Alumni 'like' OU social media

When Jim Harris steps into work, he logs into Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn right away.

Harris, the assistant director of alumni marketing and communications, manages social media for the Ohio University Alumni Association. With these networks, OU has massively increased its online presence, according to a report recently released by the association.

“As an alumnus myself, I don’t want to put something out there if it’s not going to make alumni smile,” Harris said. “Sometimes, I give a simple ‘Good morning,’ or ‘Go Bobcats.’”

OU has more than 197,000 living alumni, about 105,000 of whom still live in Ohio. Nearly 75,000 of the alumni receive the association’s newsletter.

However, with an increasing number of alumni going online, fewer people are reading what OU sends in the mail, said Graham Stewart, executive director of the OU Alumni Association.

With so many online, the association becomes only one voice in the conversation, which Harris said he believes is a good thing.

Harris said the alumni base has begun to sustain itself in order to maintain the image of the school on OU’s webpages.

“With 21,000 fans, if something is said (on the Facebook page,) someone might have responded (before me),” Harris said. “A lot of alumni might have answered the questions. If I have something I think will resonate with the community, I’ll add it.”

OU’s alumni page has the largest following of any school in the state, with more than 21,000 followers. Miami University has about 12,000 followers while Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University have a little more than 11,300.

These numbers mean OU is successfully reaching out and engaging more alumni, Stewart said.

“Fewer and fewer people are reading our emails and the things we send in the mail,” he said. “We have to go where people are. The number of fans shows people are paying attention … it’s almost 10 percent of all our alumni.”

Staff members are spending more time on social media to entice alumni engagement, Stewart said, noting projects including photographing local rental properties for Facebook and allowing alumni who have lived there over the years to network with each other. A similar project is in the works for Athens restaurants, he said.

To Sam Venable, assistant director of annual giving, the added attention online likely translates to more money raised.

“Anecdotally, I can say, yes, giving is up.” Venable said.

The online presence helps keep alumni more aware of what is going on around the university, allowing them to feel more connected, he said. However, Venable said he did not think social media would overtake traditional means of fundraising — only that it was another outlet for alumni to stay involved.

“Long-term, the backbone of giving will still be face-to-face,” Venable said. “But social media outreach plays a big part of how people connect to the university and makes a big part of especially how younger alums feel connected to OU.”


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