Analyzing Alumni Sentiment

Understanding your alumni is key in creating messages that resonate.

By Sarah Marks, Campus Sonar Social Media Data Analyst

Alumni are one of the most influential voices in building your brand. And, if you’re in advancement, it’s your job to nurture these voices by engaging your alumni and building relationships, creating a stronger connection to their alma mater. To do this well, it helps to understand their pride and pain points so you can better speak to and with them, celebrate their wins, and ease their grievances. 

Analyzing alumni sentiment tells us what alumni enjoy and what they struggle with. It gives more context and depth, and a holistic understanding of your alumni instead of various data points and statistics about their relationship to your campus. This insight enables you to relate to and empathize with the experiences and feelings your alumni go through and offers the opportunity to tailor your campus messages with these experiences in mind. 

Nerd Note: Sentiment is the determination of online conversation that is positive, negative, or neutral. A caveat to this is that software can automatically determine sentiment but because there are nuances software can’t determine (e.g., sarcasm), the best way to interpret it is through a human analyst’s review.

Positive, Neutral, and Negative

I analyzed alumni conversation over a three-year timeframe, from July 2016 through June 2019. When I looked at sentiment over the entire three-year period, it was 18 percent positive, 21 percent negative, and 61 percent neutral. The biggest trend I noticed was that sentiment was consistently most positive in December, May, and June—the typical months for graduation. 

Three alumni from  different universities with thought bubbles above their heads with a 2020 calendar page, graduation cap, and dollar billsDigging deeper into positive sentiment conversation, celebrating graduation was the largest topic—with recognition of the event, nostalgia about past graduations, and acknowledgment of growth experienced both throughout college for upcoming graduates as well as growth that occurred since graduation for those who graduated. But I noticed there was considerable negative sentiment mentioning graduation, too. This conversation varied, but covered everything related to uncertainty about job security, finding a job, and debt and student loans. 

To better understand how different types of alumni might view certain events and talk about their experiences as graduates I broke the entire alumni audience into smaller segments. My goal was to show that not all alumni celebrate or worry about the same things or process their happiness and concern in the same ways. Recognizing and understanding this can help your team better understand what alumni go through and, in turn, empathize with them to create messaging that resonates. 

What This Means

Understanding your alumni is key in creating messages that resonate. Having alumni feel personally connected to and cared about by your campus motivates them to take on desired actions such as sharing messages from your university to their online audience, donating to your campus, or connecting with past, present, and future members of your campus. Recognize the pride and nostalgia alumni feel during graduation, tap into it, and share it—encourage alumni to share their favorite memories and photos from graduation or time on campus, and share tips for new graduates.