Evaluating Alumni Conversation

Insight into alumni conversation helps you create a long-lasting relationship.

By Sarah Marks, Campus Sonar Social Media Data Analyst

Last spring, I graduated from my dream school, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I wanted to attend Michigan ever since I went to my first football game at The Big House when I was in second grade. My father, who graduated from Michigan, gave me Michigan socks at birth, taught my sister and me the fight song the entire drive to the game, and (not so) subtly shared his belief that Michigan is the best school in the world every possible chance he got. Michigan was the only school I wanted to attend—and fortunately I was accepted and became a Wolverine in 2015.

I still share the same sentiment as my dad and believe that Michigan is the best school in the world. My pride of being a Wolverine, especially growing up in Ohio, is usually one of the first facts people learn about me. I’m only one of over 611,000 living alumni from the University of Michigan, which is just one of thousands of higher education institutions in the United States. Although a lot has already changed since graduation, my love for Michigan will always remain a constant. I’ve stayed connected with friends and my younger sister who is currently a junior at Michigan, return to Ann Arbor when I can, and follow along with alumni and campus activities as a member of the Alumni Association and across social media.

My relationship with Michigan as an alumna led to my interest in understanding the individual and collective beliefs, attitudes, and relationships that alumni have with their alma maters. This knowledge provides valuable insight into their future actions and behaviors. As a social media data analyst now, I decided to conduct social listening analysis of alumni conversations to evaluate how they discuss their alma maters across various social platforms. I examined alumni conversation as a whole, then used multiple ways to segment the conversation to see how different characteristics revealed distinct types of conversation among alumni. 

I wanted to dig into this conversation and share insights—particularly, shared pain points and positive alumni moments. Here is what I found when I examined three years of mentions from the beginning of July 2016 through the end of June 2019, using a one percent sample of the total conversation volume. This gave me approximately 120,000 mentions to analyze and segment. I focused on Twitter, news, and forum mentions (which includes Reddit), and segmented the data to examine how alumni differ.

Graph showing 55% of mentions are from news, 29% are from Twitter, and 16% are from forums

Where and When Alumni Talk

My analysis found that 55 percent of the total mentions were from mentions of alumni in the news. Twenty-nine percent of the mentions were from Twitter and 16 percent were from forums. Somewhat predictably, mention volume peaked in May every year, when most graduations occur and new alumni are welcomed and celebrated.

What Alumni Think and Feel

To better understand the alumni mindset, I analyzed sentiment and found that 18 percent of the mentions were positive, 61 percent were neutral, and 21 percent were negative. Popular positive mentions were about graduations and negative mentions were about student loans and politics. Student loan mentions had the most negative sentiment with 46 percent negative mentions, 43 percent neutral, and 11 percent positive. 

Understanding the topics and events that skew positive or negative gives campuses the opportunity to highlight success stories and other celebratory moments to remind alumni of their positive experiences on campus and a nudge to extend that joy for current and future students and even themselves.

Bar graph showing negative, neutral, and positive of alumni conversation vs. alumni conversation about student loans

Donut graph showing 81% of mentions including a particular institution, 18% are general alumni discussion, and 1% from a friend or family memberWhat Else Can We Learn?

When examining the online conversations from alumni, mentions of being an alumnus/a of a particular institution accounted for 81 percent, general discussion of alumni made up 18 percent of mentions, and mentions of a friend or family member alumnus/a was 1 percent of mentions. 

Since personal mentions account for the vast majority of these conversations, they provide insight into how alumni personally feel. Advancement departments can use these as an indicator of the values, thoughts, and behaviors of their own alumni. 

Understanding the authentic beliefs of individuals and groups of people is one of the main strengths of social listening compared to other research methods. When used properly, these individual conversations and collective patterns can help build relationships with alumni and better understand how they perceive their relationship with your institution, which can (and should) influence the way you communicate with them. 

Better understanding your alumni allows them to feel more connected to their institution, which creates a more loyal and long-lasting relationship in the long run. Especially for those diehards out there like me.