I have been involved in some behind the scenes consulting on a new Alumni social community launched by my alum-mater, Anderson University. Hat tip to Bart Caylor of Brainstorm on the design and functionality of the site. They did an awesome job!

The site was in beta testing for a couple of months before launching on August 1, 2008. They are already approaching 700 members!

I want to examine the reasons why I feel they have been successful in gaining members to the community. There are a couple of reasons why people have joined the Anderson Alums network, making the site a reality.

1. Pre-Launch Traditional Marketing
2. WOM Viral Marketing by Creators
3. Brand Loyalty
4. NING Network Not Facebook

Pre-Launch Traditional Marketing

In general, social media communities have a hard time finding the resources to push a traditional marketing campaign. Most of the time a beta relies completely on word-of-mouth through blogs, email blasts, and micro-blogs (thank god for tiny-url). Anderson University happened to have the resources to send out a direct mail campaign to alumni. I received a letter (an invitation to join), a magnet to place on my fridge, and a car sticker. I would be interested to see how many people joined the network because of the direct mail campaign. Survey Monkey anyone?

Our alumni magazine also featured a HUGE section on social media and how it is changing the landscape of communication. The articles touted the new social community sporadically through the writing.

When it comes to producing, marketing, and maintaining a social community catered to a more niche group. Sometimes it works to tack on a traditional marketing strategy prior to the launch date of the community. Traditional Marketing with Social Media? Seriously? YES. Seriously.

WOM Viral Marketing by Creators

Chris Williams and Ben Davis did an excellent job in talking up and promoting the social network. They allowed for some influential members of the community to join the network before the launch. This applied the “ego-stroking” technique. I have always agreed with the huge role ego plays in building social capital. Show loyalists preferential treatment and they will push the network to their friends, family, and contacts. Word-of-mouth marketing at the finest.

Brand Loyalty

Higher Education can have fairly significant brand loyalty among the alumni. The 4-6 (or more) years you spend in college are some of best years of your life. For most, the amount of emotional development experienced in college is off the charts. You create friendships for life and memories that will last a lifetime. I would also be curious on how many people joined for experiencing the memories again, if only as a small amount.

Ning Network not Facebook

Being a graduate of 2006 it is hard for me to imagine another form of communication other than Facebook. Facebook became extremely popular in the “higher education” environment around my freshman year of college. Most, if not all, of my classmates are on Facebook and we use that for communication between each other.

What the NING platform brings to the table is a new experience for the older alumni generations. This is an open platform with ease of use design. If the alumni network was launched on Facebook we would have seen an increase in membership from classes of 2004-2009. Most of the Gen X and Baby Boomer generation wouldn’t have touched an alumni network on Facebook. The Anderson Alums network on NING brings a fresh look and ability to touch other generations.

Moving Forward: The Added-Value

I am under the assumption that professionals in the social media world like Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, and SheGeeks would agree with me when I say: Membership (bulk number of members) isn’t important, it is about the content creation. A social media community is not worth spit unless the members are active and creating content. I am interested to see if the Anderson Alum network can take the 700 members and push them to create content.

A social media community becomes important only when it has an added-value proposition to an individuals life. What is Anderson Alums added-value? For me, it is connecting to older alumni who I never met in school. Other professionals who have become successful in business and in life. My added-value will only become a reality if the other side of the coin is active.