Like many solo social media managers at scholarship programs or small institutions, I juggle multiple communications roles at the Morehead-Cain Foundation at UNC Chapel-Hill. Every day I help create content and printed materials for selections and recruitment, student affairs and events, and alumni advancement.
My creative output covers a little bit of everything. And meeting each audience’s specific needs can be a challenge.
While there may be differences in the messages to each group, there is one constant: quality service.
What do I mean by quality service? Making sure that our constituents — scholars, alumni, friends, campus colleagues, the world — are welcomed with warmth, charm, and friendliness. We strive to exceed any and all expectations.
What does quality service look like in practice? It’s my goal to approach every interaction with a visitor — whether at our offices or on social media — as if it’s the first of many. Meeting you is merely the first step of knowing you.
For decades this style of relationship building happened in physical spaces.
Alumni would mail letters to the Foundation — and many still do — to share news about career developments, weddings and childbirths, and random connections with other alumni. In recent years this spirit of quality service has expanded into the digital realm with our emails and social media greetings.
We place a premium on building lasting personal relationships. From the start, we strive to be as warm and welcoming as possible.
This commitment is nurturing a community that is more interested than it’s ever been about what’s happening with the program, the scholars, and at UNC-Chapel Hill. The number of followers on social media has grown 44 percent since the beginning of 2015, and last year our quarterly email newsletter averaged a 49 percent open rate and 13 percent click rate. The need to be in-the-know is insatiable.
These efforts — to build strong, meaningful, and genuine relationships — have a significant impact on the program and its future. Every year hundreds of alumni volunteer to read applications or interview candidates. Hundreds more visit to speak with scholars, connect with and mentor scholars, and host summer internships. Since 2010, annual alumni gifts to the Morehead-Cain Scholarship Fund have more than doubled. Last year more than 40 percent of Morehead-Cain Alumni made a gift. Thanks, in part, to our quality service approach.
Here are four things you can do to implement a quality service approach at your institution:
1. Approach every introduction as the first of many interactions, not a one-off.
I approach each introduction — to a prospective student, parent, alumnus or alumnae, friend of the Foundation, etc. — as the first of many encounters to come. Online, and off. Everyone I meet is a new friend and must be treated as such. Meaningful, long-term relationships start with being nice.
The effort is worth it. I have met the most fascinating, brilliant, and inspiring people during the past three years. I happen to think this approach is easiest to implement because, honestly, so many of my colleagues in higher ed adopt this approach already. Being a good person is as important as doing a good job.
2. Allow digital interactions to drive real-world ones.
My interactions with scholars and alumni aren’t restricted by other departments at the Foundation. All of us are involved with scholar relations, just as all of us are involved in alumni relations. It’s a team effort.
If I notice an alumnus or alumnae post on social media about an award received or an exciting career change — and I know them — I will reach out and congratulate them. On social media (from the Foundation’s profiles) as well as privately via e-mail. Our executive and associate directors are known to make congratulatory phone calls. Sure, these types of personal touches are inefficient and time consuming — but they mean a great deal to our community. We care about each other.
3. Keep each other informed.
Dancing between physical and digital spaces requires us to have a good idea of what’s happening in our alumni’s lives. And it requires all of us on staff to keep each other informed.
Tools such as Slack can help. We’re big Slackers in the office — who doesn’t love a Giphy showdown in the middle of the day? — and have an alumni news channel for sharing updates internally. In keeps all of us on staff in-the-know.
There’s another benefit; it crowdsources the gathering of material for social media posts. That’s a huge plus for solo or small communication teams.
4. Mean it.
Warm greetings and friendly follow-ups cannot be insincere. We don’t want to be transactional; we want to do what’s best for our students, alumni, and friends and trust that the organization will thrive because of it.
I appreciate that a quality service approach is hard to scale college or university-wide. But it’s not impossible. And furthermore, I’m not sure we can afford not to try. We rely on our relationships with a vibrant community of alumni, students, and friends benefits more than ever. And building that community will take time.
Brendan Foley is the digital community manager at the Morehead-Cain Foundation, home to the first merit scholarship founded in the U.S. at the first public university in the nation, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.