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Online community portals for enhanced alumni networking

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dc.contributor.author Barnard, Zenia
dc.date.accessioned 2008-08-13T12:18:49Z
dc.date.available 2008-08-13T12:18:49Z
dc.date.issued 2008-08-13T12:18:49Z
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10210/851
dc.description.abstract A university’s alumnus grouping is one of its most valuable assets in terms of its potential financial, strategic and social contribution towards the credibility and longevity of the institution. The goodwill and support of a primary stakeholder grouping such as the alumni is crucial to the aspirations of a Higher Education institution wanting to prosper in a fast-changing and highly competitive market. Alumni members have the capacity to assist in strategically positioning a tertiary institution as a market leader in the South African Higher Education Sector (SAHES) by means of representation on the institutional council and their involvement in networking, lifelong learning, career services, mentoring, fundraising and community development activities. In light of the restructuring and transformation that this sector has undergone since 1994, building and maintaining valuable relationships with alumni stakeholders of tertiary institutions in South Africa has become a new and more difficult challenge. The integrated network approach of relationship management could give an institution the opportunity to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders involved. Information technology has had a significant impact on the power structure and relationship between organisations and their publics, stakeholders and the media. It has become extremely difficult for organisations to define and segment these audiences as, for example, Internet audiences are widely spread across geographical, cultural, and economic boundaries. This makes the packaging and dissemination of information a much more challenging task, as information needs to be generic enough to be commonly understood, but should also be personalised in such a way that it still addresses the different audience segmentations effectively. However, the identification and profiling of target audiences is critical for successful information dissemination, as this knowledge will guide the information managers within organisations in compiling relevant (to the target audiences) content and packaging the information in a way that is most suitable to the needs and resources of the targeted group. At the core of developing an alumni network is a secure database with an interactive Web-based platform allowing the alumni management teams and members to disseminate and share relevant information freely. According to a research project (the first phase of a longitudinal study) about disseminating information to UJ alumni, 98,2% of the respondents indicated that they wanted to have contact with the UJ Alumni Relations Office (Barnard, Rensleigh & Niemann, 2005). The majority of respondents, 86,7%, indicated that they preferred to receive the information via electronic mail or from the website. The research findings indicated that the UJ alumni stakeholder group is part of a privileged section of the South African population in the global and national digital divide. Thus, the alumni management of UJ had the opportunity to explore and use the information-sharing options offered by online and digital technologies. This research project forms the second phase of the ongoing research project in an attempt to discard the “one-size-fits-all” notion with regard to information sharing with the alumni stakeholders of tertiary institutions in South Africa. The aim of this research project is to determine the extent to which an online community portal could manage the information needs of alumni stakeholders in the SAHES, using the alumni of the University of Johannesburg as a case study. Establishing an online (virtual) community Web portal for UJ alumni will support a customised approach in terms of information content, dissemination, context and commerce. An online community environment will offer alumni opportunities to re-establish contact with peers and nurture relationships with one another through frequent social interaction (chat). Such a facility would allow and encourage conversations that are of value to all stakeholders, as these communities can exist beyond the boundaries of location and time. They foster not only the potential to promote business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C), but also consumer-to-consumer (C2C) interaction and could even exploit the possibilities of human-resource placements. The research consisted of an extensive literature review followed by a quantitative empirical survey and a qualitative discussion forum. The purpose of the literature review was to establish a theoretical framework in order to lay a solid foundation from which the empirical research was conducted. The different components of the research problem were discussed as well as possible variables that could influence the research problem. The restructuring of the South African Higher Education Sector was investigated, with specific focus on the University of Johannesburg and its alumni stakeholder group, taking an in-depth look into the value that an alumni stakeholder group holds for an institution. The management of alumni information needs was discussed, using Web-technology as focal point. Online community portals were defined, emphasising the benefits that this information tool could have for Higher Education alumni. As part of the quantitative study, an empirical survey was conducted in April 2006 among the alumni of the University of Johannesburg to determine their information needs concerning an online community portal, and the content required of such an online community model. A total number of 10 380 questionnaires was distributed to graduates of the University of Johannesburg at the Autumn Graduation ceremonies. The questionnaire consisted of four sections, namely Section A: Biographical Information, Section B: Online Activities, Section C: Alumni Information Services and Section D: Alumni Community Needs. In total, 1 703 questionnaires were completed and returned by these graduates to the UJ Alumni Relations Office. In addition, a qualitative discussion forum was conducted among 35 alumni management representatives from fourteen SAHES institutions during August 2006. The representatives indicated how information was disseminated electronically to alumni target audiences and their opinions towards alumni online community portals were tested. The research results indicated that an online community portal, could manage, to a great extent, the information needs of alumni in the South African Higher Education Sector (UJ alumni case study). Consequently, a prototype was proposed for an online community portal for SAHES alumni that would have a significant impact on the information and communication methods used to build alumni networks, for the benefit of both the alumni stakeholders and the Higher Education institutions in South Africa. Although the alumni of the University of Johannesburg served as a case study for this research project, the proposed prototype could be tailored to the needs of other alumni organisations throughout the South African Higher Education Sector. In terms of inter-institutional collaboration, this research project offers an opportunity to liaise and share information with other alumni organisations of the SAHES. This could result in successfully identifying a best practice model for managing the information needs of alumni stakeholder groups of tertiary institutions in developing countries, which is significantly different from the philanthropic approach to these stakeholder groups in first world countries. As a result, the employment sector of Higher Education institutions in South Africa could gain from the research outcomes, as the proposed prototype will offer an ICT and Web-based solution which could be applied for the mutual benefit of the relevant stakeholder groups and the institutions. en
dc.description.sponsorship Prof. Chris Rensleigh en
dc.language.iso en en
dc.subject Web portals en
dc.subject Selective dissemination of information en
dc.subject Universities and colleges mergers en
dc.subject Relationship marketing en
dc.subject Customer relations en
dc.subject Corporate image en
dc.subject Alumni and alumnae en
dc.subject University of Johannesburg en
dc.title Online community portals for enhanced alumni networking en
dc.type Thesis en

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