Friday I had the wonderful opportunity to watch a presentation on LinkedIn given by John Hill, Director of Alumni Career Services at Michigan State University.  He was showing Honors College seniors what a valuable tool the social networking site can be for those looking for jobs.  He demonstrated how a little digging within the program can turn a “cold call” into a “warm call”- giving you enough information to help make the conversation flow easier when you call for information and advice on job search techniques.  This networking site is ideal for this type of data mining because the network is professionally based, with profiles mimicking a résumé.

While listening to this presentation, I couldn’t help but think of how useful this networking site could be for alumni clubs and nonprofits looking to do some research on their target audiences.  Read on, and see what I mean.

Let’s start with the obvious… groups.  Many universities already have large “umbrella” groups for their alumni.  As of this writing, the MSU Alumni Association group has 17,060 members in their LinkedIn group.  There are also smaller, segmented groups, such as the MSU Honors College Alumni Association, the Communication Arts & Sciences Alumni group, and the MSU College of Arts & Letters.  These groups allow LinkedIn users to self-identify themselves as not only affiliates of these groups, but also as supporters who are avid enough to announce to the world that they belong to these groups (a list of the groups an individual belongs to shows up on their profile page).  Why wouldn’t you want to tap into that?  By starting a LinkedIn group, and marketing its presence effectively, you can attract a group of self-identified people interested in what your organization is doing.  You can them send them messages and engage them in many ways.

Now for a little deeper digging… How about using LinkedIn to research your target audience?  If you have a pre-existing group you can view the profiles of the individuals who have joined to find out about their interests, professions, etc.  You can also do an advanced search within the “people” function of LinkedIn to find individuals who could potentially support your group/cause.

As an example, let’s say you are a board member of the MSU Alumni Club of Mid-Michigan ( I use this as an example because I am, in fact, a board member of this club, so this data will be relevant to me- I’m killing two birds with one stone here.)  You are on a committee serving the interests of young alumni within your region.  You are brainstorming what type of event to host in the upcoming year.  Wouldn’t it be beneficial to you to know what individuals in your target audience are interested in?  Here’s what you do:

  1. Open the advanced search window (click Advanced next to the search box at the top of the screen)
  2. Check “All Industries,” “All LinkedIn Members,” and “All Languages.”  Uncheck “All Your Groups.”  (Leave this checked if you only want to search within your group members, and not the LinkedIn world at large.)
  3. Enter “Michigan State University” under school.
  4. Under Location, choose “Located in or near,” enter a zip code in your region, and choose the mileage from this area code that you’d like the search to cover.  (For the sake of this example, I chose to search within 50 miles of 48823).
  5. Click search.
  6. A quick scan along the search filters on the next page (left column) shows the companies and industries with highest concentration of LinkedIn members meeting your criteria.  For example, I see that there are quite a few individuals listing MSU in their education who are involved in the marketing and advertising industry.  I might consider activities that relate to these fields, or I might limit my search to just these individuals and view some profiles for a more in-depth look at what this audience segment would be likely to participate in.
  7. Further investigation using the filters would enable me to narrow this search result by those with education from another institution in addition to MSU (perhaps an event for MSU alumni currently attending Cooley Law), current or former companies (alumni with affiliation to General Motors), etc.  I could also narrow the search by title, such as CEO, if I wanted to plan an event around this type of criteria.

Using the data I’ve collected by a quick search, I can learn a bit about the individuals I want to involve in my group.  In my example, I’ve learned that a lot of the young alumni in the region I’ve searched are involved in advertising and marketing.  In planning an event that would reach out to these individuals, I’d want to keep this in mind.  For example, I might want to consider hosting a Super Bowl watch party, and have attendees rank the advertisements.

Play around with the search functions on LinkedIn.  This is a very powerful tool, and one to be sure to include in your arsenal.