February 6, 2014 3:29 pm


I know… I know… it’s not a good platform yet for regular, day-to-day engagement with alumni or anyone else for that matter. There’s a stadium full of people in Google+ but only a few people in the stands are watching the game. That’s not why I’m advocating the platform.

I’m advocating Google+ because I think they really have something with Hangouts On Air. I believe that the future of digital alumni engagement, which includes fundraising at the annual giving level, revolves around the live digital event as we work to increase participation.

Our "HoosNetwork" logo

Our “HoosNetwork” logo

Below are three types of content my team and I have begun creating using Google+ Hangouts On Air. We’re collecting data from interactions with the digital events like registrations, guests/contributors, comments from viewers and form submissions. The goal is to advance our ability to associate digital engagement with giving.

Google+ Hangouts On Air is a cheap way to create manageable, highly strategic content in just minutes that promotes events, introduces interesting people and offers web content that both entertains and informs.

1) The Live Digital Talk : 45-60 Minutes Starring Key Faculty, Staff or Alumni

We registered over 400 alumni, parents, students and friends for the below “HoosNetwork Live Digital Event” with Ryan Hargraves, Senior Associate Dean of Admissions. The event had a peak concurrent viewership of around 50% of registrants, over 400 playbacks in the few hours after the show, and the average view duration was 25:53 minuntes. More importantly, in the week since the event, the re-post of the event has had over 800 unique visitors according to the analytics. The UVA Global Network site where the post lives is our content hub – we’re trying to direct traffic so alumni will notice other events and initiatives.

The data from Ryan’s event and others like it is hugely important to developing our digital engagement strategy. One obvious takeaway is that most people didn’t stay with the show for its duration. The average time viewed during the live event was only 25 minutes. It’s a lot easier for someone to not show up on time or only attend part of a digital event. I also think a lot of people are doing other things during web events and are often distracted. I usually am.

So with that in mind, I think shorter content that is more digestable should own a big portion of production time and emphasis. We have begun shooting and publishing short, digital interviews with interesting alumni living around the world. These events, called “Creative Connections,” are live too, but the goal is not concurrent viewership. Instead, Hangouts On Air delivers content that is ready within minutes to publish on our website with a Youtube embed and share using other social platforms.

The video below is a recent interview with an alumnae living in Dubai. With Google Hangouts On Air, an alumnae like Alana Witte can be interviewed from a coffee shop on the other side of the planet in real time. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your university is also trying to foster the growth of its international initiatives, right?

2) The Short Interview: 7-10 minutes, 5 questions

Another type of digital event is the “rundown” or weekly digest. Short videos like these can be done using Hangouts On Air where the goal is to promote a couple regional events, a fundraising priority, and a digital influencer referral. During our “Weekly Rundowns” we always mention a #Hoo-2-Follow.

3) The Weekly Rundown: 5 Minute or Less News Report

Over the next several months we’ll begin to get better at doing live digital events and further integrate fundraising messages into the content like sponsor advertisements. We’ll try some live reads and logo screen shares for AccessUVA or the Rotunda Restoration. I think Google Hangouts On Air is not only the new frontier when it comes to digital alumni engagement, it’s also a great place to try some new web-based fundraising techniques because we see ads during our online video consumption all the time. We digest marketing messages on the internet all the time, why shouldn’t our alumni engagement content be the same?

I’d love to have your thoughts!

Ryan Catherwood is the Director of Engagement Strategy at the University of Virginia and Co-Host of “Advancement Live.” You can follow him on twitter @RyanCatherwood and connect on Linkedin.


Ryan Catherwood

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