Show Of Hands Showcase: Thought Leadership On The Future Of Digital Engagement

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Julie Decker (Florida State) and Josh Harraman (Rutgers), co-chairs of the 2021 CASE Summer Institute in Alumni Relations, used CAAE’s Show of Hands platform to ask members their thoughts on the future of digital engagement, to share with newcomers to our profession. A sampling of replies follows.

Jorge Ancona (UC Riverside)

Digital Engagement is here to stay. Some of it we were already doing prior to COVID-19; Mentorships programs or leveraging video conferencing on various platforms for career webinars. More and more, alumni expect us to engage them where they are. If anything, this time of working remotely has taught us that we can deliver content and engage our constituents online, removing regional limitations imposed by in-person events

Raphe Beck (UOregon)

We went from 100 percent in-person events and zero percent virtual to zero percent in-person and 100 percent virtual. What's the right mix for the future? My best guess is that we'll be doing 50 percent in-person events; 25 percent virtual events; and 25 percent hybrid events (mix of both), including reunions, board meetings, and award programs.

Colin Hennessy (UChicago)

Alumni engagement will transition from a need to be in person to an interest in being more accessible to more people, either in person or online. Alumni engagement will also shift from occupying space to providing value-add, benefit rich programing that features increased connections to faculty and fellow alumni, centered on the intellectual capital of the University.

Gabrielle Korn (McGill)

Beyond the revelation that virtual programming has drawn the interest of both loyal and otherwise distant constituents resulting in deepened connections, as well as new-found friends, volunteers and donors, is the level of skill that is now both expected and required to succeed in providing the best online user experience our team can muster. Some of this user experience will be delivered through choice technology, but most will be derived through the incredible breadth of skill and creativity our team has acquired in seeking alternatives to fully in-person engagement.

Lisa Lewis (UMinnesota)

Digital engagement ramps up a "new" mode of engagement for our profession and is here to stay. It's cost-effective and expands our reach globally. Technology will catch up with our industry needs and eventually become more affordable. There are several unanswered questions: Are in-person experiences "better" than digital engagement in strengthening alumni bonds? Are hybrid events (both in-person and digital simultaneously) worth the investment and do they provide a deeply engaging experience for those attending virtually? In person event will become better planned and executed, and they will be used more strategically due to cost and ROI.

Donna MacPhee (Columbia)

Digital engagement will be a larger part of our programming and engagement opportunities than it was pre-pandemic but will probably not reach the same engagement levels as it has in the past year. It will be a key piece of our future strategy to engage alumni who can not or will not attend in person events.

Todd McCubbin (UMissouri)

Digital/Virtual engagement will allow us to scale engagement at levels we’ve not seen in our lifetimes. It is ultimate “meet alumni where they are at” opportunity.

Mike Pede (UHouston)

Digital Engagement for alumni relations is going to allow for a broader audience, especially those not in the hometown of the university, to participate in a meeting regular way. DE will be a game changer to open up and add the masses to those that can now participate regularly.

Sarah Schutt (UWisconsin-Madison)

Digital engagement is here to stay. We've created an expectation among our alumni and friends that they can access expert university content at any time, and we've been able to tap into markets not before reached. A recent survey of our alumni indicates an expectation that in-person events be special, unique and offer more value for them to make the commitment to attend. Digital will be the way to go to scale and in-person will become smaller and more exclusive.

Dene Sheheane (Georgia Tech)

Digital engagement is not an option, it is an imperative. As alumni professionals we are limited in the number of alumni we can reach in a traditional fashion. As our alumni numbers increase, it will be critical to determine how to maximize the use of technology to help alumni connect one to another as our direct involvement will not be always possible in all locations.

F. Hoopes Wampler (UPenn)

The future of digital engagement is strong, and it will continue to occupy a space in alumni relations for the foreseeable future. Still, digital engagement is not the same as in-person connections and hybrid models of engagement are costly. In addition, not all in-person will now be available digitally and standalone digital events will become part of the mix of offerings in alumni relations.

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