and students. Each pilot campus had a population of alumni who offered to engage, and fell through the cracks (people get busy and need reminders). This was low hanging fruit, and solved for by launching a pre-registration landing page, including a countdown clock to generate urgency and excitement. We saw conversion rates over 50% for interested alumni that were invited on the launch date.

An example pre-registration landing page

2) Launch Phase

Launch required the most planning. We set a target of registering at least 500 alumni prior to inviting students into the network.

Wisr powered all external marketing messaging for half of our pilot institutions. We leveraged a blend of automated marketing techniques to A/B test subject lines, messaging, and calls to action. Through experimentation, Wisr was able to double, and sometimes triple the conversion rate of cold alumni outreach. The biggest takeaway is that alumni relations teams must be willing to A) experiment and B) be persistent.

An example A/B campaign to a list of alumni

In one experiment, we tested four back-to-back messages on a hyper targeted group of 668 alumni. Here are the results:

Not only were these consistently high conversion rates through the first 3 drips, remember, this is to the SAME LIST back-to-back weeks. So the total conversion rate on the list of 668 alumni was 16.7%. That’s a great result by any measure, but more importantly, 3-5x higher than the baseline given to us by our pilot partners. These campaigns demonstrate the power of persistence and methodical experimentation in email campaigns.

Networks do not fail because of a lack of features, they fail because there is no sense of connection.

We are happy to share anonymized campaign data, and specific content tested on request by institutions

3) Growth Phase

Growth phase is an ongoing exercise to ensure continual growth of the network. Much like getting a rocket ship into orbit, sustaining a network is much easier than getting it to its initial velocity. Growth phase is primarily driven by referrals and a great user experience inside of the community.

The startup community refers to this as ‘growth hacking’, or utilizing every interaction as an opportunity to engage and grow the network. Think about every interaction in your community and how to leverage it for ongoing growth.

Here are a few commonly missed opportunities to encourage growth and build engagement:

  • Allowing alumni to refer in fellow alumni through LinkedIn to field a student's question

  • Prompting a user to share that they joined the network on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter

  • Prompting a student to send a thank you note to alumni advisors

Wisr has deployed numerous techniques and co-developed technologies with our partners to create continual growth and engagement within our product. One example is a pre-verification mechanism that allowed our partners to import hundreds of thousands of alumni, student, parent, staff, and faculty records. When a user sends a referral or invitation, we generate a ‘magic link’ to confirm that user's affiliation with our client institutions. This allows alumni relations to capture updated profile information, preferred email address, and more without generating a duplicate record in their CRM or system of record.

 

The growth phase is also about monitoring churn. Reporting on utilization and combating inactivity with highly personalized messaging is an effective approach. Wisr ran a test, to automatically send a reminder to users who registered, but did not complete their profile within 48 hours. 20% of those receiving the email, clicked through on the first send and completed their profile. Similar to the other phases, looking at the data and going after ‘low hanging fruit’ is a great place to start.

Example message to decrease abandonment

To summarize, networks do not fail because of a lack of features, they fail because there is no sense of connection.

Wisr is investing heavily in data-driven mechanisms for communicating and suggesting new connections, and conversations for student. Activating a network takes persistent communication, and ongoing experimentation. Huge kudos to the teams at University of Chicago, Case Western Reserve University, Denison University, Cedarville University, and Oberlin College for their dedication and innovation.

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