Matthew Herek currently serves as the assistant director of young alumni in the office of alumni relations and development at Northwestern University.
“Join LinkedIn,” is a phrase that many alumni relations professionals have used in the past several years when asked for job hunting advice from constituents. At Northwestern, constantly imploring people to do so seems to have worked. As of today, there are over 20,000 alumni in the “official” Northwestern group. That’s not a bad number when you consider we work from an alumni base of roughly 200,000 people.
And yet, what purpose does the group serve? Is it a place to advertise yourself? The “19th hole” to discuss the events of the day? A marketing tool for events (career and otherwise) around the country? It certainly could be any of these things, but one area where we have found success is using the LinkedIn group as a junction of knowledge bases for mutual enrichment between students and alumni.
For the past three years, the Northwestern Alumni Association has partnered with instructors teaching an experiential and interdisciplinary course called NUvention. The students in the class are exposed to the entire product and business development life cycle in the course of a 12 week class. Towards the end of the class, the students take their products to alumni for refinement of their business models.
This spring, the class has been taught by Todd Warren, a Northwestern Trustee and former Microsoft vice president, and Professor Mike Marasco. The focus this quarter was on web apps. Students from five different schools on campus, representing engineering, journalism, liberal arts, communications and business, have formed eight different teams.
The abbreviated timeframe of the class would make taking these product ideas out to alumni impractical. Instead, as the owner of the LinkedIn group, the Northwestern Alumni Association has created a specific subgroup for the NuVention class. We then invited all of our LinkedIn members and Facebook fans to join us in the subgroup. Approximately 500 alumni joined the group beyond the 500 who had participated in the past.
The discussions between the students and the alumni have been interesting and helpful. It is proving to be a great way for alumni in business to give back to the school by interacting with students. Promotion of this group has caused alumni to move from lurking to engaging with community members. At the same time, the students find out exactly what refinements their products would need before they could consider taking them to market. (In some cases these groups will take their ideas and look for angel investors or venture funding.)
LinkedIn groups can be utilized to a higher level than what most schools are currently doing. Consider taking a step back and using this prime real estate as a spot for engaging students and alumni in unique ways. Is your institution doing anything interesting with LinkedIn?