4 Alumni Magazine Predictions for 2020

We’re less than 60 days away from the 2020s! And what better way to focus on what’s ahead than making some predictions?

I’ve been reading the alumni magazine tea leaves over the past several months, and here are some of the big shifts and changes that I think we’ll be seeing in alumni magazines coast to coast.

Can I predict your magazine’s future?

1. Class notes will make a comeback.

Remember the argument that class notes were no longer essential “because everybody’s on Facebook?”

That’s just not true anymore. Social platforms may be as popular on ever, but they’re splintering fast. In the past two years alone, for example, Facebook has shed more than 15 million users in the U.S. — and many others are on the platform in a merely cursory way. The drop is especially steep among younger users.

Sure, maybe your alumni are moving over Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat or TikTok, but are they really bringing along all of their old university pals along with them in the transition?

Class notes might be the best new (old) way for your alumni to see what’s happening with their classmates and peers.

There’s a reason that those who’ve deeply invested in class notes for their school say that ditching them would lead to “World War III.”

Those who are willing to put in the time can revive class notes, an alumni magazine staple, and reap real benefits.

2. Stories of true connections will earn traction.

More than ever before, schools are having to justify their sticker price. Online education platforms including Udemy and Coursera offer the knowledge of the classroom at a fraction of the price. Billionaire Peter Theil thinks college is so worthless that he pays brainy students to drop out and pursue their ideas.

But is college really just about packing students’ minds with knowledge and getting them ready for the workforce?

Schools will need to remind their alumni that the value of the institution isn’t just the degree — they may still be enjoying benefits from their time at the school.

  • How many of your alumni found their best friends or spouses or business partners at your school?

  • How many alumni learned to deal with people who were profoundly different than they were, thanks to the weirdo they roomed with their first year on campus?

  • How many found a mentor who said the right thing at the right time, a handful of words that gave them confidence to pursue the difficult thing they’d been considering doing?

How many of these experiences would they have had sitting in front of a laptop watching an online course?

Alumni should be reminded of — and encouraged to remember — the valuable parts of a college beyond books and Bunsen burners. Those are the human experiences that come from packing together a diverse group of people in one place during an important part of their lives.

Education is expensive! But hopefully you can show alumni that it’s still worth it.

Imagine doing a story like this for your school, but instead of stars and stand-ins, you share stories of mentors and mentees, best friends, or alumni and students.

3. Campus news sections will (deservedly) die.

A frequent question I hear from editors is “What should I do with my campus news section?” They want to know how to tell timely stories with a three-month lag.

Here’s the secret: there is no way to tell timely stories with a three month lag. Kill the section!

Nobody needs to see 10-week old stories about a volleyball tournament or a long-past alumni event.

Campus news sections made sense 25 years ago, when it was all but impossible to get regular updates any other way. Today, you can get campus news online or in email blasts.

Take cues from top-notch print quarterlies like Nautilus, which replaces “news” with short takes on a variety of issues, or Denison Magazine, which uses its front pages to dive into beautiful packaged features that are typically linked to recent recognition that the school has received (here’s one on researchers; here’s another on journalists and writers).

Save your print magazine for what it does best: telling beautifully crafted and packaged stories about your school and its people.

4. Unfocused print alumni magazines will continue to see big cuts.

For decades, print alumni magazines were able to get away with sloppy positioning, lackluster storytelling, and ho-hum design. When it came to sharing information with far-flung alumni, what other options were there, really?

But along came the web, social media, and all sorts of shiny new tools.

Alumni magazines headed to the chopping block as schools began pouring resources into these new platforms. Schools trimmed their magazines’ page counts, scaled back the number of issues, and slashed budgets. Some magazines ceased publication entirely.

Honestly? Some have deserved it!

Some magazines featured rehashed content, poor design, and mindless boosterism. Some schools had no desire to make a good print publication, and it showed.

That said, online magazines are no panacea. I have yet to hear from an editor who’s found a sizable alumni audience online, no matter how beautiful the site or how brilliant the content.

But I’ve *definitely* heard from folks whose efforts to move content online have fallen flat. (See my interviews with an editor who helped develop a magazine app and one whose print magazine was scrapped in favor of online content as part of larger sustainability efforts — but revived after alumni raised their concerns.)

Print magazines are “boring” compared to lots of tech out there today. But they work.

I’ve had the chance to review plenty of statistically significant surveys from colleges that have found that their alumni magazines still get plenty of attention.

The reality is this: paper, print, and mailing costs will continue to rise. Magazines will continually have to earn their keep by focusing relentlessly on their audience and delivering beautiful and engaging stories, art, and design.

I strongly believe print alumni magazines, done well, can and will remain the flagship communications tool for alumni and donors. Research shows that good alumni magazines get and sustain readers’ attention.

If you’re reading this post, you probably actually care about your magazine! And that’s a great start.

But if you don’t have the proper goals, focus, and support, your magazine could be headed for extinction as well.

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What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know your predictions for the coming year!

Erin

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