How to build a 50,000-strong virtual community

How to build a strong virtual alumni community

Learnings + advice from UCLA

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), founded in 1919, is a top-rated public research university. The university is home to the College and 12 professional schools offering more than 5,000 courses in a wide range of undergraduate majors, master’s programs, doctoral and professional programs and minors. UCLA takes pride in the diversity of its student body and in providing opportunities for students of various socioeconomic backgrounds.

Alumni engagement at UCLA

UCLA alumni are affectionately dubbed “Bruins,” and being a Bruin is considered a lifelong commitment. The school operates under the philosophy of the “Bruin promise,” which specifies:

“We network with each other, we support each other, we lift each other up, we hire each other and we support each other through our lifespan.”

UCLA began its association with Graduway in 2013—a time when the university was re-thinking its engagement strategy and looking for ways to enrich and expand its graduate engagement program. 

In March 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA revived its digital engagement platform UCLA ONE (powered by Graduway from Gravyty). The platform serves as an online community place where Bruins can meet, greet, socialize and leverage the collective power of a vast alumni network to offer or receive the assistance of other Bruins.

As active, career-based networking is an essential part of being a Bruin and a core feature of the school’s engagement strategy, the UCLA ONE platform is a core professional development tool offered by the University.

UCLA ONE is administered by one full-time staff member assisted by any of the seven staff members assigned to the Alumni Career Engagement team. The platform has acquired a staggering 50,000 registered users in just over five years.

12 top tips for building an online community

1. Start from day one

If you want your students and alumni to regularly engage with your online community, you have to educate and inform them of its value. Students are encouraged to enroll in UCLA ONE while still in school and use the alumni mentor services as early as possible.

“By saying yes to UCLA, you are saying yes to becoming part of the wider community. We make this very clear from the day our students enroll at UCLA.”

Julie Sina, Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Affairs, The UCLA Foundation and UCLA Investment Company

2. Provide age-related content

To serve your alumni community best and boost engagement from across the age range of your members, think about what content is most relevant to each age group and create content around those topics. 

While UCLA initially focused UCLA ONE toward younger alumni (40% of alumni were under age 30 at the time of launch), feedback received from older alumni who felt underrepresented caused them to rethink their content strategy. The result was a series of programs called “The Second Act,” focusing on alums in their fifties, sixties and seventies. They even have a program for their centurions. Hugely-popular topics included reinventing yourself and re-crafting a resume in your sixties.

3. Build partnerships

Collaboration with another relevant department in the school is one of the best ways to ensure the success of your online platform. One of UCLA’s primary goals is to ensure that the different stakeholders and departments do not remain in their silos but instead collaborate to provide students and alumni with a seamless experience.

 UCLA ONE’s administrator collaborates closely with the career center and the alumni association. All resources shared by the career center on their Handshake platform are accessible in UCLA ONE.

4. Make it easier to volunteer

The interactive “Offer to Help” feature within Graduway helps schools acquire volunteers for specific roles rapidly.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA was faced with the fact that many in-house internships were suddenly canceled. They turned to the UCLA ONE community, asking for volunteers who could provide virtual job shadowing or other virtual career opportunities, asking them to raise their hand if they could help. The response was overwhelming, largely due to the ease of the “Offer to Help” button.

5. Stay relevant

Always consider current events and industry trends when planning and creating content. UCLA saw a significant uptick in return visits during the pandemic, largely due to a series of timely webinars that addressed navigating careers in a pandemic with topics like looking for a job during a pandemic, networking to find internships and small business tips to apply for emergency loans. By hitting on the right topics at the right time, UCLA is set up to boost alumni engagement in a big way.

6. Build intimate communities around shared interests

Building smaller, more intimate communities within your larger community can help users make meaningful, lasting connections. During the early stages of expanding UCLA ONE, many small businesses struggled due to the pandemic. 

By creating the “Bruin-owned Businesses” community within UCLA ONE, UCLA is creating a mutually-supportive space for those undergoing similar challenges.

7. Harness the power of the crowd

When building your smaller communities, use the power of the crowd to drive growth. Ask members to reach out to their networks and invite others to join the conversations, programs and events the group is running.

8. Tell alumni how to help

Most alumni are passionate about and excited to help their alma mater; they just need to be told what is needed. Make it clear what kind of help you’re seeking, such as mentors, speakers for seminars and events, regional volunteers, among other things.

9. Broadcast events + opportunities

One of the best ways to ensure high traffic and encourage return visits is by using the Feed to broadcast opportunities, events and resources. Encourage your alumni audience to share the information with their peers.

10. Build relationships with campus partners

Create partnerships with a wide range of faculties and departments to ensure that alumni programs reach every corner of your institution. UCLA works with many stakeholders, including the Engineering School and the Dean of Life Science, to create a plan for effectively stewarding and engaging their students and alumni over time. 

11. Integrate Graduway with your other tools

For seamless, effective alumni engagement, integrate your other engagement tools with your Graduway platform. With social networks like Instagram and LinkedIn, CRM platforms and designated tools like Handshake, Graduway integrates with your existing platforms to get the most out of your alumni engagement efforts.

12. Interact with other schools

You’re not the only school using Graduway. Join the Gravyty Leaders Community to interact with other schools, share advice and learn best practices from your peers. UCLA has benefited from connecting with a phenomenal and supportive community of Gravyty users worldwide.

Learn how Graduway from Gravyty enables you to engage your alumni anytime, anywhere. Get a demo.

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