By Luke Deering
If your university is searching for a vendor to provide an alumni network, think carefully about what your request for proposal needs to include. We find that, nearly without fail, institutions send out RFPs for online communities that fail to ask one vital question of potential vendors: How will your platform enable us, the institution, to generate engagement with our audience to make this community worth our investment?
Universities launch private alumni networks (such as alumni directories and e-mentoring platforms) with the goal of increasing quality engagement between the university and its alumni network. Typically, the hope is that a private network will create stronger affinity throughout the alumni body, increasing the number of graduates who give back to the university, be it through volunteering or donations.
In 2017, we noticed that a third of our new clients had an existing online community for their alumni (created either in-house or by a third party). These institutions had created private alumni networks with the hope of enticing alumni. While these systems generated alumni registrations, they did not lead to a statistically significant level of engagement among registered users.
Most of the RFPs that we receive are incredibly robust around security, features, branding and data ownership. This is great when it comes to vetting all sorts of technology; however, the currency of an alumni network is engagement. Surprisingly, and almost without exception, these RFPs do not include questions that would quantify the ability of a vendor’s technology to generate the desired levels of engagement and, therefore, make them worth the financial investment.
In short, all alumni network RFPs ask, “Does the technology have a big red button?” but they rarely ascertain, “Will the desired percentage of users consistently return to press that button?”
Interestingly, we have found the level of engagement experienced by our users positively correlates with our development and iteration of features. Maybe surprisingly, there is little measurable difference in the level of user engagement at an Ivy League university or at a small independent college. Thus, it should make it easy for vendors to be able to empirically state what engagement their network will be able to generate.
RFPs for online communities should address the concept of affinity scoring. Affinity scoring, or affinity analysis, is a data mining method used to discover relationships shared between specific individuals or groups that illustrate a pattern of behavior. It’s also referred to as “engagement scoring” and is commonly used to determine the affinity of donors to a particular institution.
Applying elements of affinity scoring to your RFP process will enable institutions to determine a score for each technology provider on its ability to generate engaged, repeat users. Consider including the following questions in your RFP:
- What percent of contactable alumni should we expect to join when adhering to the provider’s best practices?
- What percent of users return to the platform monthly?
- What percent of each user type connect with Facebook/LinkedIn/other social accounts?
- What percent of mentors should we expect to engage in a mentoring relationship?
These are just a few examples of questions to consider in an RFP for an online community. The bottom line is that if institutions ask the right questions, they will be better equipped to decide on a private online community provider that best fits their needs—from technology and security to branding and engagement. And having that perfect fit means universities can avoid the frustration of moving from one provider to another.
Check out the two RFP templates that include what we at VineUp call an online community affinity score or OCAS. These RFP templates will help universities score each technology provider on its ability to generate engaged, returning users, with respect to the universities’ unique requirements.
Luke Deering is cofounder and managing director at VineUp.