A guide to engaging your young alumni community
What is a Zoomer? (And why should you care?)
If you work in the education field, you can’t help but notice major differences between students entering universities and colleges today versus those of previous years. Affectionately dubbed “Zoomers” (modeled on their predecessors—the “Boomers”), this charming group of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s is also sometimes also referred to as Generation Z, or Gen Z.
You can spot a Zoomer by the smartphone glued to their hand and the mastery they seem to have over anything and everything digital. Having grown up in the era of mobile technology, Zoomers don’t really know or understand an analog world. 98% of Gen Z-ers own a smartphone, according to a GWA survey, and more than half spend at least 10 hours a day on it—often more.
Whether it’s shopping, consuming content for education and fun, or connecting with friends and peers, Zoomers are accustomed to doing absolutely everything from their smartphone, laptop, iPad or other devices. Social media is also a big part of a Zoomer’s life; they use it to catch up on the news, sign up for special interest groups, research service providers and, of course, socialize.
While social media platforms rise and fall in popularity, Zoomers will gladly switch to the next big thing—and get up to speed within minutes. Multitasking is the Zoomers’ mantra, after all.
The demand for sophisticated and useful alumni networking programs during and beyond the university years is exceptionally high. In fact, many people make a decision about which university to attend based on the quality and reputation of their alumni network. As an alumni relations professional, you have both a golden opportunity and a challenge. By taking your alumni networking activities online, you’ll be able to meet the Zoomer generation where they are—on their mobile phones and computers.
And don’t worry that going online will alienate other student populations—you’ll be surprised at how many tech-savvy Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers there are out there. On the other hand, you’ll have to work hard to attract their attention away from all the other online media they consume.
A digital alumni networking platform like Graduway from Gravyty can help you unleash the full power of your alumni community by taking your community into the digital space. Just make sure you use it in the right way if you are to attract (and retain) a Zoomer’s attention for the long haul.
How to engage Gen Z
Show your personality
After spending six to nine hours per day consuming media online—as many Zoomers do—there comes a time where all the content just merges into one big blur. If you want your school to stick in their mind so that they come back to your platform regularly, you need to pay attention to your brand identity and personality.
Gen Z is more likely to notice you if you have a memorable voice and online personality. When devising your alumni engagement strategy decide how you will speak to your audience:
- Will your voice be casual and chatty?
- Will you use humor or witty expressions?
- Will you be clear, direct and informative?
Whatever you decide, stick to your style in all your communications and you’ll have a much greater chance of being memorable to a Zoomer.
Be clear about your mission and beliefs
Whether it’s because Zoomers grew up with social media and are accustomed to expressing their opinions to a mass audience, or it’s just a generational characteristic, Zoomers have strong opinions and are not afraid to speak up about them online or elsewhere. They also admire the same quality in others and respect those who stand by their convictions and speak boldly about what they believe in.
To earn a Zoomer’s respect, be clear about your values. Zoomers are probably the most accepting generation so far and tend to move in culturally diverse circles counting LGBTQIA+ people and those of other cultures and ethnicities among their friends. Use your online platform to make your commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and accessibility absolutely clear.
You can do this by uploading materials that clearly state your DEI policies and also by showcasing a broad selection of ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and nationalities in your choice of student ambassadors, mentors, etc. You can also showcase your commitment to DEI in the volunteerism and fundraising opportunities you promote on your platform.
Environmental issues and sustainability are also prominent areas of concern for the current generation of students. Take some time to think about your policies regarding sustainability and communicate these online. If you’re committed to eradicating paper or have a scheme for collecting used electronic equipment, advertise this boldly and colorfully on your platform.
Be entertaining and interactive
As Gen Z spend so much time online and have seen almost every type of content that exists many times over, it can be hard to catch their attention and not lose it within a matter of seconds. To capture their interest, create content that is entertaining, amusing, or unique. Don’t just churn out the same old stories in the same old formats but really try to think outside of the box and find original ways to present your material. Be fearless and experiment with new formats and step outside of your comfort zone—Zoomers will forgive the odd “mistake,” and if the overall content is on the right track, they’ll come back to your platform repeatedly.
To avoid content fatigue or boredom, mix up written content with video, audio, infographics and memes. While being online a lot can mean that Zoomers are always “connected,” they are also considered one of the loneliest generations in recent memory.
To counteract the isolation that being online can sometimes create, try to use your alumni networking platform to boost interaction and help your constituents ”meet” one another—even if this is only online. Host webinars, interactive Zoom meetings, online discussions, or even quizzes and competitions. Create online groups based on location and encourage constituents to use the networking platform to arrange live meet-ups with their local peers.
Offer honesty and transparency
Zoomers appreciate honesty and transparency so, whatever you want to share, make it direct, and don’t be afraid to talk about difficult or uncomfortable subjects. In fact the more openly you approach difficult subjects, the more likely you are to earn the respect of Gen Z.
- Looking for ways to increase participation in mentorship programs from those of a lower socioeconomic group?
- Want to help students of a certain ethnicity integrate more fully into school life?
Write about these issues online and turn to your community for input. You can add a comments section beneath news items so students can share their thoughts and engage in online discussions. Incorporate social buttons at the end of all your posts so students can take the discussion further by sharing with their wider network on social media. This will remind those that haven’t yet signed up to your network to do so and will also help create a broader buzz around your school.
Show up often
Having lived through the Covid pandemic, Zoomers are accustomed to consuming news online, sharing articles of interest, and engaging in lively online discussions on social media. To generate lively discussion around your school, share school news regularly and allow your community to feel part of the action.
A news feed that is replenished daily or weekly will be more effective for a Gen Z consumer than a quarterly newsletter. It doesn’t have to be anything long or involved—just sharing a short snippet of information or posting pictures from last night’s beer fest will be enough to make a Zoomer feel connected to the wider community.
Get creative to drive engagement
For a generation that can at times suffer from media fatigue, you need to think creatively when trying to entice as many people as possible to interact with your platform. Keep it interesting by featuring contests, games, and other lively activities.
Spark some healthy competitive spirit by pitting different groups against each other. For example, hold a competition to see which graduating class can raise the most funds for a certain cause or which class can get the highest percentage of alumni to sign up for the platform.
Keep it personal
Authenticity and vulnerability are keywords in the online generation. Social media has made it possible for people to offer intimate glimpses of their lives or share their heart-felt opinions with a mass audience—and Gen Z has no reservations in doing so. To truly capture the hearts and minds of a Zoomer, share authentic stories about real people.
Here are some suggestions:
- Let students create videos where they talk about how a certain program impacted their lives.
- Ask mentors and mentees to record their feelings about the mentorship experience, being as open as possible.
- When raising money for a certain cause, ask previous beneficiaries to record videos sharing the impact this initiative had on them.
- Encourage alumni to write in and share their own stories if their experience can help others in some small way. For example, someone who found a job using the alumni platform.
Create your strong and vibrant young alumni community
Zoomers might only make up a small portion of your entire alumni community, but it is an increasingly important and rapidly growing one. As Zoomers come of age, graduate, and increase their spending power, you will find it increasingly essential to understand how to effectively engage and tap into this audience.
Start establishing a foundational connection by building the basis of a strong, vibrant digital alumni community today. The more you capture the hearts and minds of Gen Z while they are still at school, the more likely you are to inspire them to want to give back to the institution long-term.
Learn how Graduway from Gravyty enables you to engage your alumni anytime, anywhere. Get a demo.