Rewards Programs Can Help Universities with Online Alumni Participation

Amanda Kohn by on Jan 04, 2016

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What do Twitter, gift cards and Amy Schumer tickets have in common? Enterprising colleges are encouraging their alums to share social media content and complete other miscellaneous activities through rewards programs to unlock these prizes and more in cutting-edge efforts to boost alma-mater-alumni interactions over social media.

Rewards programs like these improve alumni relations by encouraging alum-to-alum and alum-to-alma-mater interactions instead of traditional email and phone solicitation. Rewards programs help foster a positive alumni-alma-mater relationship and improve alumni outreach as a whole by relying primarily on peer-to-peer contact and publicity to promote and engage alumni with relevant and unique content. Incentivizing participants to use their social networks to promote their alma maters also helps draw the attention of prospective new donors who might have ignored previous communications but are more likely to engage with content posted by friends and former classmates.

Here are three exemplary university rewards programs, either temporary or permanent, that helped boost alumni engagement and participation:

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Sample Rutgers’ Scarlet Voice Rewards Program Facebook Post and Northeastern Rewards Program Reward

Boston University/Rutgers University: Both Boston University and Rutgers University launched similar alumni and supporter rewards programs to encourage users to become social media ambassadors to promote the universities’ giving days and other school-sponsored content. After joining the program using Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, social media ambassadors earn points for sharing official school content and generating retweets or shared links. Alumni who participated in BU’s Rhett Ralliers and Rutgers’ Scarlet Voice programs earned points by retweeting messages, re-sharing posts, using specified hashtags, following a sponsor on social networks, and accumulating user likes, shares or comments on the ambassador’s shared content. At the end of each school’s program, which ran for about a month, ambassadors who met point cutoffs were entered to win university prizes, including a prize pack of BU apparel and merchandise or a $25 gift card to the Rutgers University Alumni Association online store. Even though both schools integrated similar social media ambassador programs into their alumni sites, the Scarlet Voice program continues to offer monthly drawings for ambassadors and therefore encourages continued alumni participation whereas BU’s Rhett Ralliers rewards program was temporary and only lasted one month for its April 2015 Giving Day.

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Scarlet Voice Homepage (Truncated)

Northeastern University: Taking a different tact than Rutgers and BU, in October Northeastern launched its new Northeastern Rewards program. This platform is a seemingly more permanent rewards program that allows alumni and other Northeastern supporters to complete a range of activities to earn rewards. Since Northeastern Rewards’ launch, nearly 1,000 individuals have signed up for the platform, which serves to promote school pride and advance online participation. Even though non-alumni can enroll in the program, the rewards and activities are clearly geared toward alums (e.g., submitting a graduation year or tagging other alumni in superlatives on Facebook). Users enroll in the program with Facebook accounts and can claim rewards after completing different activities listed within the platform. Users, however, do not earn generic rewards points like in Rutgers’ Scarlet Voice program. Program activities include following Northeastern on Twitter or Facebook, sharing a photo and providing opinions for upcoming events. The programs offers free Northeastern-themed mobile and desktop wallpapers and raffle entries for free tickets to see comedian Amy Schumer or the men’s hockey team’s 2016 Beanpot game.

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Northeastern Rewards Platform Homepage (Truncated)

Even though all three rewards programs help improve alumni-alma-mater relationships, Northeastern Rewards stands out not only for its permanent nature but also because alumni can earn rewards by participating in both social media activities and other more traditional engagements like answering surveys. Despite BU’s and Rutgers’ rewards programs directly emailing the shared content to users to upload to social media, Northeastern houses its program within a separate platform, making the program activities and rewards more exclusive and allowing the school to collect up-to-date information on alums. Other schools looking to bolster alumni participation should consider launching their own rewards program because incentives can encourage and motivate alums to participate in different online activities. No matter what type of rewards program a school chooses to offer, however, the program will better alumni relations as a whole and foster a positive alumni-alma-mater relationship by encouraging participants to use their social networks to promote their alma maters and increase peer-to-peer contact online while encouraging school pride and engagement.

For more information on Alumni Monitor and our research on alumni outreach and engagement, please contact Dana Peterson at dpeterson@corporateinsight.com or visit us at alumnimonitor.corporateinsight.com.

About The Author

Amanda Kohn

Amanda is a Senior Research Associate for Alumni Monitor at Corporate Insight. Read more