What future for alumni networks ?

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My former B-School recently launched a social network for its alumni.  I’ve been waiting for it for years since I’m convinced that’s the things must go.

Not such a long time ago, the added value of an alumni network was to be a part of a directory and, sometimes, to attend some events if you had the chance to live in the right place. It was a good way for the younger to see how their elder have been successful in their carreer and to be proud to be a part of the directory and to be able to ask the so-called elder for help. A good way too for the elder to feel they can help their successors. Or to be overwhelmed by “calls for help”, depending on how you see things.

As time went by, being a part of a directory was not enough. Something more was needed. In the web era, being a part of a paper or online directory didn’t match alumni’s needs anymore. A more dynamic vision was needed to stimulate its activity and exchanges within it. The directory has to become a network. It’s nothing more that the adaption of what’s happening in real life to a higher scale made possible by the web. Once, a friend told be : “you see, there’s the directory. It’s the only thing we all share, and the network is for those who already know each other, make things together”. Now  the network would be open to everyone, without any time or place constraint.

That’s why I was enthusiast when I was told the network was opening. But I’ve been postponing my first connection for weeks. Or months. Anyway. As a matter of fact what I have been waiting for for years and had just opened was not at the top of my priorities. I came to wonder why.

In fact I understood why when I connected to LinkedIn as I do everyday. An alumni group already exists there. On Facebook too…but the purpose is not the same.

Ok, what’s good in a private platform is that we’re  between ourselves. But it’s also true on a group on linkedIn.

The interest of social networks, according to me, is not to facilitate connections between us who share the common point of being “xxxx alumni” but to share our own networks. But, how to know that so-and-so can help me to contact so-and-so who’s not an alumni if their relationship is not formalized, if the second is not a part of the network .

A last point : it’s impossible to be everywhere at the same time, to keep many profiles updated and be really active on many platforms. So a choice had to be made for my professional network…and it was, with no surprise, LinkedIn.

So what ?

Such an idea for a B-School is wise, but comes too late. The more networkers of us already gathered elsewhere, the less networkers don’t see any interest in all these things. It’s like an army arrving after the battle has ended.

Whoever tried to work on these issues when they were emerging knows that, today, the point is not to build THE platform that will gather everybody but to use the existing to power networks or to build bridges between existing networks to build paths between walled gardens. In brief, in many cases, an alumni social networks has no value today. Its purpose must be to go beyond the circle of  “xxxx alumnis” to get in touch with ” non xxxx….alumnis” because we all know each other in real life. More, experience shows us that the ties between “xxxx alumnis” which, most of times, relies on the fact we went to the same school at different periods, is weaker that the ties with people from other schools but with whom there is a real business experience, in real life.

In short, the walled network is dead and, to provide something valuable to their members, alumni networks will have to be interconnected and interoperable. Because, at the end, when I help a former student from a school to contact a former student of another one, what matters are the ties between us, their quality, not where we come from, neither our degree.

To be thought about… on both content (ties values depending on their nature) and form (platform interoperability.

alumni, anciens, réseaux-sociaux,linekdin