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Keeping in Touch, on Facebook and Beyond

Bostonia, BU’s alumni magazine, launches new Web site to engage grads

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Bostonia has launched an expansive new Web site to help BU alums stay connected.

Keeping in touch after graduation, with friends moving across the country and around the world, used to be a lot more complicated in the B.F. (before Facebook) era. “The Internet wasn’t even hooked up in the dorms when I was a student,” says Carrie Atwood (CAS’96). “So I really didn’t keep in touch at all with a lot of my college friends.”

To keep her classmates up-to-date, Atwood sent a short note about her career and family life to the Alumni Notes section of Bostonia, Boston University’s alumni magazine. Now, thanks to a newly expanded Web site and the use of popular social networking tools, Atwood’s shout-out to her old friends will reach more BU alums than ever before.

This fall, Bostonia was redesigned to freshen the layout of the print magazine and to expand its Web presence with weekly news stories, chances for alums to interact with BU professors, and vibrant multimedia. BU Today spoke with Kelly Cunningham, the director of development and alumni communications, about Bostonia’s new Web presence and the University’s ongoing efforts to reach out to alums.

BU Today: Bostonia is the University’s most visible outreach to alumni. How is the magazine keeping pace with the changes in how alumni connect, both to BU and to one another?
Cunningham:
Bostonia is more than 100 years old. It’s one of the country’s best-known and most-respected alumni magazines, and its content over the years has reflected the best of what Boston University is. Bostonia mails to over 240,000 alumni in the United States and approximately 17,000 alumni internationally.

In the last 5 or 10 years, though, the world has seen a media revolution — a fundamental change in the way people access information and entertainment. The competition for attention in people’s mailboxes and on their screens is intense, and Bostonia needed to respond to those changes by becoming more interactive, reflecting a more personal connection with alumni, and giving alums a chance to more easily connect with one another. The magazine’s new Web site will help do all that.

Another means of alumni connection that BU is really beefing up is the Alumni Link, BU’s portal for alumni services. It includes an online directory so alums can contact one another, update their addresses, and set up e-mail forwarding for life. Renovations to this site are still in behind-the-scenes mode, but our alums can soon expect faster and easier use, social and career networking features (including an online alumni directory and interaction with our Facebook page), discussion boards, and enhanced career services.

Can you talk about Bostonia’s redesign, both in the magazine and online? What prompted the decision?
BU recently went through a rebranding exercise that has modernized and energized its publications, marketing materials, and campus signage. We wanted to bring the magazine along and also to revamp and expand its very minimal Web presence. The redesigned magazine reflects the current tone of the University: that of a smart, sophisticated, urban, cutting-edge institution with a focus on innovative teaching and learning, whose alumni are changing the world in diverse and fascinating ways. The print magazine felt muddy and crowded, and the Web site didn’t take advantage of the connective powers of the Internet. Now, print and Web site will work together with more vibrancy and relevance, to bring news to alums not only through excellent print journalism, but also through exciting multimedia additions to the print articles.

What are the challenges in keeping alumni connected with, and invested in, their alma mater?
A big challenge for BU is also one of our greatest assets: the vastness and diversity of our alumni body. There isn’t ever going to be a publication, event, or program that appeals to everyone across the board, so we’ve become more focused, through surveys and open-forum events, on responding to what specific groups want, from young alumni speed-networking events to programs that focus on guiding parents through the college-application process to luncheons and content-rich lectures for our older alums, our Golden Terriers.

What are some of the differences you see in the ways alums of different ages interact with BU?
Our baby boomer and older alums are accustomed to the University and our alumni association providing opportunities for them to connect with BU and one another, while alumni who graduated within the past 10 years are more comfortable using Web tools to maintain their own connections. It’s exciting for us, because it gives us a chance to perfect our more traditional methods of outreach while exploring newer, more DIY and tech-based methods.

What does BU most want its alums to hear about these days?
While BU is still driven by its original mission of social progress, scientific discovery, and a liberal arts foundation, so much is changing. On campus, building projects reflect the expansion of our programs. Out in the world, we’re ranked among the best. Quite literally, our professors are changing the world, from recent Nobel Prize winner Osamu Shimomura to our many faculty members fighting health crises around the globe.

When our alums read about BU or come back to visit, we want them to say, “Wow, BU is a great place filled with people doing great things. I want to be a part of that.” That’s how we feel.

And on the other side, what do you think alums most want to hear about from BU?
Actually, it’s not what we think they want to hear — it’s what we’ve found out, based on Facebook messages, letters, and e-mail, informal conversations at alumni events, a massive survey we conducted a couple years back, more specialized smaller surveys conducted since, and so much more. Most of all, they want to hear about what their fellow alums are doing, from Pulitzer winners to entrepreneurs to young families just starting out. That’s one of the reasons the Alumni Notes section is consistently among the most popular sections of Bostonia — and of most every other college alumni magazine.

Next in line is news about the University in general, as well as their specific schools and colleges (our recent high ranking in Times Higher Education, for example).

Tell us about Alumni Relations efforts on social networking sites, such as Facebook? Has the connection with alumni grown from using these sites?
Alumni Relations has had rapid success using social networking sites to reconnect with alums. We already have over 1,700 friends on our new Facebook page, and we’re confident that more will join. The number-one thing we’ve heard from alums is how important career networking and development is to them, so we’re really trying to beef that up.

To visit Bostonia’s alum Facebook page, click here.

Reunion and Alumni Weekend runs October 24 to 26. The deadline to register is today, October 20. To register, click here.

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Keeping in Touch, on Facebook and Beyond

  • Anonymous on 10.20.2008 at 6:11 pm

    number 6!

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