Scalable, Authentic, And Manifold: How To Maximize The Business Impact Of Your Corporate Alumni Network (Part 1)

Christian Mencke

Part 1 of the three-part series, “Scalable, Authentic, and Manifold.” In this blog, we will discuss best practices for leveraging network scalability by managing network size.

Corporate alumni networks are still a largely untapped reservoir of business potential, even though it’s easy and cost-effective to establish them and unleash their full capacity. Prerequisite: You need to understand the specific laws of interaction that characterize networks – and you need to manage your alumni network accordingly.

As a concrete example, I have taken a closer look at survey results about the SAP’s corporate alumni network to understand the network-specific “mechanics” behind the empirical findings. (The cross-company survey was conducted by Conenza in collaboration with Cornell University’s ILR School.)

Such a fact-based approach allows us to derive practical network management recommendations to increase the effectiveness of corporate alumni networks in fulfilling their business objectives by building communities of:

  • Convincing business developers,
  • Exclusive talents,
  • Enthusiastic brand ambassadors, and
  • Authentic experts as a valuable feedback source

In subsequent blogs, I will focus on consciously managing a network’s size, trust-level within it, and last (but by no means least) diversity of its membership base.

The impact of network size

Let me start with an eye-opening empirical finding that underlines the key role of a network’s size on its business potential: Over the course of one year, every alumnus recommended SAP an average of seven times as a great place to work and will continue to do so in the future with a likeliness of 8.4 on a 10-point scale. On a side note, the survey reported comparable numbers when it comes to product recommendations. But let’s take a closer look at this example to examine the scalability potential within a trusted network like an alumni relations community:

Over the first half of 2020, SAP’s alumni network is expected to reach the 10,000-member-threshold, which means that within just one year, 70,000 recommendations into trust-based personal networks will be generated, strengthening SAPs employer brand and thereby helping staff vacant positions from a promising candidate pool.

Now, here is the trick: Personal networks like those within and around alumni relations are substantially built upon personal trust. So, if there is a trustful relationship between alumnus Alice and her buddy Benjamin, and Alice recommends her previous employer to Benjamin as a great place to work, there is a certain likeliness that Benjamin will also recommend Alice’s previous employer to his (maybe job-seeking) peer Christine, even if he has never been in contact with the company, just because he trusts Alice. Just imagine: If the annual recommendation rate at the level of Benjamin’s “tier-2” network is still two (instead of seven in tier-1), and the rate in Christine’s tier-3 network might still be 0.5 – the overall number of trust-based and pinpoint recommendations has quadrupled to 280,000 – just because the networkers’ networks are taking effect through considerable scaling factors.

Ways to grow your network

Just to be clear: This viral word-of-mouth mechanism is not exclusive to alumni networks but occurs more or less in all network-like relationships. However, this example emphasizes the immense business potential a company forfeits if it doesn’t actively manage alumni relations.

The resulting recommendation for alumni network managers is actually pretty obvious: Let your network grow! If the network is still in its infancy, before it becomes attractive to new members simply because of its size, be widely visible (e.g., via social media and/or by winning top executives as promoters), and offer tangible assets to attract new members. These assets do not necessarily need to be very costly: The survey showed that a simple newsletter is highly appreciated as a very attractive asset. Furthermore, ensure that the registration process is as easy and convenient as possible. For example, make it an integrated part of the standard employee offboarding procedure.

However, while growing your network, keep in mind that the binding element is trust. Don’t force individuals into it with unrequested, by-default registrations. Besides risking privacy regulation issues, individuals who have been pulled into the network more or less against their will might stay passive and significantly weaken the aspired viral dynamics or – even worse – cause countereffects.

As we have just touched on the crucial role of trust in networks: I think it’s worth sharing a few more thoughts about this “social lubricant” and its catalytic function within networks. I will do so in the next blog in this series.

Learn more about “Leveraging Corporate Alumni For Strategic Transformation.”

Christian Mencke

About Christian Mencke

Dr. Christian Mencke is Director/HR Project Expert Alumni Relations at SAP SE. In his role he focuses on management and strategic development of the trust-based “SAP Family” network of former SAP employees towards a vital community of enthusiastic brand ambassadors, convincing business developers, authentic feedback providers and an exclusive talent pool. Prior to that he worked on business, strategy and organizational development of SAPs Partner Ecosystem as well as for other large and medium-sized enterprises based on an internal and external management consulting background. Christian studied Economics and Social Sciences at Leuphana University, Germany, and holds a PhD in the subject of trust and networks in a business context.