Network News

UAB Entrepreneurs Connect Alumni Online

By Tara Hulen

0613 wasko1Molly Wasko launched inDegree as a
way for universities to use social media
to enhance alumni networks.
For UAB School of Business associate professor Molly Wasko, Ph.D., LinkedIn is more than a social media site for professionals. She views it as a rich source of data for her research into the development of online communities—and a business opportunity that could benefit universities, their students, and their alumni.

The result is inDegree, an alumni tracking service that helps universities find and connect with graduates and collect a range of useful information from LinkedIn profiles. InDegree won the grand prize of $100,000 in seed money in the 2012 Alabama Launchpad business plan competition, a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama Foundation.

Wasko, chair of UAB’s Department of Management, Information Systems, and Quantitative Methods, started inDegree with Alex Miningham, one of her M.B.A. students at Florida State University, where she taught prior to UAB. The two had worked on a similar idea after Wasko started using her own LinkedIn profile as a sort of research project. Soon, an unmet need became obvious. “I noticed that everybody (at the university) was coming to me to find out about alumni networks,” Wasko says. “I noticed it was a very powerful tool for staying connected to our alumni and helping our current students network with the alumni who came before them.”

Building Business Intelligence

Universities face a challenge in staying up to date with students and alumni as information about them gets thinner and less accurate over time, Wasko says. She saw the self-maintained profiles on LinkedIn as a potential way for collecting and maintaining accurate data.

“We are a trusted third-party data integrator that provides business intelligence for universities,” says Wasko, who oversees the technology that powers the service. “We can match your alumni database to LinkedIn profiles. Our primary customer is the dean or associate dean in a business school who is in charge of tracking outcomes for accreditation.”

InDegree also can gather permission from alumni to allow universities to tap into personal profiles for additional information, such as resumes, that aren’t visible on public pages. By granting that permission, alumni can show their degrees as verified by their universities, and they can easily connect with other verified alumni by searching by degree type, specific job, location, or other criteria.

“We want students and alumni to use their LinkedIn profile as their alumni profile so they have to maintain information in only one place,” she says. “We are trying to make that strong university tie available and actionable to our students and alumni, which gives them a value proposition where it’s worth staying connected.”

Branching Out

Because the social media world constantly evolves, Wasko says inDegree is looking at an array of networking technologies. Particularly promising is BranchOut, a business-focused app that allows Facebook members to quickly form a professional networking page using job-related information from their profiles—while excluding less professional postings.

In April 2013, inDegree was purchased by HEPdata, Inc., a provider of matching gift data and data enrichment services designed specifically for non-profit organizations, says Wasko. inDegree’s services give university clients a “seamless solution” for advancement and development efforts by appending updated employment data to records, in addition to HEPdata’s other offerings, Wasko explains.

inDegree is now in use at the UAB School of Business, where it is used for tracking placements for national accreditation. It is also used by Lisa M. Schwiebert, Ph.D., associate dean for postdoctoral education in the UAB Graduate School, to maintain a database of postdoctoral alumni—a “pretty amazing group” that has been hard to track to gather information, Wasko says. From there, Wasko will present to other groups on campus to see if they are interested in using the service.

Wasko says that the Alabama Launchpad prize has helped position inDegree as an emerging industry standard for tracking the student placement and career success outcomes required by most accrediting bodies for higher education. For more details, visit indegree.com.

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