The Power of Influence Networks in Higher Ed and Business

the power of influence networks in business and higher ed

Whether you’re looking for career success or social capital, It’s not about what you know, but who you know.

And who you know is a function of influence which works as one of the greatest currencies of our world. A network of influence provides a symbiotic exchange of value through leveraging the resources of individuals and groups to elevate both.

Whether you’re a student, a professional, or an organization, learning to leverage available networks is key to building success in the increasingly interconnected world of the modern age.

Key Takeaways

  • Individuals, companies, and schools may build and leverage their influence to see amazing returns

  • Building a network of influence increases upwards mobility in your career and in academic performance

  • Organizations and schools can tap into their alumni networks for massively increased conversions and engagement potential

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Influence Networks Among Students, Professionals, and Schools

In an interconnected world, influence is the glue that forms connections.

This holds true for university students and professionals alike. Oftentimes, students will find that the networks established in school lead to career-defining opportunities later in life as professionals.

For the Universities themselves, active alumni network members provide an invaluable service. These networks represent the good standing of a university by conferring reputation-equity based on these individuals’ achievements. This emboldens current and prospective student motivation and establishes a symbiotic relationship between higher education and the corporate world.

For businesses, creating strong personal networks within a core team improves employee retention and the increases the social and professional resources available to each employee. This leads to all sorts of performance boons and motivates companies to further invest in developing a network of influence.

Networks and Academic Performance in Higher Education

Student learning improves when students work together and build social ties around the learning experience. This concept is referred to as cooperative learning.

When students and faculty appropriately wield their influence on one another, the learning environment becomes more cooperative.

In other words, cooperative learning will motivate students to participate in their studies more actively. Cooperative learning also improves student integration in the classroom, during projects, and within student organizations.

Faculty who work towards understanding student integration will see increased academic performance both in the classroom and out of the classroom. And of course, mastering student integration is just a crucial albeit challenging in online education.

Ultimate the extent to which college students are integrated into their program will depend on faculty governance and the social atmosphere of a school.

Faculty Networks and Teaching Practice in Higher Education

It’s not just students who benefit from building a network of influence.

Faculty can leverage connections with peers, corporate relationships, and fellow academics to improve the quality of their research and teaching ability.

The Facts About Alumni Programs

A drawing of a people network

Businesses leverage their social capital in a variety of interesting ways to tremendous effect.

Much like in higher education, alumni maintain a strong sense of loyalty to their previous employers–just as university students display loyalty to their alma mater.

This is represented in the fact that 98% of Fortune 500 companies have some form of an alumni program. But like any good business model, there must be proof of a return on an investment.

And in this case, there certainly is.

Investing in lifelong relationships leads to measurable benefits such as the following:

  • 2.8 times increase in revenue per employee

  • 4.5 times increase in product innovation

  • 6 times increase in employer attractiveness

  • Businesses that actively engage alumni see up 44% increase in net new business

  • An engaged alumni delivers a 10% increase in brand sentiment

  • Alumni as brand advocates are worth at least 5 times more than average customers

Takeaway: Alumni network members represent the ideal customer

Alumni Network Effects on Recruiting, Retention, and Hiring

Organizations that leverage an alumni network will also save big money on various forms of recruitment and retention.

Specifically, alumni networks save organizations more than $5 million in annual cost savings for recruiting. These savings can be attributed to the following factors:

  • 1% increase in rehire rate yields $1.25 million in savings

  • Rehire rate can increase from 2.4% to 8% with a strong alumni program

  • 44% higher retention rate for boomerang hires over 3 years

  • 73% of former employees are willing to do project-based work

  • 46% of young people (Millennials) are willing to return to an employer

  • 85% of jobs are filled by networking with personal and professional connections, with employee referrals accounting for 40% of all hires

Takeaway: Alumni networks make recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees both more efficient and more effective.

The Benefits of Alumni Networks in Business

For business-oriented individuals–and professionals in general for that matter–networks form the essential channels of communication, negotiation, and collaboration.

In business, every connection offers relationship offers a potential upside. Data collected on professional networks tells us about very clear benefits:

  • Networking opportunities with established professionals could lead to:

  • Informational interviews

  • Assistance making a career change

  • Promotions

  • Finding the right candidate for your company

  • Access to exclusive job postings, resume reviews, and free resources

  • True community and meaningful relationships

  • Access to expertise and mentors

  • Discounts for sports games, bike rentals, fitness centers, museums, on-campus performances, bookstores, financial services, travel insurance, airfare, restaurants, apparel, and continuing education classes

  • Both colleges and corporations invest in strong alumni networks with varying goals]

Takeaway: Leveraging your professional network can improve upwards mobility in your profession and increase the number of opportunities available to you.

College Alumni vs Corporate Alumni

Two businessmen discussing business

Of course there are notable distinctions to be made between different groups of alumni. For instance, the utility of college alumni groups differs from corporate alumni groups.

Let’s explore the differences between college alumni networks and corporate alumni.

  • The primary goal of college alumni networks is fundraising

  • Corporate alumni networks on the other hand have multiple goals:

    • Access labor pool

    • Drive referrals or boomerang hires

    • Boost business development

    • Increase sales

    • Connect mentors and mentees

    • Create a positive evangelist community

Takeaway: While institutions of higher education mainly leverage alumni for fundraising, corporate alumni groups provide multi-faceted benefits to their parent company.

Top 10 Corporations With Strong Alumni Networks

The following companies demonstrate the ‘best practices’ of corporate alumni network building, engagement, and retention:

  1. P&G

  2. HSBC

  3. Accenture

  4. McKinsey

  5. Coca-Cola

  6. Citi

  7. Microsoft

  8. Nestle 

  9. LinkedIn

  10. Google (Unofficial)

Takeaway: To see a real world example of the strongest corporate alumni networks in the world, check out the 10 companies listed above.

Top 10 Schools With Strong Alumni Networks for University Students

The benefits of young people enrolling in a University with a strong alumni network are numerous.

Most notably, university students can tap into an active alumni network in order to tap into more learning opportunities, internships, and even job opportunities.

These 10 schools demonstrate the strongest alumni networks:

  1. Penn State University

  2. Harvard University

  3. New York University

  4. University of Michigan

  5. University of Pennsylvania

  6. Princeton University

  7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  8. University of Virginia

  9. Dartmouth College

  10. Northwestern University

Takeaway: Many influential individuals are associated with universities and may be willing to provide job referrals to standout students, which may open the door to tremendous opportunities.

Influential People You Should Know

To fully understand the impact of an influential person, it’s helpful to explore history’s most influential figures.

These people demonstrated tremendous influence and built networks that still exist today:

  • Noam Chomsky

    • Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona

    • Influential in linguistics and political science

  • Paul Krugman

    • Professor emeritus of the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University 

    • Distinguished professor of the Graduate Center Economics Ph.D program and scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center, both at Graduate Center, CUNY

    • One of the most highly respected and well-known economists in the world

  • Martha Nussbaum

    • Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago

    • Significantly influential voice of feminism and liberalism

  • Shing Tung-Yau

    • William Caspar Graustein Professor of Mathematics at Harvard University

    • Influential for his work in differential geometry and geometric analysis

  • Clarence Thomas

    • US Supreme Court Justice nominated by President George H. W. Bush

    • The second African American to serve on the Court and its longest-serving member since Anthony Kennedy’s retirement in 2018

  • Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen

    • German politician serving as the president of the European Commission since 2019

    • Held successive positions in Angela Merkel’s cabinet, most recently as Minister of Defense

Takeaway: A person’s influence continues to exist even after they pass away and in the case of the most influential people, may persist for hundreds of years.

Social Network Analysis: Alumni Networks & Investing

Blocks with people icons depicting a network of people

Alumni network members display a level of camaraderie and rapport that is not found among other professional and social networks.

College students will find all sorts of opportunities to benefit from their college’s alumni network. These benefits stretch beyond educational benefits, too, and will be especially alluring to business-minded students:

  • Investors are more likely to invest in startups created by founders from their alma mater 

  • A study of VC investments over a 19-year period found that the founder and investor attended the same college or university in 1/3 of investments

  • Founders’ connections to early-stage investors through shared education networks are more important than the quality of school and shared geography 

  • Alumni network allows investors to access more robust information about startups

  • Founders who went to schools with large alumni networks are able to raise more capital than other entrepreneurs

  • Size of an alumni network is likely the most important factor in early stage financing

Takeaway: Business students and those with entrepreneurial aspirations will want to heavily value the size and activity of a school’s alumni network when deciding which program to enroll in.

Tips For Leveraging An Alumni Network

Even the best alumni network may be squandered if an individual fails to leverage it properly.

College students will want to begin laying foundations during their university education, so that they are prepared to tap into their network after graduation.

Here’s some helpful tips on how to leverage an alumni network:

  • Give an update to your alumni magazine’s class notes column

    • Recent marriage and changed last name

    • Startup launch

    • Career change

    • Job search

  • Volunteer for a committee role for the opportunity to reconnect with classmates

  • Share professional expertise during alumni events, such as webinars

  • When contacting an alum:

    • Use email or LinkedIn

    • Provide a concise explanation of who you are, how you got their contact info, and why you’d like to meet

  • Ask to meet for coffee or lunch for an “informational interview” to:

    • Learn about potential career paths

    • Discover which skills you need to develop

    • Learn about internship opportunities

    • Send a personalized thank you note the next day

Takeaway: College students and professionals alike should think of network members as relationships that should be maintained and nourished, so that when the time comes they will be eager to provide assistance in return.

How To Maintain An Engaged Alumni Network in Higher Education

Colleges and corporations need to refine their strategy to maintain a strong and engaged alumni network members.

So how should institutions of higher education go about this?

Let’s look at some proven strategies:

  • Create an alumni-centered strategy that offers clear benefits to members

  • Design mobile-friendly content

  • Regularly update the database

  • Serve the needs of local and international alumni

  • Motivate alumni to get in touch by:

    • Sharing campus news

    • Spotlighting alumni accomplishments

    • Leveraging nostalgia

    • Providing networking opportunities

  • Offer incentives, such as gift vouchers, access to campus facilities, and event invites

  • Send personalized thank you notes

  • Utilize multiple channels throughout the year and limit contact to 15 per year

Takeaway: Like with any network, alumni network members need to be motivated to engage with the network by their alma mater.

Influence Networks in Business and Higher Education: Conclusion

Alumni networks in both higher education and business work as invaluable resources for building social capital and discovering valuable opportunities (both academic and professional).

The earlier university students build the good habits of networking the better.

Keep an eye out for opportunities to get involved and to give back to your alumni network, and you’ll reap the rewards

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