It was only a matter of time before a prominent business school decided to do its own version of Facebook to better connect alumni around the world. Not surprisingly, the school that will launch its Facebook-like network is Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.
Next month, the school will take the wraps off of an impressive and innovative effort to use a private social network to more effectively link its 9,100 alumni—already the most loyal and generous of any business school in the world—with each other as well as the Tuck’s faculty and current students.
“Facebook has shown people the value of reconnecting with dear people in your life,” says Gina des Cognets, Tuck’s director of alumni services. “Facebook makes it easy to have these quick touches with people. That’s what we’re trying to do with My Tuck.”
My Tuck features a clean and simple Facebook-like interface
The network, which has been in open beta since early March, boasts a clean and simple Facebook-like interface with features that personalize a user’s experience. Alums are asked a battery of questions, from which areas of interest and faculty they would like to follow. They can select content by geographic region, by the school’s eight academic centers, by a dozen disciplines, from entrepreneurship and marketing to finance and strategy, and by individual professors.
“We can use what we know to customize your experience,” says des Cognets. “You don’t have to wade through a lot of information. What you see is what’s relevant to you and it’s served up. You don’t have to look for it. It helps makes your experience rich and meaningful.”
When alumni enter the home page of My Tuck, for example, they will view a live feed of the latest ideas and essays from faculty based on their personal preferences (See a view of the full homepage for a logged-in visitor.)
An attempt to recreate the intellectual hotbed of a campus via the internet
“Alumni always tell us that they loved being in this hotbed of intelligence when they were MBA students,” says des Cognets. “We’re going to bring them back here by delivering Tuck expertise to them on a regular basis.”
In the right rail, they’ll see “Jobs You May Be Interested In,” “Tuckies Who Work With You,” and “Tuckies You May Know”—all customized for the person entering the site. If an alum targets Boston or San Francisco for jobs, only the MBA jobs in those metro areas that are relevant to the alum will pop up on the screen.
On the left side of the homepage, there are details culled from “My Profile” and “Notes from Amos Tuck,” topical tidbits, polls and trivia on the school. Then there is an event calendar, again customized to an alum’s location and interests—and all clickable to gain more information on each event and to RSVP online.
Alums can join clubs, access class notes, comment on faculty opinions and chat
Like Facebook, My Tuck users can join clubs and discussion groups, access class notes and news, events and reunions, comment on faculty opinion pieces, and chat with a shared alumni group. There are short video tutorials by Tuck professors on such topics as running your first press conference as well as travel tips from a road warrior alum who typically flies 80,000 miles a month.
Tuck also plans to run frequent webinars with faculty for alumni on the site. Videos of guest speakers at Tuck also appear on the site, allowing alumni to essentially join the classroom to see and hear what current MBA students are experiencing. Recent videos include addresses by venture capitalist Roger McNamee and Morgan Stanley managing director Risana Zitha. There’s even one-click access to research in the school’s library.
“The special sauce of the Tuck experience is the nature of our community,” says des Cognets. “This tool will be that much richer because it will allow alumni to share their professional and personal experiences with each other and create that special sense of community.”
The new initiative comes at a school known for its incredibly loyal and close-knit alumni base (see “The Best B-School Alumni Networks in the U.S.“). Last year, a record 70.5% of Tuck’s alumni made gifts to the school. It is the highest percentage of annual giving of any business school in the world and well above the 20% average for the top ten U.S. schools. At Harvard Business School, for example, about 27% of alums gave back to the school. Just three months into the new year, Tuck already reached a 46% participation rate, “eclipsing what all the other business schools will do by yearend,” says David Celone, director of development and annual giving.
Finding the alum who speaks Mandarin and has experience outsourcing in China
myTUCK also boasts a powerful search engine that allows any alum to quickly search the school’s alumni network and identify Tuckies by company, industry, location, languages spoken, membership on non-profit boards and international work experience. A Tuck MBA who wants to tap the knowledge of a fellow Tuckie who has professional experience setting up manufacturing in China, for example, can find that person in the database and immediately make contact through myTUCK.
“You can find alumni who can speak Mandarin, or who have work experience in Brazil, or who are on non-profit boards that help disadvantaged young people,” says des Cognets. Also similar to Facebook, there are privacy settings to allow alums to keep certain info protected.
One of the more entertaining features of the new site is the intimate portraits of Tuck faculty created for the new site. They include personal photographs of professors and answers to such questions as “What book are you currently reading?,” “What’s your favorite maxim or proverb?,” “Who has been inspirational to you?,” “If you were not a professor what would you be?” and “What is one thing most Tuck alums don’t know about you but should?”
Faculty profiles portray professors in a highly personal light
Marketing professor Kusum Ailawadi’s profile includes a photograph of her lounging on the floor of her home with her two yellow Labrador retrievers and another dancing with her husband, along with a favorite Calvin and Hobbes’ comic strip. Finance professor Robert Hansen’s profile features a photograph with a trophy catch on a fishing trip. “It approximates the level of intimacy of the relationships that Tuck faculty have with our students,” explains des Cognets.
The school used Digital Flannel, a graphic design firm in nearby Woodstock, VT, to create the look and feel of the new platform and then adapted a platform built by iModules, a Kansas City-based firm providing software for the educational and non-profit markets, and, in the words of des Cognets, “stretched it in ways it has never been stretched before.”
The site will require far more content than Tuck normally produces so that des Cognets is working with Tuck’s communications staff to pump out more regular updates, particularly of faculty insights.
Tuck expects most of its alumni base to be receptive to its new social network. “After our younger alums, people in their 50s, 60s and 70s are the most comfortable with this technology,” says des Cognets. “They have been using social media to stay in touch with their kids and grandchildren.” As for the rest, the school is hoping that they’ll find the tool valuable and fun to use.
In any case, the school doesn’t view myTUCK as a substitute for in-person alumni events on- and off-campus. “It won’t replace what we do now,” she says, “but it will be a powerful addition to create something special for our alumni online.”