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Re-discovering the digital advantage: effective digital comms strategies post-Covid : CCAE Exposé #4

January 2022
Written by: Richard Fisher

It is hard to put into words what the pandemic has done to our best-laid plans. Every part of our institutions has had to move at warp-speed just to keep up with the curve – never mind get ahead of it. Perhaps the most visible element the pandemic has exposed is advancement units’ previous reliance on face-to-face contact with its donors, alumni and friends. Over the years, huge amounts of effort have been expended bringing people to our campuses and to our events, each backed up by a flotilla of communications activity and event planning expertise.

Enter Covid and everything changed. Most of our events, and even one-to-one contacts, moved online. Despite dire predictions of collapse, the sky did not fall in; but what did depart for ever was the default assumption that face-to-face contact was the only way to go.  It is hard to imagine a return to a full schedule of in-person activity so, like many things post-Covid, the future looks decidedly hybrid. But the question remains - how do we retain the best of both worlds in this hybrid future?

Fortunately, the major part of our communications activity had moved online a long time ago – in fact the vast majority of the alumni and donor contact points have been digital for years. Thus, for communications units the pandemic required an intensification and extension of activity, rather than a sudden conversion. In many ways, Covid has forced advancement units to see digital communication as a very effective and efficient tool in itself – not just as a multiplier against which in-person attendance is monitored. We have also learned that many of our constituents – including some high-value donors – prefer the digital approach for its efficiency and its convenience.

Alumni offices in particular have developed great expertise in building online communities. Alumni networks are very well-placed to accommodate a diverse range of members, precisely because the only barrier to entry is to be a graduate from the university. Steve Kennedy, Director of Marketing and Communications for alumni UBC reports a significant shift among their online communities: “We have seen a huge intensification of activity, most notably on Instagram Stories and LinkedIn. Not surprisingly, lighter content has become very popular but it still has to be smart, without being institutional.”  Naturally, these networks require a more senior level of curation to keep the alumni communities galvanized. Social media are not and never were ‘free’.

Increasingly, attention has swiveled to seeing advancement websites as dynamic engines of engagement rather than repositories of ‘success stories’. The most important discussion point around websites is not the colour and/or size of the buttons, but what advancement units can do to engage our communities digitally. 

Finally, it is safe to say that all communications units welcome the fact that they no longer have to spend a large part of their time talking about Covid. And so say all of us.


Related resource:

View the companion video for CCAE Exposé #4: featuring Lindsey Fair of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Zahra Valani of Hillfield Strathallan College