Purpose and added value of the digital alumni platform
The alumni platform is an instrument to maintain a connection with the graduates (for the graduates – with the university and their peers) and to obtain quality data on graduates’ career development. The advantage of the graduate platform is that the data is stored with the university services and it is extractable and usable at any time and based on any criteria. For the graduates, the platform has a potential to become a support tool for career development through mentoring services. Higher profile alumni (CEOs etc.), however, can use it to search for employees with relevant education. It also has an added value of a PR tool for the university and different companies who employ graduates.
Development of the platform (from technological set-up to legal aspects)
The main steps for development of the platform can be summarized as following: (1) idea; (2) selection of the technological solution; (3) funding; (4) adaptation or development of the technological solution; (5) launch; (6) user attraction (continuous); (7) maintenance and content generation (continuous).
From the technological standpoint, a university can choose to fully develop its own platform or buy a license for an existing service. For a comparatively small university, the logical choice is to use an existing service and adapt it for university’s needs. In general, there are 4 – 5 digital platform service providers. RTU used four main criteria to narrow down the options: (1) functionality of the platform and its adaptability to university’s needs; (2) language (possibility to ensure the availability of the platform in Latvian without additional costs); (3) quality of the technical support; (4) costs. RTU chose Graduway services as the best available and cost-effective option. The adaptation of the platform (design, functionality, language, etc.) for RTU took 4 – 6 months. A lot more time (about 2 years) was spent on convincing the higher management to provide funding for the implementation of the platform. Interestingly, the GDPR helped to gain support for the development of the digital alumni platform as the Graduway services are GDPR compliant, and it allowed to gain and store graduate’s personal data with their consent in a secure way.
The greatest challenge after the launch of the platform is to attract and engage users by providing relevant and interesting content and activities.
Functionality of the digital alumni platform
The functionality of RTUconnect in many ways is similar to a social networking site. It provides a newsfeed with the latest announcements from the university or other users, a searchable directory of users, groups, events. Additionally, the platform provides opportunity to post job vacancies and provide or receive mentoring services. There is also an in-built messaging service that allows getting in touch with other registered users.
The user directory allows any registered user to browse and filter registered user database. However, only platform administrators can export the data.
The mentoring services are still being developed as a concept. Currently, the users can indicate if they want to mentor or help someone or receive help with something, e.g., get an advice, get feedback on the CV, ask for work placement or internship, ask an industry-specific question. The Bachelor level students and graduates seem to be highly interested in mentoring but it is too early to say how successful it has been up to now. It is also difficult to say whether such services could be useful for doctoral students or graduates or they would rather focus on the role of mentors themselves. Maybe those that leave academia after obtaining their doctoral degree could benefit from interaction or advice from other graduates working in the industry.
Another career-oriented functionality is the vacancies listings in the jobs section. At this stage, it does not seem to be very active. Realistically, this functionality could be interesting to companies that regularly hire RTU graduates or look for employees with specific knowledge. It’s difficult to assess how many graduates have used or would use alumni platform as a tool for job search.
Alumni Department organizes on average about 20 events each year that are posted in the events section of the platform. The objective is also to involve faculties and other users in creating events and activities that would be relevant for RTU graduates.
Finally, the platform has an e-mail notifications service that can be adjusted by the user.
User experience (both for registered and un-registered users)
The platform can only be used by registered users. The users can register using one of their existing accounts (Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn) or just their e-mail. Upon registration, they have to indicate what is their status: student, graduate, or employee of RTU. They also must provide information on their year of graduation, faculty, and current job (company/organization and position). After registration, the users have access to all the previously described functions of the platform.
User attraction and engagement (especially, in long-term)
The user attraction and long-term engagement is a major challenge, especially at the beginning. The Alumni Department admits that they are targeting active graduates that want to maintain a connection to the university. They are realistic about being able to attract about 10-20% of the alumni. It’s easier to attract the younger generation and they are starting to work with the RTU Student Parliament to engage students already during their studies. Currently, majority of the registered users are graduates of Bachelor Study Programs (around 2000) and graduates of Masters Study Programs (around 1000).
The Alumni Department uses the Graduation Ceremony as an incentive for the graduates to register with the platform (in 2018 and 2019). It’s mandatory for the Bachelor and Masters students to register for the event, but recommended to the Doctoral graduates. However, it does not guarantee that the users are going to continue using the platform after the event. The challenge is to continuously provide interesting content and activities for a wide spectrum of users to keep them engaged with the platform. The younger generation is interested in career-development support; therefore, the Alumni Department is working towards developing and expanding this sector of activities.
In addition, the Alumni Department pays great attention to branding. It’s important that users receive information from the university and not specifically from the Alumni Department or Association. The users don’t have to be members of the Alumni Association to use the platform.
Linkage and data transfer with LinkedIn (or other services)
The users can use their LinkedIn account to register with the alumni platform or synchronize their account with the LinkedIn after registration. They can also register and use the alumni platform without a LinkedIn account (or Facebook and Google account).
If the user synchronizes their account with LinkedIn then data on their job history is transferred to the alumni platform and shows in the user’s profile as a career timeline.
If the user changes anything in their LinkedIn profile, he has to re-sync the accounts manually for the data to be updated. The user can also disconnect the LinkedIn profile at any time. All this data can also be entered manually directly to the alumni platform.
Data extraction and usage (especially, for career tracking)
The platform administrators can extract data on the registered users. All registered users must indicate their status (student, graduate, employee), faculty, year of graduation, level of study program, current job position and active e-mail address (this mandatory information is defined by the university at the development stage of the platform). Consequently, the basic data is available on every registered user. Those that have synchronized their accounts with LinkedIn or entered their job history manually, allow to access information on their career development. Currently, 480 registered users (on 21.08.2019) have linked their alumni profiles with LinkedIn.
The basic data allows to sort and target specific groups of alumni (e.g., from a specific graduation year or faculty). The advanced data (with job history) could be used to analyze the career pathways of graduates.
The ideas for future include integration of the alumni platform with the RTU Study Management System (existing) and Customer Management System (CRM; to be developed).
Facts and figures:
- Site name: RTUconnect.net
- Web: https://rtuconnect.net/
- Launched: April 2018
- Powered by Graduway
- Registered users: 3200 (on 20.08.2019)
- Doctoral graduates: 54 or 1.7% of registered users (on 20.08.2019)