Struggling to hire people? Tap into an oft-ignored resource: your own ex-employees. When managed well, an employee alumni network can be a great source of referrals, rehires, and even new business.

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What Is an Employee Alumni Network?

An employee alumni network usually refers to a group of ex-employees (alumni) who interact with each other in a virtual space. There are two kinds of employee alumni networks — one is started by the ex-employees themselves and the second one is started by the organization which then invites ex-employees to join the network. In this article, we will focus on the latter type of alumni networks.

Benefits of Creating an Employee Alumni Network

There are many tangible benefits of creating an employee alumni network. Some of them include:

  • A channel for talent. A well-managed employee alumni network is a great source of referrals for future talent needs. As people who have worked in your company already, their opinion is valued by candidates. Candidates will trust their perspective of the company culture and leadership more than what job descriptions or hiring managers can convey. In fact, many organizations look at employee alumni networks as a place to rehire ex-employees.
  • Getting across your employer brand. A company’s employer brand keeps evolving. When an employee leaves they carry with them a certain perspective of the organization, its businesses, and culture. The employee alumni network, therefore, becomes a place for you to share the current reality so they remain informed.
  • Future business. In B2B industries, alumni can become key influencers or buyers of a company’s services. This happens quite frequently in the domain of professional services when people move from the seller side to the client-side of the industry. Keeping ex-employees engaged can help in future sales of the company. In this case, the employee alumni network is not just an HR initiative, it should be co-owned by the marketing and communications group and line managers should be involved to engage the alumni as well.

How To Build an Employee Alumni Network

Step 1: Decide on a Primary Objective

Decide what would be the main goal of your employee alumni network. Is it to be a source of talent, sharing news about the company, or is its purpose to drive future business?

Your objective will depend on the business strategy and business goals of the organization. Ideally, this should be done after meeting the top leadership of the company and getting their buy-in and commitment to invest their time to engage with the alumni on the network.

Step 2: Decide on the Role of a Community Manager

Intentional employee alumni networks need to be guided to ensure that they remain productive and add value to all the members of the network. For that to happen, the role of community manager needs to be formalised and budgeted for. Depending on the size of the network envisaged (which might later lead to several sub-networks), the role of the community manager could be a full-time role or an additional responsibility for someone already employed in the company. Depending on the objective of the alumni network, the community manager role can reside either in HR, communications, or marketing.

Step 3: Decide on a Platform

The next step is to decide where (which software) to host the employee alumni network. There are three options:

Option 1: Existing Networking Platforms

Existing networking platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook have groups that can be leveraged to host alumni networks. The pros of open platforms like these are that people are already there, they are familiar with the user interface and there is no learning curve. Their profiles are already filled out.The cons are that you only access the data/analytics that the platform allows, and that you are at the mercy of the platform’s whims and product decisions. Another drawback is that the alumni network has to compete for attention with a person’s other interests, friends and family for the time they spend on the network.

Option 2: Third-Party Networks

These are white-labeled software that can be customised. They are different from open networks because the user profiles and shared groups can be customised by you. The pros include having better access to the data analytics and people not getting distracted by other content. The cons are that people might not be tempted to fill out their full profiles or be engaged in the beginning when it can seem slow. An active community management approach is needed in this case.

Option 3: Building Your Own Hosting Site 

This option is for software product organizations that have in-house IT people who can design and develop an alumni network software from scratch. The pros are that you have ownership of the design and the data and can run custom analytics. If needed you can also build linkages with other software you use, either cloud-based or on your own server, like applicant tracking systems and HR management systems. The cons are getting alumni on your network, the high level of community management needed to keep alumni engaged, and having an in-house resource to maintain the technical aspect of the network. It is also difficult to find a technical person who would be interested in working on an internal project.

Step 4: Invite Alumni

Once you’ve chosen your platform, Invite the alumni to join the network by articulating why they should and how they’ll benefit by joining. The joining process should be simple and not require too many clicks. The alumni should ideally be invited based on the criteria you arrive at after discussions with your business leaders. They could be criteria like people who left the company on good terms, people you might look at rehiring, etc. Remember not all the alumni might join. You might need to send multiple reminders. You might discover that some people’s email invitation has bounced. When some join the network, ask them to refer their ex-colleagues who might benefit from being members of the network.

Step 5: Continue Ongoing Community Management

The role of a community manager is akin to that of a gardener. They look at seeding discussions in the network. When alumni ask questions or share ideas, the community manager nudges others to answer them. When discussions get off track (as often happens in virtual networks), their role is to remind the network of the objectives and to delete objectionable content promptly. In extreme cases, they might also need to ban members who are repeatedly disruptive.

Best Practices for Maintaining an Employee Alumni Network

Many alumni networks start out quite enthusiastically but then lose steam and turn into digital ghost towns with little to no activity for months. To avoid that, follow these practices.

Clarity in Communication and Branding

Communicating clearly to the alumni about the benefits of membership and what is expected from them is critical in getting an active community. It should be concisely explained and other benefits, like an employee referral program unique to the alumni network, should also be stated upfront. Branding the alumni network with a company-specific name and logo also helps in building attraction for the alumni. Ask them to share it with their external networks on other professional networks to build visibility both for themselves as well as the network.

Leveraging “Power Members”

Networks often follow the 1-9-90 rule — 1% of the members create new content, 9% react to or curate content and 90% passively consume content. If the 1% power members who create new content and are active should be given ownership of different activities in the network then this would lead to more members being active. Giving rewards and recognition to alumni for their contributions should be part of the plan from the beginning.

Subgroups Based on Interests

Creating pre-existing sub-groups on a functional, business or location level will encourage alumni to find like-minded members and trigger discussions. Many people might be hesitant to post publicly but might be more vocal in a smaller group. For example, a subgroup around the topic of branding and marketing can be seeded with questions about their views on current trends in the field. Another related best practice would be to invite your leaders and subject matter experts to participate and share what your organization is doing currently in that area so that the relevant information is shared with interested alumni and they get to know current leaders and the thinking within the organization.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Alumni Networks

These titles are used interchangeably, though there are some alumni networks that are started by the alumni with no knowledge or involvement of the company.
The answer to this question depends on the objective for which the alumni network was created. Success metrics might include: 1. Percentage of active members 2. Number of new content added 3. Number of candidates referred/sales leads generated

Gautam is a HR professional from India who specialises in the area of Employer Branding and Digital HR. He is the writer of one of the earliest and award winning HR blogs worldwide and has been consistently been ranked by SHRM and Economic Times amongst the most influential HR people in India.

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