Duke University moves to the top of the class with an engaging integrated effort

Client: Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
Agency: SolutionSet
Build a robust database of international and regional alumni data to reconnect with and educate graduates and increase donations

When it comes to CRM, you’d think a university has it made. Students spend intense, formative years engaging with their school, building memories, and learning life lessons. But after graduation, when the geographical connection to the school is broken and alums scatter to the winds, the most students often hear from their alma mater is an annual request to shell out for the alumni fund.

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business didn’t find that to be an acceptable state of affairs—which is why it called on digital agency SolutionSet to put a virtual spin on Campout, the time-honored on-campus Duke tradition of students sleeping outside, or in tents or vans, for up to 40 hours in the fall in the hopes of snagging coveted tickets to Blue Devils’ basketball games before they sell out.

“We wanted to create a virtual way to leverage that spirit and for alumni to get connected with us and then take positive actions to support the school,” says Elizabeth Hogan, assistant dean of marketing at the Fuqua School of Business, herself a Duke alumna.

STRATEGY: Though Hogan and her team spread the word via social channels, email, and digital brochures, it took little prompting to get alumni, recent graduates, and current students alike to engage with the game, and that’s because it was fun and geared specifically to them, says Tim Ross, president of digital at SolutionSet.

“A game like this can’t feel like work or be cumbersome for the users, and in this case, Duke took something very salient in former students’ lives and applied it in an online social environment,” Ross says.

Players could either go it alone or organize themselves into teams to fulfill a variety of different tasks to earn points and win prizes, including the biggie: a trip to China with the Duke men’s basketball team. For example, users could post jobs, take a quiz about the history of Fuqua, volunteer to interview prospective students, or host an alumni event in their region.

The social aspect was built into the fabric of the experience, with users active on Twitter and Facebook. According to Zain Raj, CEO of SolutionSet’s parent company Hyper Marketing, that approach was invaluable.

“The power of digital allows us to constantly communicate and interact with each other,” says Raj, noting how Campout allowed graduates to reconnect with a powerful time in their lives. “And the social infrastructure allows a university to continue its relationship with alumni in a fairly seamless way over time,” he adds.

Part of the beauty of Campout was the way in which it was specifically tailored to interest a Duke graduate. “You don’t build relationships on a generic basis,” Raj says. “For anybody to feel valued, you have to connect with a shared experience, so what you would create for Duke alumni is very different from what you would create for, say, a Stanford graduate.”

RESULTS: Fuqua’s virtual Campout was a slam dunk. In addition to a significant increase in the average amount of time spent on Fuqua’s site—up 27% when compared to the previous year—the average number of site visits from key global markets, including the China, India, Russia, and the U.K. increased 40% after its launch. Online media conversions rose 4%, while the paid search conversion rate went up 4.6%.

Of the business school’s 14,000 graduates—the school was founded in 1959—a whopping 1,200 actively participated and engaged with the game, 700 in the first wave and 500 in the second. “We got people from every decade,” Hogan says. “And we had representatives from every program we’ve ever run—even ones that don’t exist at the school anymore.”

Hogan received a deluge of positive responses from the Duke community. One alumnus, CEO of a large company, wrote to Hogan with a jokey thank-you disguised as a rebuke.

“He told us we were personally responsible for him doing nothing at work that day,”

Hogan explains. “He’d been playing Campout all morning!”

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