Alumni networks – LinkedIn or university-run portals?
I’ve just taken over as the new leader of the alumni board here at UiB, and am busy finding out more about the ongoing work with alumni here and thinking about what the potentials are. Our alumni work only started up a few years ago, and the idea is still very new to most people here – not just at UiB but in Norway in general. Our universities are publicly funded, so the goals of alumni work are different from in countries like the US, where universities rely on donations. Here alumni work is organised as part of the University’s mission to improve our contact with the world at large and share our knowledge and research. (In 2010 the University released an action plan for contact with society). In addition, it’s hugely valuable to us (and to students!) to understand more about what people do after their degrees. And it’s fun and satisfying to stay in touch. Last November I organised an alumni evening for Digital Culture and I must say I hadn’t fully anticipated how satisfying it felt to meet all those wonderful students of yore, and the alumni themselves clearly enjoyed the reunion as well. I’m glad we’re in touch again.
UiB has its own alumni portal, which is great in many ways and has problems in others – chief among them that there’s no way for alumni to share news with each other on the portal. There’s currently a call for bids out for an upgrade, so hopefully many of the annoyances will disappear. There are obvious advantages to having our own portal, chief among them that we actually own the data. The way it works is that all alumni are in the portal, but their profiles only become visible to non-administrators when they log in and activate them. So administrators can find names and (old) addresses of everyone, which is useful for re-establishing contact. But there are only 1286 alumni registered as of today in UiB’s own alumni portal, though the number is steadily growing, with a handful of new registrations each day. There are about 40,000 alumni in total.
Unfortunately, the image above is not from our own portal, but from LinkedIn. Last October, LinkedIn started generating its own alumni information. It currently has 8,587 UiB alumni in its database, and look at the lovely statistics that LinkedIn can provide that the UiB portal can’t (yet…):
You can even search specifically for UiB alumni who work in a particular company, as the blog Alumni Futures notes in their review. You can do that in the UiB portal too, actually, although it only finds 23 people working at Statoil, while LinkedIn obviously knows about many more.
Mashable writes about how some universities have ditched their own portals and are only using LinkedIn. I think that’s a risky strategy if we want to still have a strong alumni network in 20 or 50 years time. I’d say there’s a better chance of the University of Bergen being around in several decades time than of LinkedIn still running, though you never know. But I’m wondering how we could combine the forces of existing social media with our own portal. There must be good ways! I’d love to hear any ideas or experiences you may have.
(Oh, and if you’re a UiB alumni: we’d love you to activate your profile in our alumni portal and get news about events, find your classmates, and there’ll be more as our network grows.)