Building your Alumni Network into a Value Creation Platform

Principal, Toronto Office

Providers of a shared experience are providing their customers something of value beyond the experience itself. The network formed by alumni participants compliments and catalyzes the value of the originating experience.

As a personal example, the education I received at Trinity University contributed to my ability to qualify for my employment at Pariveda and do well in my last seven years here. None of that value would have been realized if it had not been for the Trinity University alumni network and a connection made by an alumnus ten years my senior, a “classmate” I had never met in my four years in school. Though the education prepared me for the job, it was the network that opened the door to the opportunity.

What is typically viewed as four annual tuition payments for a four-year education, has for me been an upfront payment for a lifetime membership in a community that has repaid every nickel with interest. Universities, employers, fellowship programs, and others that create a shared experience are creating valuable networks for themselves and their alumni.

Strong alumni networks can form the basis of a virtuous cycle, providing high value inputs into an organization’s recruiting pipeline at a fraction of the cost. Alumni who leave an organization or experience and go on to greater success certainly help the brand by granting it prestige. Alumni who understand this value are invested in improving outcomes for the originating organization. These alumni will feed a steady stream of referrals (recruits, opportunities, etc.) aligned to the organization’s objectives which they will know better than the average third-party source. Recruits found by alumni will be better aligned, receive greater benefit, and be more invested in feeding the cycle with additional referrals as they too become alumni. Case in point, the aforementioned classmate was also an alumnus of Pariveda.

Building an Alumni Network

But from the organization’s perspective, how do you quantify your alumni network and build it as a platform? There are three fundamental factors that create a network conducive to valuable interactions:

1. Network composition: The people who make up the alumni network including the number of members, the consistent or aggregate qualities of alumni and notable members of the group.
2. Network density: The number of connections among and between alumni and the degree of separation between any two members of the network
3. Network conductance: The ease with which value flows through the network. A member’s willingness to ask for or aid other members of the network, as well as efficiently routing a member with a need to the appropriate alumni providers.

Foundationally, these are the key dimensions that impact the ability for alumni to derive value from a network.

Measuring the Value of an Alumni Network

You can measure your alumni network across these dimensions to determine where investments can be made to improve the network’s potential value to members. Each dimension can be assessed against the following model:

Level 1: Detracting value - Membership is detrimental, and acknowledgment of the organization and its other members is often avoided.
Level 2: Value neutral - Membership does not help or hurt network members.
Level 3: Ancillary value - Membership may provide a marginal increase in opportunities due to affinity of the members and/or the organization.
Level 4: Direct value - Membership provides tangible benefits to its members through reputation or other means.
Level 5: Sustained value - Membership is mutually beneficial for the organization and its financially, emotionally, or otherwise invested members.

Where does your network fall on its composition, density and conductance? By not limiting your assessment of a network’s value to a directly quantifiable value to the organization (e.g. donations or referrals), you avoid blinders that distract from the greater gain of building a robust platform for value creation.

These networks do not exist in a vacuum and investment in them needs to be aligned to an organization’s purpose. You must determine whether the value proposition of an alumni network is right for your organization, and if so, what level of network would fulfill your organizational needs.

After determining your purpose and assessing your current levels, you can strategize and create a plan to improve the value creation potential of your alumni network. Every organization is different, and the nuances impact the best tactics for improving their alumni networks. Expanding assessment of a network beyond a one to many transactional lens enables an organization to build a platform for its alumni.