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The MSU Alumni Association Rides the Social Media Wave


  • Published: 07/05/2010
With the current surge in social media, the MSUAA has leveraged a new communication strategy to become a lifetime network for alumni.

                On March 28, just hours before MSU's basketball team returned to campus from its NCAA regional championship win in St. Louis against Tennessee, Scott Westerman, executive director of the MSU Alumni Association, pursued an idea.
                Wouldn't alumni around the world want to experience the rousing homecoming that was awaiting this triumphant team?  Thousands of students and fans would pack the Breslin Center to honor these warriors who fought their way into a Final Four despite multiple injuries. Spartan fans also wanted to honor Coach Tom Izzo, whose March mastery includes six Final Fours in 12 seasons-the best record of any men's basketball coach in America.  
Why not allow alumni around the globe to savor this moment?  So reasoned Bob Groves, MSU vice president for University Advancement, and Westerman.
                "We set up a Ustream feed, and we started tweeting the link, and put it out on Facebook," Westerman told the Lansing State Journal.  "We were saying, ‘If you can't be with us at the Bres tonight, join us on Ustream for the welcome home event.'"
                The upshot?  Within an hour, more than 1,000 people from some 30 states and as far away as Australia and Bulgaria tuned in to the live Internet broadcast (at msustream.com).  A few days later, many more-call them Alumni 2.0-were able to see live streaming video of the MSU pep rally near the team hotel in Indianapolis, as well as of the Butler game-watch party at Jillian's, a downtown Indianapolis bar where nearly 200 Spartans gathered.
                Before the advent of social media, such scenarios were hard to imagine.  But Westerman, a retired cable television executive and social media guru, knows how to leverage the power of social media to create faster, vaster and more meaningful connections with alumni.  The Ustream broadcast is merely one example of how he and his staff are transforming the MSU Alumni Association's ability to deliver services to its members.  
Westerman wants to double the MSUAA's membership, currently around 34,000 (out of more than 400,000 alumni worldwide).  He is working hard to position the MSU Alumni Association as one's "personal network for life"-a service organization that can help alumni at every life stage, from finding a job to settling down in a new community to pursuing continuing education.  He believes social media, with its speed and viral reach, can serve as a tool in achieving that goal.
What is "social media"?  The term refers to the dissemination of information via social interaction on the Web, through such vehicles as Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter and YouTube, or emerging sites such as Foursquare. Social media relies on consumer-generated content, such as the videos on YouTube or the information in Wikipedia. Social media is characterized by interactivity and conversation, which contrasts with the traditional media where one-way information is "pushed" out via print, radio and television. Social media has been gathering momentum throughout the 2000s; what started out as a tool for social networking has grown into a marketing tool for businesses and organizations, as alumnus Erik Qualman, '94, professor of digital marketing at Hult International Business School, explains in his book Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business (Wiley, 2009). Qualman's "Social Media Revolution" video on YouTube, by the way, has been viewed 1.8 million times and gives a pithy explanation of this new development.
"In the old days, neighbors would gather around the back fence and eventually any news would make its way around the entire neighborhood," notes Westerman.  "Social media works the same way, except it's exponentially faster and the communities might be much larger. Instead of geographical neighborhoods, for example, you can have national or international groups based on commonalities."
                 Westerman's boss, Bob Groves, also has learned to navigate that environment with the ease of a digital native. Last year, for example, he sent out holiday greetings via a multi-media presentation on YouTube.  He boasts hundreds of followers on Twitter.
                "The advent of social media requires us to change how we listen, and it requires us to think differently about how we communicate," says Groves, who foresees new social media applications in alumni engagement and fundraising.  "Just as television didn't kill radio, social media has not killed traditional ways of communicating.  Print media will still be with us, but there are new tools that provide the means for two-way communication.
                "That's very powerful because we've always been motivated by word-of-mouth. In an over-marketed society, people are looking for authenticity, so when a friend tells you something you're more likely to respond."
Others in the MSUAA are making an impact in social media, including John Hill, executive director of alumni career services, who recently provided testimony to a state legislative committee on the use of social media, and Tim Bograkos, young alumni coordinator, who regularly posts flip videos of young alumni activities on the MSU Alumni channel in YouTube.  MSU Advancement, which includes both University Development and the MSU Alumni Association, hosts a Flickr site where Spartans can view photos of events such as the Alamo Bowl trip. And MSU's College of Communication Arts & Sciences, led by Dean Pamela Whitten and a number of expert faculty members, remains on the national cutting edge of social media research.
                The MSU Alumni Association currently boasts a presence in social media-with 2,800 subscribed to its Facebook account (vs. 40,000 for MSU), 3,700 followers on Twitter, and more than 18,000 on Linked-In.  An MSUAA channel on YouTube has gained more than 1,500 subscribers in three months. Westerman also authors numerous blogs and produces many Webcasts related to MSU and the association. He has created msustream.com, a live-streaming site where, for example, in April alumni around the globe tuned in to an MSUAA-sponsored social media lecture by Qualman on campus.  The newly designed MSU Alumni Association homepage (alumni.msu.edu) prominently features social media logos along with live chat and Skype, a Web-based video calling system.
One powerful aspect of social media is its "viral" component, where message recipients keep passing it on to others; a recent tweet about an MSUAA co-sponsored IBM recruitment fair, for example, was re-tweeted at least 40 times. Twitter, created in 2006, has made the cover of Time magazine and the word "tweet" is now widely used as a verb much like "google."
                "If you have 100 followers on Twitter, and they each average 100 followers, then potentially every tweet you make can reach 10,000 people," says John Hill of the viral nature of micro-blogging, which reaches not just those wit

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