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Truly Standing Out Takes GutsTuesday, December 6th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Your school has a campus, classrooms, professors, dorms, a cafeteria, a student center, and so on just like every other college and university in the country.

Are all those things the same at every institution? I don’t think so. Sure, a lot of colleges offer similar experiences, but there are also many differences between you and your competitors. Despite that fact, so many admissions departments are still much more comfortable following the norm and looking/sounding like everyone else (your website, your comm. flow, your campus visit) versus figuring out a bold move that will truly make you and/or your school stand out.

If you’re a client of ours or you and I have ever had a conversation before, then you know how much I constantly stress the importance of being unique, original and even surprising when it comes to how you approach and handle student recruitment.

One thing we continue to hear from students in the ongoing research we conduct is they struggle to understand, aside from the actual dollar amount, what makes school A different and better than school B and C when it comes to fulfilling their wants and their needs. They crave a reason to choose a college based on the unique selling proposition it offers them.

Before I offer you some ideas on how to be different and stand out, let me back up for a second because I want to quickly address something that’s come up a lot in conversations I’ve had this fall with admissions counselors and directors…plus it ties in with this article and I just believe it’s that important. Making a bold move and truly standing out takes real guts. I think many people in Higher Ed and college admissions are scared to overhaul a process, or move forward with an unconventional idea, because of a fear of failure. For many people, there’s a fear of failing in front of someone else (your boss, a colleague, a peer at another institution) and hearing “I told you so”, or being made to feel bad for trying something different. Making a change individually or recommending change within the office isn’t easy, but if you want different results, it’s the solution.

Once you’ve accepted the fact that it’s okay to be different, I encourage you to also remember that not every prospective student and family are one in the same. This means that sometimes a great recruiting idea that generates results with one student or segment of students might not be effective for another. And always be mindful of the fact that the execution of an idea doesn’t always happen seamlessly the first time around. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea that won’t produce the results you want.

Here are a few aspects of the student recruitment process where we’ve helped schools take a different approach and subsequently make a considerable impact with their prospects:

  • Brochures, letters, emails and other communications. Study after study says that this generation of students no longer reads things from cover to cover. Why then do so many colleges still take the long-winded, cram every fact and statistic about their school in small font approach in their efforts to reach students and families? If you know that your prospects scan the materials that colleges send, then go ahead and make your communications shorter in length and have them focus clearly on just one idea. Then have that communication set up your next message and so on and so forth. As far as the language you use, if you want to create a reaction and get engagement from your reader (so you can find out what they actually think about what you just shared with them), you need to forget the writing rules. Take a less formal and more conversational approach. That approach does not, I repeat DOES NOT, make you or your school sound unprofessional. It actually makes you relatable which makes establishing a relationship with a prospect or parent much easier.
  • Campus visits. More and more I’m hearing stories of students feeling overwhelmed by all that they see and hear in the short amount of time that is a campus visit. That’s not the feeling you want them to have considering how important the campus visit is in a student’s final decision. Let’s start with your information/welcome session. Most colleges offer a quick overview of their campus along with information on academics, financial aid and scholarships, as well as the application process. Be honest. Do you find your current presentation riveting? Start by offering separate sessions for both students and parents. Each group values different things, so come up with topics accordingly. For students, how about a current freshman or sophomore talking about “living with a roommate” or “how I not only survived freshman year, but thrived”. You want it to be something that grabs and keeps their attention, offers value, and is memorable. Speaking of separating students and parents, would it surprise you to know that more and more students tell us they think the campus visit would be more impactful if students and parents were given the same tour but in different groups. And then there are your tour guides. Do you treat them as part of your admissions team, and do they understand the important role they play in the student recruitment process? When they give tours are they just pointing out and discussing the history of various building on your campus, or do they understand the importance of storytelling and how to effectively do that throughout a tour?
  • Social media. I don’t have to remind you how powerful social media is with this generation. Unfortunately, students continue to tell us that most colleges, in their opinion, don’t know how to use SM effectively. The argument I hear from the admissions office is that creating great content on social media is extremely difficult and time consuming. I disagree, and here’s why. You’re over thinking it. For example, stop spending hours and hours trying to create fancy videos that look like a movie and are narrated by someone your prospects don’t know and can’t relate to. Whether you like it or not, it almost always comes across as forced and fake. If you really want to showcase your school’s personality, then go document. Have real students and real people (faculty, admissions staff, food service people, RA’s, etc) document what a normal day on campus looks like through their eyes as it happens. It’s okay if the hair isn’t perfect and there isn’t music playing in the background, because that’s real and raw. And instead of posting picture after picture of the exterior of buildings on your campus, why not showcase what happens inside those walls. There are so many great stories just waiting to be told if you’re willing to do so, but don’t forget to explain why what you’re documenting matters. How about looking into using a brand ambassador to engage on Snapchat or using Facebook Live as an introduction to your campus or a way to show unique events that happen throughout the year? The possibilities are seriously endless. Just remember, real and raw wins over forced and fake a hundred times out of a hundred on social media. Here’s one more that I just heard about the other day. In addition to traditional acceptance letters, some colleges have begun sending students a congratulatory acceptance “snap” that goes straight to their Smartphone.
  • How you recruit others around your prospect (primarily the parents). Have you ever stopped and asked yourself who’s recruiting your prospects for you when you’re not? It’s an important question. Our ongoing research continues to show that parents are the most important outside influence for your recruit throughout the process…but they’re not always the only one. When it comes to the parents and cultivating a strong relationship with one or both of them, why not create a separate comm. flow for them? We do it for our clients, and it continues to pay dividends in a BIG way! Now, let’s discuss everybody else that matters in your prospect’s life. This may include their siblings, best friend, girlfriend/boyfriend, high school counselor or possibly another mentor, coach, or teacher at school or in the community. If you want to be different, it’s time you started connecting on various levels with each of these influencers, so they too understand the value of your school and why it’s the best option for that student.
  • Talking about fear. This is one of the biggest points I’ve being trying to hammer home in 2016. Every single one of your prospects is scared of something when it comes to the college search process and the transition from high school to college. What are you doing to alleviate that fear? Last week during a workshop discussion in Tennessee, I asked the group of tour guides (11 freshmen and 2 sophomores) to raise their hand if as a high school senior they remembered being scared of something at one or more points during the college search process. All 13 hands went up. Then I asked how many admissions counselors at any college they spoke with or visited ever asked about their fear(s). Not a single hand was raised.
  • Re-package your negatives. Instead of avoiding them, tell a different story about the same negative aspects that you can’t control. Your buildings and dorm rooms aren’t as new as some of your direct competitors? Don’t talk about that. Talk about what makes your campus community unique and how they welcome new students. Then talk about how they’ll receive a personalized education from professors who truly care. And then mention that choosing a college based on the newest buildings and facilities is the wrong way to choose where you get an education. Is your college the most expensive option for that student? Explain to them why the cost difference between you and College B is worth it in the long run, and offer a detailed explanation of why. Whatever the story say it confidently, and repeat it over a long period of time.

Here’s the great news – I believe that anyone, if they work hard enough, can come up with a truly amazing idea that can help you and/or your institution stand out from the crowd. I just gave you a handful of ideas that have helped many of our clients create a unique recruitment experience for their students and families.

The next step once you have an amazing idea is arguably the hardest for a lot of people. Go and execute it, or go and present your case on why you believe you and your colleagues need to do it. That takes guts, but an amazing idea executed well can be a game changer.

He’s Got the Keys to Helping You Become a Better RecruiterTuesday, September 6th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

If you just looked at that picture and have no idea who that guy is, I think student recruitment is probably harder for you than it needs to be…especially if you happen to be an admissions counselor who is under the age of 30.

During my client visits in the month of August, I had admissions counselors refer to him as “Major Key”, “That Rapper”, and “Oh that’s the Fan Luv Guy”. His name is Khaled Mohamed Khaled, also known as DJ Khaled. He’s an American record producer, radio personality, DJ, and record label executive. And he’s also been referred to as the “King of Snapchat” having racked up over 6 million Snapchat followers in just under a year.

If his name still doesn’t ring a bell and now you’re thinking you don’t need to read the rest of this article, I’m here to tell you that you’re going to miss out on some major lessons about effective recruiting.

I started referencing DJ Khaled during our On-Campus Workshops earlier this summer after speaking with different groups of high school students during my travels who told me that, in their opinion, too many admissions counselors couldn’t relate to this generation of students.  Therein lies the first of eight valuable lessons for those of you that want to become (or want your admissions team to become) more dominant recruiters:

  • Be current on pop culture. In the focus group research surveys we do on campuses across the country, I’m beginning to see more quotes like, “This generation wants to be related to”, and “Don’t try and sound like you know what we’re into when you don’t. We want to be taken seriously and we can tell when you’re just saying something you just read on the internet.” Knowing trends and being current on pop culture isn’t an option anymore if you truly want to connect with teenagers and those in their early 20’s. In addition to being familiar with people like DJ Khaled, how much do you know about what’s popular right now on Netflix and Spotify? Have you ever heard of After School or WhatsApp? It’s hard to be relatable if you don’t know what your clientele is into. And just in case you were wondering how popular DJ Khaled is among viewers ages 12-34, according to a recent article, his videos attract 3 million to 4 million viewers from that age range. To put this in perspective, Nielson reports that roughly 3 million people age 12–34 watch The Big Bang Theory. Yes, on an average video, DJ Khaled has more views than an acclaimed television show.
  • Keep your recruiting message consistent. If you knew who DJ Khaled was before you read this article then you’re probably familiar with themes like “We the Best” and “They don’t want you to (insert whatever verb you want) …” People know what DJ Khaled represents because it’s the same all the time. Consistency is such an important part of any effective recruiting plan.  You must have consistent weekly content that’s interesting, focused on your prospect, and demands interaction.  Those three aspects of an effective recruiting plan have helped our clients grow enrollment over the years.
  • Always tell a compelling story. In last week’s newsletter I walked you through how to begin telling your school’s story. Storytelling will help you achieve emotional engagement which is a critical part in your student’s decision-making process. DJ Khaled tells compelling stories every single day on Snapchat. Here’s the key though — his stories, or snaps, consistently get and keep people’s attention. They keep coming back day after day, and they spread the word to the masses. Khaled gives his viewers a behind the scenes look into an average day of his life. His stories have recurring themes and include a variety of celebrities and other characters. They include things like breakfast with his personal chef, taking care of his flowers, and inviting his fans to meet him at various locations across the country. His stories create curiosity, they engage, and they help create feelings. Do your admissions recruiting communications do that right now for your prospects?
  • Make sure you’re providing value. After watching a few of DJ Khaled’s snaps on Snapchat, it quickly becomes clear there’s a lot of branding/selling taking place. Here’s the thing. It doesn’t feel like he’s forcing product on you every second because his content provides value at every turn. By providing content that his viewers value, he quickly builds credibility and rapport with them. If you do the same thing with your prospects when you finally ask them to take action on something they’ll be more likely to do so. Khaled understands this. Do you?
  • Social Media is extremely powerful with this generation (and most colleges don’t use it effectively). That’s not me telling you that, that’s your students. The biggest piece of advice your students continue to offer in terms of what they think college admissions needs to do better or differently as you communicate with this next class is…use more social media.   Your students want real and raw, and right now most of them think the content you provide on social media is forced and fake. Here’s a great, detailed student quote from a recent survey, “I think it would be neat to see more social media things…Showing something like a Snapchat story of the school and how beautiful and interesting it would get more people interested. Two other things would be telling what things normal students do on a daily basis for classes or just living up there.” I’ll say it again – real and raw, not forced and fake. The content you provide also needs to appeal to the heart and be shareable if you want to get a maximum return on your investment.
  • Genuine wins. How many of you are comfortable showing your real side? If you’re trying to cultivate trust and become the go-to person for your prospects and their parents, being genuine is a must. DJ Khaled is not afraid to be himself – a hilarious and honest guy. For example, he doesn’t hide the fact that he needs to be in better shape. He talks about it and uses it as motivation. He’s also more than happy to show what kind of lifestyle his hard work has afforded him, like hanging out with celebrities and swimming in pools and riding jet-skis in exotic locations around the world. He even goes out of his way to connect with his fans during his travels often times including them in his snaps. It’s just Khaled being Khaled. That honesty is a big reason why his audience feels they can relate to him and why his fans are constantly coming back to see more.
  • Your recruiting messages need to feature repetition. Repetition is one of the least used and most effective strategies that you can utilize in your recruiting message. DJ Khaled uses repetition just about every single day. Whenever he’s getting ready to release an album, highlight a product, or encourage “Fan Luv” to come out and meet him, he’ll post multiple snaps on Snapchat with the same message done in a variety of ways and locations. He even gets help from his celebrity friends and his fans in many instances. Today’s generation of students counts on repetition.
  • Passion will make you stand out. I’ve talked about it many times before. Those who have passion will create meaningful long-term relationships with prospects, parents, and virtually everyone else they come in contact with. You can’t buy it, it’s hard to teach, and most counselors don’t use it to their advantage. DJ Khaled puts so much passion and excitement into every aspect of his life, it becomes infectious. For you, the college admissions professional, it’s the same thing. It’s about how you say what you say. Have you put in the hard work that it takes to truly get to know your prospects’ wants and needs? When you do that, it’s much easier to be excited about a particular aspect of your college because you know it matters to your prospect…instead of just assuming, guessing, or hoping.

For some of you these eight bullet points may have been timely reminders. That’s great! For everyone else, I encourage you to take one or more of them and consider how it or they can help you become a better recruiter.

If you want even more lessons and strategies that can help take your recruiting game to that next level all you have to do is ask. You can call me on my cell phone (612-386-0854), text me, email me, or if you’re going to be at the NACAC National Conference in a couple of weeks swing by Booth 853, and we can chat in person.

 

 

4 Important Things About Communicating With This Next ClassTuesday, July 12th, 2016

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

The other day during a phone conversation with an admissions counselor he referred to talking with prospective students as “complicated”. I’m sure many of you would echo that sentiment.

As you prepare to have conversations with a brand new class of prospects, I want to give you some advice on how to not only communicate but also connect with them. You’ll have to pick and choose which of these ideas apply best to you, the way you talk, and your approach with your prospects, but I think you’ll find this a good starting point on the road to connecting with this generation of students (and quite possibly their parents).

Most admissions offices around the country have officially started the formal recruitment process with a new class of prospective students. The first letters, emails, phone calls and social media messages have been sent. And, if you’re fortunate, maybe you’ve had some of your prospects reply to your initial outreach efforts. I say “maybe” because our research continues to show that fewer students these days are actually reading what you’re sending.

Regardless, you’re now faced with the daunting question of, “What’s next?”

The answer to that question is crucial. In fact, it will undoubtedly determine what kind of applicant pool you end up with in the months to come.

Having said that, I want to outline a few key, successful approaches that we’ve seen work on a consistent basis for our clients around the country. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a public or private institution, or you have a small, medium, or large student enrollment. As you review these strategies, I encourage you to adapt them to your individual situation.

  • Be comfortable with asking your prospects which social media platforms they use and if it’s okay to communicate with them through those networks.  Our expanding research on this topic indicates there’s one very important “rule” for this generation: Different students have different rules. A large number of students we’re hearing from indicate that they have absolutely no problems with an admissions counselor following them or direct-messaging them on social media.  There is however a good size group of students that has no desire to interact with admissions on social media. In their minds it’s their space to communicate with their friends.  My advice to you is to ask each prospect what they’re okay with. Let them know the reason you’re asking is because you want to be the counselor who communicates with them the way they want to be communicated with. What you’ll find is they will appreciate you asking, rather than just assuming it’s okay.
  • Engage with your prospects’ parents…and start early. As I explain in our On-Campus Workshops that I lead for admissions departments, this generation of prospects not only wants their parents to be involved in the recruitment process, but they expect it. Knowing this fact, my recommendation to you, is you should be okay with talking to your prospects’ parents in place of your prospect…not every time, but most of the time. They’ll usually speak truthfully for their son or daughter and actually provide you with intelligent, useable information.  That in and of itself isn’t breaking news. However, a big mistake that we continue to see admissions departments make is delaying contact until later in the process (i.e. after their child applies or visits campus). I want you to work to establish that same emotional connection with the parents of your prospects from the beginning.  Call them, email them, ask them questions, and engage them. If you do, what you’ll find is that they’re ready with really useful information, and more importantly, they will come to view you as the counselor and school that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner in the recruitment process of their son or daughter.
  • It’s all about the back and forth conversation. All of your communication should focus on building and strengthening the relationship between you and your prospect.  That doesn’t happen if what you’re sending them doesn’t prompt them to feel more connected with you. If letters and emails have started to go out and you’re not getting responses and learning key pieces of information about your prospects, you’re falling behind. Back and forth communication is vital! It starts by crafting messages with information that your prospects care about and that promotes engagement.  In addition, you need to ask the right questions at the right times, and then listen and gather information that you can use in future communications. Without back and forth conversation, it’s going to be very hard for you to determine if a prospective student is actually reading what you’re sending, finds it appealing, and if it aligns with what they’re looking for in a college.
  • Become a problem solver for your prospects. It’s something they tell us they want from admissions time and time again when we do focus group research on campuses across the country. In fact, here’s one response from a survey last month that drives home this point (The question asked was what do admissions counselors need to do differently or better as they communicate with this next incoming class):I had one really good counselor and one not so good. The really good counselor was very quick to respond to my emails and questions and always found an answer if they didn’t know it themselves. My not-so-good counselor just threw pamphlets at me and did not help me find answers to my questions.” Which one of those counselors are you?

Not getting responses to your early letters and emails? Don’t have separate messaging for parents? We can solve both of those problems for you. If you’d like to know how, simply click this link and email me.

Tips For Enhancing Your Social Media Connection With ProspectsMonday, May 25th, 2015

by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services

Connecting with today’s prospective student has become a new and more complicated adventure for college admissions departments nationwide. Social media is a big reason why. It has changed the way that high school students approach the college selection process.

According to a new study from Pew Research Center, 71% of teens use more than one social media network site. Those same teenagers are using the various channels to not only gather information on colleges but also to help them make their decisions. Not fully convinced? Here’s how both Twitter and Instagram have helped students find that “right fit.”

Most colleges and universities are active across multiple social media platforms. Your admissions office and/or staff likely have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and possibly are on Instagram. My question is, “Are each of those platforms being used effectively?” While social media is unlikely to make or break your college in the minds of your prospects, it can help deepen your connection and allow you to stand out from your competition.

Today I want to provide you with some basic tips on how to use social media to your advantage with this next class of prospects.

  • Remember that it’s only one part. To start with, let me be clear that social media is only one part of an effective recruiting communication strategy. Just because a large portion of your target audience is constantly on their smartphones doesn’t mean that you can substitute social media contact in place of hand-written letters and phone calls. Your prospects continue to tell us that a regular flow of mail, email, phone calls, personal contact and social media is what they’re looking for.
  • Don’t forget our golden rule. Our expanding research on social media has produced one very important rule that this generation seems to gravitate around: There are different rules and comfort levels for different prospects. Here’s what that means. Some of your recruits will have no problem with the admissions staff communicating with them by following them or sending a direct message on social media. Others however have a greater need for privacy and don’t want you to venture into this part of their world. My advice: Ask each prospect what they’d be okay with. Keep it simple and let them know why you’re asking that question. Explain that you want to communicate with them the way they want to be communicated with. You might be surprised how much they will appreciate that.
  • Less news, facts, and figures. We continue to see colleges and admissions departments use their Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines to primarily post school press releases. There’s also a group that relies heavily on facts, figures, and statistics. If your school falls into either of these categories you should know that you run the risk of boring your recruits early on. A mix of these with more personalized posts is fine, but using social media to pass along news or brag about rankings won’t consistently sell your prospects on your school.
  • More visual behind the scenes content. The social media content that we see working best is visual, normal everyday stuff that you probably take for granted. By visual I’m referring to pictures and videos. These capture the attention of your prospects and their short attention span better than text. Go ahead and showcase the personality of your campus and the student body. The more relaxed and uncut the better. Encourage student-generated content, especially around school traditions. Those genuine interactions and images are powerful and can help create an emotional connection that is hard to accomplish over the phone or through a letter with your recruits.
  • Come up with creative and attention getting headlines. Remember that short attention span I referenced? If your headline or post isn’t east to read visually or worded the way that your prospects want it, they’ll just tune you out. Create a headline that makes a statement and offers the reader an idea of where you’re going and what’s in it for them.
  • Post consistently. The worst thing you can do is create social media accounts and then post randomly. What message do you think it conveys to a prospect or his or her parents if they search for you or your school on social media only to discover there hasn’t been a post in over a month? If social media content is to aid in your recruitment it’s important to post consistently. That consistency will build recognition and memorability. (If you want to know how often the research says you should post on the various social media platforms, click here)

Social media should be an important part of any effective recruiting communication plan for admissions. It’s free, simple, and it’s the future of communicating effectively with your prospects in conjunction with the right mix of letters, emails, and phone calls.

If you have questions about any of this feel free to email me directly at jeremy@dantudor.com

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