Putting the touch on alumni, the high-tech way

Schools looking to engage with former students have a friend in the UK/Israeli start-up Graduway

Graduating naval officers of the Israeli Navy toss their hats during a graduation ceremony (Photo credit: Ofir Shifrin/ IDF Spokesperson/Flash 90)
Graduating naval officers of the Israeli Navy toss their hats during a graduation ceremony (Photo credit: Ofir Shifrin/ IDF Spokesperson/Flash 90)

Whether it’s high school, college, or grad school, the institutions you studied at in your youth have a soft spot in their heart for you, and they want to keep in touch. Alumni groups are a big source of money for schools; you never know which graduate is going to be the one to donate that new library or fund the football team for the coming year.

But often schools have a hard time administering their alumni programs because they don’t have the resources to properly engage with former students. Even for those with the resources, convincing potential participants to engage with an alumni network is a major challenge.

UK/Israel-based start-up Graduway aims to change this. The company has created a platform that schools can plug into in order to create a ready-made alumni program that promises to engage students, get them involved with their alma maters — and, hopefully, inspire them to answer the call of duty by writing a check.

Graduway was an idea waiting to be born, said Daniel Cohen, CEO of the company. “We found that schools had lost contact with probably their most valuable asset — their alumni,” he said. “Existing alumni networking platforms contain outdated personal information and have infamously low engagement levels. Look at the user statistics of any existing alumni network and you will typically hear the deafening silence of a dead network.”

What makes Graduway different? The platform utilizes existing data on social networks by graduates to build an alumni network for its clients. It’s easy to get people to join an alumni network once you locate them, according to Cohen; but it’s not easy to keep them coming back considering the competition for their attention. Thus, alumni networks quickly become outdated and irrelevant, with little activity to attract members.

But there is power in the school name. According to research by Graduaway, alumni engagement levels are 600 percent higher in a branded alumni platform vs. a non-branded alumni platform. A school brand creates a trusted emotional bond with its alumni, inspiring pride, camaraderie and loyalty — leading to higher “commitment levels” by alumni (any doubts about what that means?). In addition, users are more likely to engage when there is a benefit for them — building professional contacts, getting introductions, and so on.

Graduway thus serves as a bridge between graduates’ social media presence and the school. The platform leverages Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, among others, to create contacts and relationships between members of those platforms in the context of the alumni group. Thus, alumni have a strong incentive to join and engage; their contact and friend lists grows, and they can get involved in conversations and events with others from the same school without having to integrate a separate social network into their daily lives.

Graduway works with “some of the world’s top institutions in the US, Europe, China, India, Mexico and South Africa,” the company said — some 40 institutions in 14 countries. Among the schools using Graduway: Rutgers University, Pace University, International University of Japan, Deakin University (Australia), Henley (University of Reading), and others of note.

Investors are impressed. Graduway closed a $1.1 million seed round last September with investors including former 888 CEO Gigi Levy, BTG Pactual and RSL Venture Partners. The platform is ready to go; schools can set one up in less than an hour.

“Schools love us because we are reconnecting them with their alumni and for the first time bringing real engagement,” said Cohen — and because they do, he added, he expects to be able to expand the program significantly this year. “The plan for 2013,” added Cohen, “is to continue signing up as many schools as we can with particular focus on top US schools.”

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