North Carolina, USA

The WAABA Mission: Networking for Alumni in DC

The following was written for the William & Mary Mason School of Business MBA news blog by Gavin P. Smith – December, 2012:

Social and mobile media have evolved into important new tools for businesses, enabling them to better reach their target audience.  It has become standard practice for companies to have, maintain and utilize a social media presence.  Social media eliminates hurdles for businesses who want to go direct-to-consumer with their advertising.

As such, developing a social media strategy is important for any firm.  As a former broadcast media professional for a number of years, I too evolved my skills and strategies to embrace social media.  Six years ago I started my own web and social media consulting business.   Self-taught, I have honed my skills through the years by applying an entrepreneurial, solutions-based approach for all of my clients. No matter what they asked, I always found a way to provide a workable solution.

These days, it is fairly easy to build a website for yourself or someone else.  This is why many businesses lull themselves into thinking that they can do it all on their own.  The thought: “I can pop up a website in an hour or less and customers will flock to me.”  Unfortunately, I call this the “Field of Dreams” syndrome, one that especially plagues many small businesses.  It is not enough to expect that if you build it, they will come.  Rather, it takes a strategy and dedication that is similarly required of any traditional brick-and-mortar business model.

At the end of the spring 2012 semester, I was approached by Andrew Schneider, Director of the Washington Area Alumni Business Alliance, to discuss potential improvements for WAABA’s online presence.  The mission for WAABA is to build a better business community for the College of William & Mary in the Washington, DC area.  The goal is to provide greater networking for alumni, create lifelong learning opportunities, increase career opportunities for current students, increase on-campus opportunities for businesses and establish a cohesive communications infrastructure to achieve these goals.

My own goal was to take the communications strategy piece and make it fully functional and beneficial for WAABA.  In doing so, I focused not on what was in place, but rather on what I knew the site could be.  Andrew envisioned the WAABA site to become a beacon of information, a virtual one-stop-shop for its members.   As mentioned, I approach clients with a solutions-based mentality.  How can we make the WAABA website into a beacon of information for all of its current and potential members?

The answer is in the word ‘beacon’.  A beacon of light goes out to the far reaches of the night, providing a guiding reference back to the source of origin for all who see it.  Think of ships that pass by many of the lighthouses along the east coast of North Carolina, my home state, as an example.  Light from these beacons goes out in all directions.  Those who see that light are then able to navigate to it and find the shore.

My solution is no different.  I decided to apply something similar to both push and pull marketing strategies to create what I call the “closed-loop social media system”.  In broad strokes, we created a blog platform to allow for constant updating from any remote location (an internet browser, text messaging, mobile).   Once this blog was in place, we then determined the top social media platforms we would embrace.  These include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Google+.   I then developed a system that linked our main site to all of these accounts simultaneously.   Whenever a new blog entry is made, the headline and corresponding link is transmitted across all networks.  This also translates into ease of use for the client, needing only to manage one location of updates rather than manually maintaining several.   Again, the goal is to shine our light out from one source, in all relevant directions, to increase awareness of WAABA and draw alumni back to our ‘shore’.

Now that we have completed the ‘push phase’ of the closed-loop system, we are now working on the pull phase.   Part of this involves developing an ongoing publishing strategy for all of our blog entries on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.  When users find our ‘shore’, they need to find more than just an empty beach.  Just as print media works from a schedule, so will we.  Utilizing other interns on the team, I am training them and tasking them with creating these new blog entries on a variety of topics from current events to highlighting the various features and benefits of being a member of WAABA.  This information will also be integrated into our new ongoing newsletter schedule.  We will generate constant and useful information to keep visitors coming back for more.

Gavin P Smith - WAABA Banner Design 2

The other portion of this phase involves the integration of all social media feeds to display within the main WAABA website pages.  This closes the loop.  Visitors that are unaware of our social media presence will discover new ways to stay up to date with WAABA information.  Even if our audience does not visit the WAABA page on a daily basis initially, we will continue to draw users in by keeping them through whatever platform that they prefer.  Building this ongoing relationship of interaction across social media is vital to achieving the WAABA vision.

Once the system is fully in place, it allows WAABA to greatly expand what they are able to provide in their new one-stop online shop.  The potential for becoming a hub of DC employment advice, executive mentoring, e-learning and job-seeking will be well within reach.

I do not profess that my method is the absolute right, most savvy, pretty, or cutting edge way of doing things.  There are a number of potential “ways to the barn” (nod to Mason Professor Elizabeth Foster).  For my clients, all that matters to me in the end is if I can positively answer the question – “does it accomplish or surpass the marketing goals set out by the client?”

This summer, my work with WAABA is more than just an internship.  WAABA is my client.  While more work remains, I am confident that the sum of our accomplishments will meet or exceed their marketing goals.

Archived link of original post on WAABA website here: https://web.archive.org/web/20140117022634/http://blog.wmschoolofbusiness.com/the-waaba-mission-networking-for-alumni-in-d-c/

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