How to use social media to boost your alumni network

Northeastern University leveraged alumni voices to elevate its Instagram presence; you can, too

We started doing the Instagram Takeover to showcase what life is like as a graduate of Northeastern University. Instagram Takeovers, which cultivate a stronger sense of community and connection through conversation, collaboration, and sharing ideas and stories, last for seven days—Monday to Sunday. During that time, we expect alumni to post as least one photo a day that gives our followers a look at their life. These photos do not need to be in the office: They can depict a city, hobbies, volunteer work … it’s up to them.

The idea for the Instagram Takeovers was sparked by a case study presentation made at the CASE Social Media and Community Conference in Chicago in 2016. On the last day, DePaul University shared how they would let students take over the university Instagram account for a week to share their experiences while studying abroad, working an internship, or just living on campus. As I walked out of the presentation, I started brainstorming ways to bring this behind-the-scenes concept to the alumni community. Internal support for the idea was so overwhelming that in May of 2016, I rebranded the @northeastern_alumni Instagram account to be solely alumni Instagram Takeovers. I haven’t personally posted a photo to our account in 660 days and counting.

Through this strategy, we are able to leverage passionate alumni to help us create valuable, personal content that we would not have otherwise been able to capture and share.

Here’s how we make it happen.

Step 1: Recruit wisely.
Alumni who facilitate Instagram Takeovers are carefully selected and vetted before given access to our account. Initially, we worked with alumni who were already connected to the Office of Alumni Relations as volunteers, previously featured speakers, or just friends of employees.

Over time, this pool started to grow organically. Now, we have several additional means of recruitment beyond direct outreach, including recommendations from alumni who previously facilitated takeovers as well as regular promotion of the opportunity in digital communications.

(Next page: How to do an Instagram Takeover on your campus)

Instagram Takeovers also lend themselves to a fantastic stewardship opportunity. Colleagues throughout Northeastern University’s advancement division have tapped into Instagram Takeovers as an opportunity to keep socially-inclined alumni engaged as they move through the fundraising pipeline.

Step 2. Set up a scheduling and tracking process.
In most cases, there’s a minimum of four touch points with alumni before they take over the account: introducing the concept, scheduling a week, providing the user agreement, and sharing the credentials. To make sure content is compliant with our office’s standards, all alumni that facilitate takeovers need to review, sign, and return a Responsible Use Agreement that informs them of expectations and guidelines.

On the Monday of their scheduled takeover, I change the account bio to reflect the name, primary college, and year of graduation of the new alumnus/a. Then I send along the account credentials, including their personalized password for the week, as well as some notes about best practices.

Some alumni who have “taken over” include Nora, an internal accountant for Boston Scientific who was in Greece; Troy, an NBC correspondent who was in Rio for the Olympics; and Ken, a zookeeper at the Honolulu Zoo. We’ve also had a handful of co-facilitated takeovers in which two alumni—maybe colleagues or roommates or spouses—work together to develop and share content for the week.

All alumni that facilitate an Instagram Takeover have an involvement code added to their account record in the university’s CRM that includes the start and end date for their takeover. This makes is easy for staff members across the university to see who participated and when.

The results are in

Before Instagram Takeovers, our account had an average of 10 posts a month, 28 likes per photo, and 21 new followers a week. Since launching Instagram Takeovers, our account has an average of 31 posts a month, 58 likes per photo, and 26 new followers a week. We’ve netted more than 2,500 new followers in the 95 weeks since launch.

One reason for this growth is because the alumni who facilitate these takeovers are tapping into their own personal networks and asking their friends and family to follow our account to watch their takeover. While it’s impossible to tell, the numbers suggest that these new followers stick around long after the takeover is complete. We’re drawing followers in with content that feels authentic because it is.

To keep the content fresh and timely, alumni are not required to run their photos or captions by me before posting. This means that our followers get an in-the-moment glimpse into the life of the alumnus/a. Luckily, this hands-off approach to content creation has yet to cause any problems. In fact, it might be the key to the program’s success.

The seven-day takeover format is inviting because it gives alumni an opportunity to provide our followers with a more comprehensive look, something they could not be achieve with a one-day takeover. Followers have a new story to look forward to each week, which keeps them engaged, excited, and curious. Will an old friend be taking over the account next week?

Looking forward

As this concept evolves, we are looking for opportunities to keep the content exciting and relevant. One way we are doing this is by more closely aligning Instagram Takeovers with department events and initiatives. For example, in December we had an alumna take over the account the same week she was scheduled to lead a yoga class for Northeastern community members in the Boston area. And in March, we had an alumna who works in our office take over the account while she was in Texas for SXSW. This comprehensive strategy connects in-person events with online engagement in a way we haven’t seen before.

eSchool Media Contributors