Why UTSA Turned to Taylor Swift to Engage Alumni

With a creative, new digital strategy inspired by pop culture, the University of Texas at San Antonio was able to engage their alumni in a brand-new way during the inauguration of the university’s sixth-ever president, garnering excitement surrounding the week of events with a 93% open rate. Call It What You Want; here is how they did it.
UTSA is a large state research university in Texas, with nearly 31,000 students. Just like many other higher ed institutions, they are looking for fresh ways to engage their young alumni. This is particularly important for UTSA because a majority of their alumni have graduated in the last 20 years.  
This spring, the university had a new priority to promote: a historic change of leadership as President Taylor Eighmy took the helm, and a week of celebrations around the inaugural event. Knowing this monumental event had the power to engage their alumni if handled cleverly, Heather Locke Green, Director of Annual Giving and Development Communications, decided to Shake It Off and grab this opportunity.
Heather was committed to turning what could otherwise be perceived by alumni as dry campus news into a fun and engaging moment. Inspired by how President Eighmy encouraged others to simply refer to him by his first name, she dreamt up a fun quiz tapping into his welcoming and relatable nature by associating him with another famous Taylor: the queen of pop, Taylor Swift.
With this great idea in mind, Heather’s next endeavor was to solve the logistics of actually bringing it to life. Hosting the quiz as an email survey never would have worked; there were too many barriers to alumni engagement, not to mention logistical challenges with the quiz’s functionality. When Heather learned how Funderful has opened up Messenger chatbots as an entirely new avenue for reaching young alumni, plus just how enjoyable the experience can be, she was hooked. It’s a partnership that’s Sweeter than Fiction.
UTSA Funderfull alumni participation chatbot


Everything Has Changed: In need of new young alumni engagement strategies

It isn’t just age that defines being a young alum; millennials (those in the Gen X and Gen Z generations) have grown up in the internet era. Their social patterns, experiences and even personal values are different than those of previous generations. Growing up in a world saturated by information and technology means it's harder to influence their behavior patterns and digital media consumption habits. We need to reach them where they already are active, such as digital apps and social media channels, instead of expecting them to fit the style of  traditional outreach like phone, email, and direct mail as their parents once did.
With over 60 billion messages sent with messaging apps like Messenger per day, messaging has become 3X more popular than ordinary texting. Furthermore, apps like Messenger allow for the use of chatbots* that manage conversational engagement with alumni, rather than requiring constant inbox monitoring by your staff. By tapping into the endless interactivity possibilities that Messenger offers, surpassing less tech-savvy traditional channels, universities will increasingly integrate chatbots and messaging apps into their young alumni engagement strategies in 2018.
*Derived from the term “chat robot”, “chatbots” allow for highly engaging, conversational experiences that can be customized and used on popular platforms such as Facebook Messenger. Pre-built conversational flows allow you to simultaneously communicate with your alumni in a “one on one” manner, while expanding your team’s bandwidth to focus on other tasks. With Funderful, it takes only a few minutes to build a simple chatbot and broadcast it to your alumni. Read more here.

Designing the chatbot for young alumni to make Sparks Fly

We met Heather over lunch at CASE’s Institute for Senior Annual Giving Professionals in Denver earlier this year. When we heard Heather's idea about the “Taylor vs. Taylor” quiz, we were excited; we knew right away that Messenger could take it to the next level. Annika Jensen, Funderful's Social Media guru built a mock-up of a simple, fun chatbot in 15 minutes, although it could be argued that much of this time was spent just researching fun gifs of Taylor Swift. By the start of the conference’s next session, Heather was already giving the quiz a try. We were surprised when more people started engaging with the chatbot - she must have been sharing it with her colleagues. To check out a copy of the quiz hosted by Funderful, click here to open it up on your Messenger.
Fast forward to a few weeks later, and the official “Taylor vs. Taylor” chatbot quiz for alumni was live! We partnered with the team at UTSA to attract alumni to engage with this new channel by using hyper-targeted social media ads. The results were stellar: it took less than one week to acquire almost 700 alumni subscribers by spending just $250 on paid social advertising. That's incredible ROI, given that from now on UTSA will be able to send them messages with 80% open rates. Not only were their alumni suddenly reachable on Facebook Messenger, they were actually engaged in the outreach. This high return on investment would be rare, if not impossible, to garner anymore on traditional channels. To extend this success beyond President Eighmy’s inauguration, UTSA is now able to message these alumni at a 93% (!) open rate and 21% click-through rate (8X better than emails), as an efficient way to increase awareness of events, update contact information, and even solicit donations using Messenger.

This is The Story of Us… Here are the results:

  • 766 users interacting and engaging with the inauguration conversation
  • 93% opened UTSA’s communications on Messenger (compared to 25% average email newsletter open rate)
  • 14% participated in the chatbot quiz, a 5x higher click-through-rate than emails

Let’s Begin Again: What does this mean for advancement?

Yes, creativity plays an important role in your message’s ability to stand out in the oversaturated digital media age and engage young alumni in a way that feels more natural to their world. Equally important is meeting them on the channels where they already are active and comfortable, instead of focusing energy and budget solely on aging outreach tactics. Universities need to be open to new technologies, just as the younger generations are - they can be a game changer when it comes to engaging lost alumni, building relationships at scale, and raising more dollars.
 “The team at UTSA loves to be innovative. I had never experienced a university 
reaching out to me on Messenger, so I knew Funderful had a cutting-edge idea,” said Heather. “Working with Funderful was easy and they really made our Taylor vs. Taylor quiz come to life.  Seeing the results, we are very excited to continue using this new Messenger strategy for other alumni and donor engagement opportunities.” 
Heather UTSA Funderful-1
Heather Locke Green
Director of Annual Giving and Development Communications
University of Texas at San Antonio
Schools like Georgetown, West Point, Pomona, Claremont McKenna, and UTSA are just a few that already using chatbots and messaging as a new channel to reach their recent alumni. Are you Ready for It?
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Raimonds Kulbergs CEO of Funderful

Founder of Funderful. Raimonds started his career in corporate finance, leading consultancy arms at Deloitte and Ernst&Young. In his free time he led the award winning record breaking alumni fundraising campaign and tripled the funds raised at his school. So he took the jump from a safe career into startups driven by a chance to make a positive and global impact. Raimonds has often been a speaker at CASE District conferences and a contributor for CASE CURRENTS.

What is Funderful

It's a social messaging solution that lets you build guided Facebook Messenger conversations with an 80% open rate.

Funderful is great for:

  • Increasing reunion and homecoming attendance
  • Recruiting and managing volunteers
  • Boosting giving day results
  • Attracting young alumni donors
  • Promoting Senior Class Giving.
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