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3 Reasons Why Alumni Networks ("Huddled Masses") Don't Work for Small/Medium Sized Companies...

Buzzword bingo time at the Capitalist.  Today's phrase - "Alumni networks"...

First, let's give you a definition.  From BusinessWeek:Alumni

"As the global recession has deepened, human resources managers have adopted a term for the thousands of employees they're ushering out the door: "alumni." From Dow Chemical (DOW) to JPMorgan Chase (JPM), companies are urging former employees to maintain ties as members of the broader corporate team, almost like grads of the same alma mater, even if they end up moving to competing companies.

So, the alumni network is there so companies and former employees can stay in touch.  That much I get.  What I'm not sure about is whether the big company definition of the "alumni network" works for small to medium-sized companies.  To work through the definition, let's get more detail on the big company side from BusinessWeek:

The idea is to keep in touch with pros who might end up as business partners or even return as employees. For this, companies are steering them to alumni social networks. Much like Facebook or LinkedIn, they offer former employees and retirees a place to establish profiles and friend lists, share news and ideas with ex-colleagues, and participate on blogs and message boards. Unlike the big public social networks, the company sites feature industry news and job leads. They guide alums to reunions and company events—some even offer deals on health insurance.

Alumni networks follow a tenet of the knowledge economy: Personal connections transcend corporate boundaries. Already, office workers routinely Twitter and share Facebook status updates with long lists of "friends" that often include business rivals and former colleagues. With their alumni networks, corporations attempt to dissolve those boundaries themselves, establishing for each company a broad network of people who can keep in touch throughout their careers to benefit from each other's knowledge and contacts. Some companies mix alumni with current employees; others keep them apart. "We're interested in building lifelong relationships," says Caren Scoropanos, who heads two-year-old KPMG Connect, where some 17,000 alumni mingle online with 22,000 employees."

I get the social network side of the alumni network concept, and for the big company, it makes sense to take an "all comers" approach.  But for the small to medium-sized company, does it make sense to create an Alumni Network that includes all past employees?

Here are 3 reasons why I think the "all comers" approach to an Alumni network doesn't work for a small to medium sized company:

3.  You know too much.  In a Small to Medium sized company, you know who the high performers are and who the low performers are.  Let's face it, you have so much knowledge compared to a huge company, you don't want to waste effort on those you wouldn't rehire or accept referrals from.

2.  You're probably not going to put a huge website together to enable communications amongst alumni.  2 reasons - you don't have the resources, and the numbers don't scale large enough where it would be meaningful to those who participate.  So, why do it?

1. We're starting to overlap on available tools with all the networks.  So you want an Alumni network - fine.  Does the world really need another social network/website, or can you figure out 80% of the same functionality via a tool like twitter?

I like the concept of engaging the performers you know within the informal alumni network at your company.  It's just not going to be via a huge stand alone website, because even if you built it, no one would come.

Two words - LinkedIn and Twitter.  Maybe Facebook (maybe not).  Enough said...


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