Real-time summit helps fuel ongoing alumni social media engagement

The second annual Yale alumni social media summit on Oct. 25 brought together more than 40 alumni volunteer leaders in San Francisco to discuss best practices and more.
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(Photo by Marc Wong, TeenTechSF)

“Joyous, inspiring, connected diversity of talents, SIGs, classes, schools, speakers,” tweeted Michael Madison ’83, from the second Yale alumni social media summit, held in San Francisco on Oct. 25.

Madison, a former chair of the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) board of governors, was among more than 40 alumni volunteer leaders who gathered for the full-day event, sponsored and staffed by the AYA, the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications (OPAC), and the Yale Alumni Fund (YAF).

The first such event on the West Coast, the summit follows an inaugural effort in New York City on Jan. 25 at the headquarters of Ogilvy & Mather that proved to be such a success that alumni volunteer leaders urged that it become a series. Zynga provided the San Francisco venue.

Jennifer Nuckles, the chief marketing officer of Zynga, helped kick off the summit by offering social media tips from her company’s use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumbler, and Twitch. She urged that social media marketers “be original, entertain, remain positive, and be relevant and timely.” Michael Morand, deputy chief communications officer at Yale, had offered complementary advice in his opening remarks, noting that “ACES – awesome content, easily shareable – always wins” on social media, regardless of the channel.

The group assembled at Zynga included volunteer leaders from many different alumni organizations, including the Yale clubs of Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Silicon Valley; the alumni schools committee; affinity groups including the Yale Asian American Alumni Association, Black Alumni Association, Latino Alumni Association, Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association, and YaleWomen; and alumni from Yale College, the Graduate School, and the schools of divinity, drama, forestry, and management.

“For all alumni groups and organizations, a well-thought-out social media strategy is now an essential tool for connecting alumni, building relations and engagement,” says Stacey J. O’Donnell, assistant director of the AYA for Yale College classes, “and it’s been energizing to see how many alumni groups have embraced social media, how well they are using it, and how eager they are to share lessons learned with fellow alumni volunteer leaders.”

The summit featured a set of alumni volunteer leaders offering best practices from their groups’ use of social media, including Carolyn Kenady of YaleWomen, Kevin Winston of Yale in Hollywood, and Victor Wong ’11 of the Yale Entrepreneurs and Investors Network.

Another speaker was Sarah Tomita ’06, who gave a presentation at the San Francisco event on the successful use of social media by the Yale Nonprofit Association, the Yale Alumni Association of New York, and the Association of Asian American Yale Alumni. The latter has been using social media to communicate its ongoing work and, especially, for this year’s Yale Asian American Reunion, which generated nearly 700 Tweets, as well as other social media posts, with the potential to reach hundreds of thousands beyond campus. Tomita told the summit that her groups’ social media success rested on being proactive, prescriptive, present, and persistent.

Tomita also co-chairs the AYA’s social media task force, along with Margie Whiteleather ‘87. While Tomita was on the ground in San Francisco on Oct. 25, Whiteleather was following along on Twitter from a distance. “The summits have been incredibly energizing; it’s great to have media tools at our fingertips for boosting awareness and interaction around alumni organizations’ initiatives,” Whiteleather said, adding “Since participants actively tweeted during the summits, alumni at a distance were also able to follow the conversations and chime in.” To see a full digest of Tweets and photos from the summit, read the Storify account here.

In addition to sharing best practices, the day featured presentations by Jocelyn R.H Kane, director of development for the Yale College alumni fund, and Maura Scanlon, communications officer for social media at OPAC. Scanlon discussed how Yale itself has built an ever-growing audience and ever-stronger engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and other platforms including Sina Weibo. The Yale University official LinkedIn page has particular relevance for alumni engagement, shenoted, with more than 40% of all alumni connected to the university by following the page.

Two Yale alumni working as professionals in social media, Anthony Overstreet ’12 and Bryce Wiatrak ’14, gave a case study from the private sector on effective use of social media. They work for Bottlenotes, Inc., a firm founded by Alyssa Rapp ‘00 and Kimberly Donaldson ’89, which is the leading interactive media company in the U.S. wine, craft beer, and artisanal spirits industries, Among their top tips, Overstreet and Wiatrak counseled summit participants, “Use visual engagement; iconic imagery to capture your audience, utilize pedestrian image and copy, and give fans a reason to share with their friends.”

Underscoring the importance the university places on alumni engagement, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway ’95 Ph.D., who was in the area for the weekend to accept an award for his most recent book, joined the summit for the first half of the day. The event concluded with a conversation featuring Yale trustee Donna Dubinsky ’77. The co-founder of Numenta, Inc., and a former executive at Palm Computing and Handspring, Dubinsky fielded questions from Simone Nelson ’01 M.F.A. about start-ups and the technology field as well as the priorities and opportunities for Yale today. Dubinsky noted that in technology today, the power is not with capital, it is with smart people who have good ideas and work hard.

“I’m so inspired by this conference that I unprotected my tweets #letsdothis #socialmediaforreal,” one alumna tweeted at the end of the day. Her enthusiasm for the event seemed matched by the buzz in the room – and the buzz across Twitter by #YaleAlumni. Kane concurred, saying, “The cross-section of alumni leaders in attendance was incredible, and their input and ideas were inspiring. This gathering was a perfect example of how powerful the Yale network is and how alumni can activate their social connections to support the great things happening on campus and around the world.”

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