Friday, March 7, 2008

Schools Using Facebook to Track Alumni

Talk about blast from the past. In the last few weeks I have met or corresponded with a handful of old high school chums I haven't seen in, well 30 years. And a lot of it is due to Facebook.

My old alma mater, Dana Hall School, a very traditional, conservative New England all-girls boarding school, got hip to new media last year by launching a Facebook page for alumnae. Corinne Corrigan, who is their Director of Alumnae Relations and a fellow member of the class of '77, was behind the effort. She told me she was anxious to get it going but faced delays as the school was in the midst of setting a policy for Facebook. It turns out that they had to limit student's use of the social networking site because it was interfering with their studies (surprise surprise). But once that was addressed they gave her the go ahead.

I found all this out at a reception the school held here in Manhattan last week (which I got invited to thru Facebook), where I also caught up with some of my former classmates. They're all doing such interesting stuff! That's me in the picture with the white turtleneck, and to my left is Nancy Kelting, who is an investment banker at JP Morgan. Xanda McCagg (to my right) is an artist and entrepreneur (she just launched Art Introductions), Linda Kimbrell owns a tropical resort hotel along with her husband called Casa Cayuco in a small island off Panama's coast, that's Corinne with the "I Love NY" t-shirt, and Susana Copperman who works for HSM, a company that puts together business forums with world leaders. But the biggest surprise of all came when I found out that Joy Haywood, who was not in attendance, just moved to South Africa as interim head at Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls. Way to go Joy!

Getting back to Facebook, when I asked Corinne why they decided to create a page on the site she explained that it was mostly to reach the more recently graduated students. "Our target is the young alumnae, 10 years out. After college they tend to move around a lot and don't respond to traditional modes of communication, so we'd lose track of them", explains Corinne. "Their home address is unknown, there's no email address or phone number so we'd have no way of getting in touch with them." But the one place you can be sure to find them is on Facebook.

Fundraising is crucial to private schools - at Dana Hall 30% of operating funds come from alumnae and other gifts - so tracking down former students is important in that effort. "We use Facebook to invite people to events and ask questions. When the Class of '03 had their 5th year reunion we sent out a post to find out where people wanted to eat dinner. We also use it to ask others "do you know where so-and-so is?" It's a great way to use the collective memory pool and generate Dana memories," adds Corinne. For alumni it's fun to see pictures and find out what everyone is up to. The group has grown to 597 members, and now the individual alumni classes are setting up their own Facebook pages, like there's one for the Class of '86, and '98 and '03.

Schools are finally following in their student's footsteps and finding clever ways to use Facebook for their own purposes. Seems like the tables have turned, with the teachers learning from the students!

Does your alma mater have a Facebook page?


Arlene said...

I read about your blog on the NY Times and I just realized, you're a fellow boricua! This particular entry (New Media in PR) made me quite homesick, I haven't been in PR in almost 7 years. Old San Juan is so full of memories for me and I miss my food and the ocean's hard going back, though. Not sure why. On the other hand, the reason I checked you out is because I read several blogs, have started a gardening blog (only a few posts), and I often wondered if I can translate this medium into a business. I work as a Copyeditor/Translator for a Hispanic Ad Agency in Dallas, TX, but I have always wanted to run my own business.
I will be 48 in May and I came to the states in 1983, after graduating from college. I raised two boys on my own and with them in college now, I am eager to try something new. I will continue reading your posts for hints and I wish you the best of luck. It's nice to see a boricua girl doing well!

Carmina Pérez said...

Hi Arlene,
Loved hearing from you, and congrats on your new blog! You can definitely make a business out of it; all it takes is a little hard work and a lot of perseverance. I'll give you one piece of advice that was given to me when I started out: just keep writing!