The Thunderbird School of Global Management is ranked as the number one school for international business programs and is famed for its “Thunderbird Mystique”, the unique culture which binds together its student and alumni community. As a student at Thunderbird, I took courses and dragged my beloved Thunderbird backpack (see remnants in photo to the right) across five different continents learning about international business and global culture. The famed Thunderbird global community (over 40,000 strong) is represented in almost every country around the world; consequently, I was excited to interview Amber Giuliano, their Social Media Manager (and online Community Manager) in order to learn what Thunderbird is doing to extend their community of students and alumni into the world of social media.
Amber’s Background in Social Media
Amber was one of the early adopters of Facebook, at a time when you still needed a college email address and primarily identified with a university community. After some years in local government and public relations, she came to Thunderbird to work in the Executive Education group. From there she moved to the Career Management Center where she managed their Twitter and Facebook accounts before moving on to the marketing department. A short while later the school’s public relations specialist took another position and handed off the institutional social media accounts to her, which included Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare. After a reorganization, her current position of Social Media Manager was created, consolidating control of the school’s social media presence within the Marketing department. Google+ has since been added to her purview.
Community Management at Thunderbird
At Thunderbird, the Social Media Manager is primarily responsible for community management of the online communities. The Director of Alumni Relations and the Global Community Engagement Manager also do community management work, but mostly in a more traditional sense. The Director of Alumni Relations is the first point of contact for alumni looking to connect or reconnect with the school and manages most communication with the alumni network on behalf of the school. The Global Community Engagement Manager manages the campus ambassador and global ambassador programs and works with them to coordinate face-to-face events like the monthly worldwide First Tuesday networking events, preview weekends, prospective student events, and many more.
Scaling the Thunderbird Community
Facebook and Twitter have not needed much help scaling, because they have grown steadily each day. Thunderbird promotes its social channels via the alumni magazine, monthly newsletters, and cross-promotes via other social channels. As new channels increase in popularity, Thunderbird researches and evaluates the value of reaching that new audience versus spreading their brand too thin. Social media is ever-changing; consequently, half of the job is keeping up with what’s new.
Approach to Metrics
Because the lead-matriculation cycle is so long and people can enter it through multiple points, it is very difficult to track if a prospective student matriculates as a 100% direct result of social media efforts. Currently Thunderbird measures things like the number of fans/followers, engagement (likes + comments + shares divided by the number of followers) in a month over month and year over year cycle. For analytic tools they are now experimenting with HootSuite.
The role of Social Media Manager is new to the school, starting just last fall as the result of combining marketing and communications. Since then a lot of time has been spent strategizing, setting up calendars, developing key internal relationships, and just making sure each of the channels were fully up and running, and being regularly updated. Currently, they are researching and evaluating several different tool solutions including HubSpot and Salesforce Marketing Cloud and are hoping to purchase one of these tools in the next fiscal year.
As a student who enjoyed the internal community of Thunderbird students, I am looking forward to participating with my fellow alumni in the new social media communities being supported by Amber. What are other universities doing to keep their student communities engaged after graduation? If you’ve graduated, what benefits have you experienced from remaining engaged with your alma mater?