How the Duke Alumni Association Taught Me to Engage Users

Last week I attended one of the most enjoyable events I’ve been to in Silicon Valley.  Strangely enough, there weren’t any pitches, no one talked about SEO, and I didn’t even learn any tricks for database management.  In fact, the vast majority of people there were not associated with startups in anyway.  This event was the Duke Alumni Association’s Forever Duke Send-Off Party for the class of 2016.

When I left for Duke, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a send-off party to go to.  This is probably due to, both the fact that I transferred to Duke, and the fact that I’m from New Mexico, which doesn’t have an incredibly strong Duke alumni base. However, I was lucky enough to attend the event this year (as a Duke senior) and really enjoyed the time I had and the lessons that I learned.

The Send-Off Party is an opportunity for the class of 2016 and their parents to meet current Duke students and alumni in a casual setting.  This event works incredibly well and  made me think about why I love Duke so much.  I’m a loyal Dukie through and through, but what has Duke done to make me feel so loyal? How can I draw some inspiration from their example and make my company (FlightPin) retain loyal users as well as Duke retains loyal alumni?  Well here’s what I came up with:

Feel like you’re a part of something: Duke does this incredibly well.  It’s not just the great atmosphere around basketball that creates this feeling, either (though that certainly helps).  Duke people LOVE meeting other Dukies.  As soon as two people discover a Duke bond between themselves, they have an instant connection.  As the Send-Off Party went on, into the evening, this became more and more apparent.  Future freshman were chatting up incredibly successful alumni (that many high school grads might not have had the guts to reach out to had they not shared the Duke bond) with ease.  The alumni were equally excited to meet all of the freshman and hear about their future plans.  This has to be because of the Duke bond.   How many really successful people take the time out of their day to talk to a 18 year olds (even ones that they may already know) to get a better understanding of their future plans and possibly mentor them?  My guess would be close to nill.  Since we all share the Duke bond, however, this became the norm at the Send-Off Party.

When it comes to engaging and retaining users, you need to make them feel like they’re a part of something big.  If they weren’t part of your company or brand, they wouldn’t be able to get whatever service or product you provide.  If you can create a brand that has loyalty like Duke does, you’ll be set.  I’m not positive how to tackle this task yet, as I’m still in the early stages with FlightPin, but I think a lot of it has to do with transparency.  I read and respond to every email that comes into FlightPin, regardless what user it comes from.  If you have any tips on further making people feel like a part of a great brand, let me know!

See what you can become: The Send-Off Party was a great example of this.  Incoming freshman and their parents had the opportunity to meet and chat with current students and alumni.  No doubt, all of them went home thinking about a few of the more memorable conversations that they had and the people they met.  This event gave freshman the chance to see themselves in the shoes of upperclassmen and Duke alumni.  When we’re younger, we all look up to the people a few grades, years, or levels above us.

This is, yet another, important aspect to grasp for customer engagement and retention.  When a user joins your site, they probably haven’t made any purchases or performed any actions.  In order to get them to do so, show them examples of people who were in their same situation, used your product, and had an incredible experience.

Get excited about the future: As the evening progressed, and more incoming freshman heard stories about others’ experiences at Duke, you could literally see and hear them get more excited about their futures at Duke.

This is a really important aspect to address if you want users to keep returning to your site.  Make sure that you keep delivering what ever product or service brought them to you originally incredibly well, but also show them glimpses of the future.  Get them excited about your next release or the next feature you’re adding.  If someone feels the need to check back into your site in anticipation of an upcoming product, it’s going to lead to better trafic and loyalty.

These all seem like really obvious things to do, but many sites (including my own) don’t have them perfected.  By incorporating all three aspects efficiently, you might be able to create a product with users as loyal as Dukies.  Also, if you have the chance to attend a Forever Duke Send-Off Party, DO IT.  The Duke Alumni Association is doing a great job putting these together, you’ll meet really cool people, and you might just gain some business insights.

-CRV

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