On 23 May 2019, the International Business School at Hochschule Fresenius is organizing its first ever alumni evening – live, on campus, in person. Digitalization has long stopped being a trend and started becoming elementary to our modern way of life. Maintaining social networks has become easier. However, it still grounds on offline relationships made during one’s studies.
Networking in the Digital Age – more than a Soft Skill
One can only imagine what networking looked like in times when academic papers and theses where still written on type writers. After graduation, staying in touch with fellow class mates required mail – the kind of mail, whose paper sometimes had a scent, on which you actually had to write by hand and for whose delivery you had to find one of those yellow boxes that today almost look antiquated. Staying in touch with an institution, whose responses usually took longer and involved less personal banter, was even harder. Same went for universities. Did an alma mater (lat. “nursing mother”) invite its many alumni (lat. “nursed”), it had no guarantee that its children would follow the call. Alumni events were annual at best. In between? No updates, no comments, no Twitter feed.
It should come as no surprise that social media has benefitted networking. As early as 2011, Harmonie Farrow and Connie Yuan conducted a survey among approx. 3.000 alumni on the role of social media, specifically Facebook, in the maintenance and success of networking. It revealed: Facebook did not only make organization easier by allowing for more frequent conversation, but also affected the level of commitment within alumni networks – and therefore, one might argue, its success. Facebook forged a closer bond between alumni and their universities resulting in an increased willingness to volunteer as alumni in university contexts and even donate.
The internet has made networking less work – yet, at the same time a more central part of today’s business world. Corporate networking, staying in touch with business contacts, is arguably as important as networking inside an alumni association. In 2015, the social networking platform LinkedIn made almost 3 billion dollars in revenue and it counted half a billion users a year later. Innovative study programs like the Bachelor in International Business Management offered at Hochschule Fresenius have integrated “Networking, Political Skills and Personal Branding” in its curriculum, rather than have it be an extracurricular supplement to a set of business-relevant skills. Networking is no longer a soft-skill, but pivotal to New Work.
The research mentioned above highlights this claim, at least for universities. Digitalization has made it considerably easier for universities to stay in touch with alumni while also forging more profitable ties. However, alumni also benefit increasingly from universities, whose existing networks grow exponentially since they have developed a digital momentum of their own. A study among German entrepreneurs and their use of the social network site XING reveals how much alumni networks can be considered a symbiosis between universities and former students. Statistically, a well-connected university offers a more promising environment for a successful start-up. At the same, alumni who have more and closer ties with former students and foster them more frequently are more successful as entrepreneurs (Nann et al., 2010).
With networking becoming almost inseparable from digital platforms and integral to daily communication, one can easily think that it makes annual alumni events redundant. But between the lines written in binary code stands a very traditional message: No amount of digital forte can replace or make up for the lack of good old-fashioned friendships from one’s student days, built on shared fate and time, fueled by shared anecdotes, and regularly rekindled by shared laughter of heavy tongues. As research can validate, digital networking is especially strong where it builds on existing offline relationships (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). This is why students should take every chance to meet and connect to new people – lecturers, students or people from the business world. At the same time, alumni events as the one organized by the International Business School of Hochschule Fresenius will – for the foreseeable future at least – offer the best platform to tie these first knots in the most long-lasting way.
Alumni Evening, International Business School in Cologne
Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and
scholarship. Journal of computer‐mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230.
Farrow, H., & Yuan, Y. C. (2011). Building stronger ties with alumni through Facebook to increase volunteerism and charitable giving. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 16(3), 445-464.
Nann, S., Krauss, J. S., Schober, M., Gloor, P. A., Fischbach, K., Führes, H. Führes
(2010). The Power of Alumni Networks – Success of Startup Companies Correlates with Online Social Network Structure of its Founders. MIT Sloan Research Paper, 4766-10, n.p.