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Virginia Tech Alumni Association Pioneers Online Communities
Virginia Tech
The Virginia Tech Alumni Association was one of the pioneers in online outreach to its alumni community. As early as 1996, it began its Internet alumni community, Virginia Tech Alumnet, utilizing the concept of a single entry back into the university community - something that would become known as an Internet portal.

That early Virginia Tech community eventually numbered more than 13,000 users, a real accomplishment given there was initially a membership fee and no e-commerce features. Tom Tillar, the vice president for alumni relations, was responsible for initiating the new community site, an early believer in both the Internet and importance of affinity communities. By 1999, of course, the Internet had advanced considerably and the drivers of this growth had emerged as e-commerce and brand.

Since the password-based membership had been a barrier to growth for Virginia Tech's Alumnet site, Tillar wanted both e-commerce and a single entry or portal tailored to Virginia Tech and its identity.

Just as it pioneered the Internet community concept, the Virginia Tech Alumni Association has broken ground by introducing the first portal at the university. Customized and powered by MyPersonal.com, the new portal at www.vatechalumni.com went live at the start of the new millennium. The new portal has many more interactive features, including easy navigation that leads to registration and ultimately to the personalization of the alum's StartPage, an alumni directory and linkages to others of the university's Web sites. It is possible for alumni to enter once and link everywhere within the university, Tillar noted. "We do not view other sites within or outside of the university as competitive, but rather complementary."

While Tillar recognized the necessity of e-commerce to attract members and fuel the portal on a financial basis, he also recognized the need to control it. With MyPersonal, (www.mypersonal.com), the alumni association controlled the degree of e-commerce; it was able to integrate previous vendor relationships and allowed selected advertising deep within the site. In controlling e-commerce and owning the domain name, Tillar understood that the alumni association also controlled brand integrity.

There was also another factor in his decision to go with MyPersonal. Tillar was no stranger to the issues of maintenance of an alumni community site. Their earlier Virginia Tech Alumnet site was developed by Amicus of San Antonio, TX, and maintained by the alumni association. The association understood the long-term value of a hosted solution from MyPersonal.

"It appealed to me to have a company that knew how to build a portal and what to offer. I was looking for a robust technology solution with depth and range in features and services. Our previous site required an annual contractual fee from our organization. In contrast, our new portal is designed to generate supplemental funding for the association through revenue sharing and no outlay on our part. MyPersonal is also used to handling pre-existing relationships, as well as providing new service providers. Most importantly, MyPersonal understands the business model at the alumni level. It has developed a solution with broad appeal for all alumni associations with its offerings but can tailor its solution to fit a specific alumni community like ours. Finally, we assessed MyPersonal's team; they were talented and we felt we would enjoy working work with them. We've already created some innovative things together," Tillar concluded.

A "Virginia Tech NetLetter" was sent to approximately 40,000 alumni with e-mail addresses, announcing the portal. Mouse pads and key chains with the web address were given away at reunions and other events. "But best of all, we had a promotion for a drawing for a free trip for two as part of our scheduled alumni tour to Provence, France, in August. That helped attract alums to the site," Tillar emphasized.

Tillar noted that the alumni tour and registration coupled with a sweepstakes was enormously successful, thus sparking more co-marketing plans with MyPersonal. A loyalty program where alums can accumulate points for redemption through the portal is something that Virginia Tech would like to see incorporated in the future. "That is the nature of today's consumer - who is attracted to programs such as this that add value to a Web site."

Tillar continued, "I am not sure where the concept of Web community is going. I think some universities may choose to have multiple portals - for students, athletics, and alumni. And the more the affinity, the better the relationship will be, I predict. Now some students already establish e-commerce sites on their PCs - all with low technology and no sizeable personnel. At some point, this universe will want someone to sift though all this. People want trusted endorsers of products, and the university and its representatives are trusted. For example, when we run a tour program for our alums, they trust us to pick a quality service. We have an advantage over someone with whom they are not affiliated. Because of that trusted advantage, it is even more important for universities to protect that affinity and relationship with organizations such as MyPersonal."

 MyPersonal understands the business model at the alumni level. 
 MyPersonal has developed a solution with broad appeal for all alumni associations with its offerings, but can tailor its solution to fit a specific alumni community like ours.