Stories Matter to Alumni

Stories offer alumni an opportunity to engage with their alma mater during a prolonged crisis.

By Liz Gross, Campus Sonar Founder and CEO

In the spring of 2020 at the height of COVID-19, we analyzed millions of online conversations about higher education and the pandemic (read it all here). We learned some lessons from that research.

Mister Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” A timely reminder during a pandemic, because often the helpers are on your campus—researchers, public health professionals, and students.

In March and early April, the dominant emotion from students’ family and friends was sadness. That changed in late April, which coincided with the switch of many campuses sharing stories, rather than only campus closure updates. La Salle University was early, profiling an alumnus who used 3D printers to create PPE. Caldwell University shared stories of alumni from its highly regarded nursing programs on the front lines of the pandemic response. Social shares of that story included the mayor of Flagstaff, Arizona—her cousin was profiled.

Stories matter in a prolonged crisis.

  • Journalists have a way to talk about your brand that reflects your mission.
  • Prospective and admitted students can get a “feel” for your brand even if they can’t visit campus.
  • Faculty, staff, and students can share their community pride.
  • Alumni get a chance to contribute to the conversation.

We found alumni were less likely to contribute to the conversation than students, family/friends, and even prospective or admitted students. It made sense; they’re less impacted by everything that’s happened than those audiences. Stories give them a chance to engage with their alma mater during a tenuous time. We saw this both in comments on and proactive shares of campus storytelling. We know when an alum feels connected to or identifies with their alma mater, they’re more likely to give. Alumni connection can be cultivated even in times of crisis through effective, timely storytelling.

During time of prolonged crisis, find and share campus bright spots. Build and maintain relationships with key colleagues (e.g., department heads, student affairs administrators, faculty members). Deliberately carve out a digital space to share examples of campus strengths and excellence. Push out positive news framed in the context of the ongoing global pandemic to improve your chances of media coverage.