A Brief History of Disintermediation in Alumni Networks

Back in the day, institutions served as the central hub for students, alumni, and employers.

For lack of a better metaphor, the role that schools played was like that of an old telephone switchboard. They connected people who needed something with people who had something. (Can you guess how we picked our name?)

old phone switchboard

This system worked well for a while. Colleges and universities certainly enjoyed the privileged position they occupied and the center of the network, and they benefitted from playing the role of switchboard operator. That was how they stayed in touch with members of their community and kept them happy.

Then the internet happened.

With the eventual advent of social media, students and alumni grew dissatisfied with the offerings of their alma mater and began to choose to connect with one another online instead. Colleges' and universities' role as switchboard operator largely became redundant.

The neat network with the alma mater at the center exploded into a tangled mess.

For many younger students and alumni, their alma maters' alumni relations and career services offerings began to feel more like vestigial limbs than like offices that could actually help them. Career services and alumni relations professionals, finding their institutions no longer the central intermediaries of connections between their constituents, called this process "disintermediation."

Social media displaced the alma mater's role as switchboard operator for two main reasons:

1) Ease of use. Social media make it easy to connect with classmates, alumni, and employers—all without having to wait for an institution to patch you through. 

2) Network reach. You can connect with more people on social media than through your alma mater's programs and groups.

Students and alumni found social media incredibly useful. In fact more people signed on, the more useful it became.

But it wasn't long before people began to complain that the signal-to-noise ratio on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter was too low—that ads and irrelevant content were crowding out what people cared about and found helpful.

And this is why it is the time for colleges and universities, with their centuries of experience building sustainable communities, to shine. Alumni relations and career services offices can't undo the disintermediation wrought by social media, but they can harness those new networks for their own gain. By creating communities that exist both online and offline, institutions can use the networks that social media have created to help their constituents connect with one another and find what they need.

To find out how, read our blog post "The Career Community as Institutional Strategic Asset" by Sheila Curran, CEO of Curran Consulting.