By MARIANA ZEPEDA ’14
Last week, the Center for Work and Service (CWS) launched the new Wellesley LinkedIn group. Through the LinkedIn Wellesley Alumnae Network, the CWS hopes to streamline online networking and connect even more Wellesley students and alumnae.
Though the idea of a new LinkedIn group has been in talks for quite some time, the process of conceptualizing and creating the group did not begin until last summer. The project was placed on hold while President H. Kim Bottomly organized a task force to evaluate the ways that the College gathers and stores data on alumnae. Throughout that time, the CWS and the Alumnae Association began to work together to update the College’s data using the existing LinkedIn group. The project was finalized during the summer and the CWS prepared to launch the group in early 2014.
“For a long time now, Wellesley has had an institutional policy of keeping its database in a variety of different places,” said S. Joanne Murray ’81, executive director of the CWS. “What that has meant is that the database has not been as up to date and accurate as we have wanted it to be.”
The CWS has been working to streamline its databases for a long time. “Our efforts have changed course from encouraging alumnae to update our database to encouraging alumnae to update LinkedIn and get as many alumnae on there as we can so that we can use this incredibly robust platform,” Murray said.
Collaboration with the Alumnae Association has been key. “We were approached by the CWS to work together and decided that by combining our efforts we would be able to reach more people,” Director of Alumnae Marketing and Communications Liz Carey said. “We’re dividing and conquering—it’s going to be a partnership moving forward.”
The Alumnae Association will remain in charge of evaluating and screening LinkedIn members who request access to the group and ensuring that they have a connection to the College before they are allowed to join, Carey explained. The CWS will take care of creating content for the LinkedIn group, including alumnae stories.
Public Affairs has also played an important role in the promotion of the new group. Elizabeth Gildersleeve has been in charge of the graphics and branding of the email that the CWS sent out to alums last week announcing the launch of the LinkedIn group.
Murray hopes that through the new LinkedIn group, Wellesley students will not only be able to connect with alumnae but also access different alumnae profiles and stories crafted by the CWS, which will help students begin to chart their careers.
The new LinkedIn group has already been immensely successful. A number of alumnae have already asked to be approved for the group, even though the CWS only recently began to promote it.
“If one of your most valuable resources, in addition to your students and your faculty, is your alumnae, not having good data on your alumnae is, well, you’re missing huge opportunities,” Murray said. “The people most likely to help our students are our alumnae.”
The CWS plans to use LinkedIn not only as a networking resource but also as an information source. The CWS will be able to gather alumnae’s career and contact information in the group and use it to keep its own databases up to date.
Murray said that the new group will also benefit alumnae immensely, as they will be able to tap into the CWS’s database to find Wellesley students to hire. “We want our alumnae to think of hiring alumnae first,” Murray said.
Erika Fields, web content and communications director at the CWS, has been at the forefront of the CWS’s social media strategy. Like Murray, she is excited about the possibilities that the new LinkedIn group brings to the CWS’s social media outreach efforts.
Fields noted that LinkedIn’s global presence makes it a powerful tool for alumnae abroad, who the Alumnae Association often have a hard time keeping track of on its networks. “Some countries block Gmail or block Facebook, but LinkedIn tends to be one of those outlets that is open in most countries and already has that built-in understanding of why it’s important,” Fields said.
Fields mentioned that the LinkedIn group is only one part of the CWS’s comprehensive social media strategy. “This is a huge initiative that the office is taking on, but it’s also a combination of what we’re doing in our other social presences,” Fields said.
The CWS uses several social media platforms to reach out to alumnae. Through the CWS Twitter, for instance, Fields has been able to communicate with alumnae about promotions and other exciting news. The CWS also uses Facebook to disseminate information about different events the office is hosting, although due to Facebook’s restrictions only 10 percent of the people who follow the Facebook group can keep up with its postings. Still, the CWS updates its Facebook often and recently started an Instagram account, which is run by its interns.
The CWS’s efforts to boost its social media presence are paying off; the new LinkedIn group already has about 8,000 members. These members can chose to join any of 20 subgroups that the CWS has created related to different career fields. Fields expressed disappointment that LinkedIn caps the number of subgroups that can be nested under a group; the CWS spent a long time narrowing its choices down to these 20 subgroups.
“This is a pretty comprehensive list for now but, of course, we’re open to discussion about the groups,” Fields said. “We’ve also put a request in to LinkedIn to talk about expanding it, given that we’re one of the first colleges that have made this move to putting basically our student alumnae networking group on LinkedIn.”
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have group by industry in addition to geography, which would’ve been our ideal,” Carey said.
The groups span from communications to technology, consulting and finance—and, of course, members are allowed to join as many as they want.
The Alumnae Association will continue overseeing extraneous chapters or subgroups.
Fields hopes that this will be a big step up from the Wellesley College Alumnae Association group, which was created in 2008.
“Before, it was very much organic conversations, and they weren’t always career-focused,” Fields said. “But we know that it would have been very difficult to start from scratch and be trying to encourage all these people who have been in this group for a number of years to go into a new group.”
“Now we’re going to be doing more outward marketing to the alumnae body about what LinkedIn can offer them,” Carey said.
The new LinkedIn group is only the beginning. The CWS also plans to update its other networks in order to create a real-time search platform, where students can more easily access data about their areas of interest. The CWS is working with Wellesley’s technology team as well as a design firm to conceptualize this new platform. Though plans had been stalled for some time because these types of comprehensive upgrades can be lengthy and expensive, Murray said that the CWS finally has everything ready to forge ahead with the project.
“Now, you have to go to four or five places to get all the information you want,” Fields said. “[The new platform] is going to be filtering all of it into one place. I think it’s going to make all of our other outlets that much stronger because students will see everything we publish and it’ll be very targeted.”
Fields holds targeted appointments to help students strengthen their LinkedIn presence and take advantage of the platform in their internship and jobs searches. She encourages first-year students to join the ranks. “The more people that join, the richer the conversations will be.”