Yale College reunions break records on campus – and in social media

Yale’s tradition of engagement by alumni/ae reached new heights with Yale College graduates returning for their class reunions in record numbers over the weekends of May 23-26 and May 30-June 2.

This year’s reunions of Yale College classes graduating in years ending in “3” and “8” — from 1948 and 1953 down to 2003 and 2008 — saw the highest total attendance overall of any reunion cycle ever. Among the leaders were graduates of the Yale College Class of 1988, which set a record number of classmates, percentage of classmates, and total number of attendees for a 25th reunion class

Mark Dollhopf ’77, executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), captured the spirit of alumni volunteers, attendees, and staff in an e-mail — titled, simply, “Wow!” — in which he praised the AYA team’s efforts, amidst some rather tough weather, to create what he described as “Fabulous reunions! A great success!”

Similar enthusiasm was evident on social media, too. This year saw the biggest reunion engagement yet by alumni/ae about reunions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A good part of this social media growth is due to the efforts of volunteers from the Yale College Class of 1987, who have worked to facilitate use of Twitter to connect alumni of all classes during special events and non-event periods, having seen the benefits of even modest use of Twitter during their 25th reunion last year.

“Volunteers for several alumni groups have been increasingly using low-cost digital media for communication,” according to Tim Harkness ’87, who co-chaired his class reunion and also serves on the alumni association’s board of governors. “The growth in social media use during reunions shows how eager alumni are to engage and share about their passions.”

Thanks to such volunteer efforts, supported by the AYA and the Office of Public Affairs and Communications on campus, use of Twitter and Instagram grew during the annual AYA Assembly in November, Feb Club Emeritus throughout the month of February, and the Yale Day of Service in May.

Three classes of 3s and 8s established Twitter accounts well in advance of the 2013 reunions, and an email campaign to other classes in the weeks just before reunion resulted in two more classes joining the social media platform, so there were five classes tweeting. In addition the University announced the main hashtags  #YaleReunion and #YaleAlumni through its website and social media, and the AYA announced the hashtags on the mobile Yale College Reunions website and in signage on site.

“Twitter and Instagram are great social media tools for discovery because hashtags enable you to find posts from users you wouldn’t know to look for,” said Margie Smith Whiteleather ’87. “The tags can also be fluid and spontaneous, as in the way the Class of 2003 launched interaction using #Yale03.”

There were over 700 posts on Twitter and Instagram over the course of the two reunion weekends. People shared comments, impressions and photos, and many re-shared or replied to others’ posts. Highlights of the Twitter and Instagram interaction have been compiled on Storify by alumni volunteers.

Alumni posts were complemented by the University itself, which shared reunion content on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Posts from reunion on the Yale University Facebook page generated more than 4,600 “likes,” comments, and shares, and photos posted on the Yale University Instagram account received over 2,700 total likes.

Whiteleather and Harkness note that an additional benefit of alumni engagement on social media is that it helps graduates of different classes hear and learn from each other’s stories. As a tweet from @YaleCollege1987 said, “It’s great to hear from #YaleAlumni of ALL #YaleReunion classes. Even if we weren’t students at the same time we have shared experiences.”

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