With an increased focus by coaches to begin initial communication with their new recruits online via social media today, there needs to be an accompanying increased focus on how to do it – and, why some of the traditional adult ways we initiate communication and build new relationships with others differs greatly from how today’s teenage prospects like communicate.
See? That sentence is a great example of what I’m talking about:
It’s obviously written very well, but very formally. So much so that when a teenager reads it, I’ve got the feeling that they’d just skim right past the rest of the detail because it doesn’t sound casual enough, nor personal enough.
And that’s just one aspect of how we see a lot of college coaches communicating with new recruits that needs to be altered:
- Avoid Being Too Formal
Like I just touched on, teenagers are accustomed to a more informal and casual online environment. Using overly formal language or professional jargon might alienate them, making it harder to establish a genuine connection. Instead, aim for a friendly and approachable tone, resonating with their everyday experiences and the language and informality that goes along with it. Embrace a conversational approach to encourage open dialogue and foster a comfortable environment for communication.
- Don’t Oversell or Exaggerate
While promoting your college, your program and its offerings is essential, it is equally crucial to be authentic and transparent. Teenagers can easily discern exaggerations or false promises, which can erode trust and credibility. All of the research we talk about when we’re teaching athletic department audiences the latest strategies and techniques back-up this core idea. Instead, focus on highlighting genuine strengths and unique aspects of your institution, offering a realistic representation of campus life. Emphasize the opportunities for personal growth, academic excellence, and a fun campus, ensuring you align expectations with reality.
- Avoid One-Way Communication
Effective social media engagement involves building a two-way dialogue. That’s the foundational principle behind most social media platforms, actually…merely broadcasting messages or information without fostering interaction limits your ability to connect with teenagers. Instead, encourage them to participate actively by asking open-ended questions, inviting comments, and sharing user-generated content. Respond promptly and thoughtfully to their inquiries, demonstrating your commitment to meaningful engagement and building relationships. And use common, everyday language when you do it.
- Steer Clear of Generic Content
Teenagers seek personalized and relevant content that resonates with their interests and aspirations. Avoid sharing generic, cookie-cutter posts that could be mistaken for mass marketing. Tailor your content to reflect the unique aspects of your college, highlighting programs, activities, and experiences that may appeal to specific individuals. By demonstrating an understanding of their passions and ambitions, you’ll have a greater chance of capturing their attention and interest. In short, before you post something, ask yourself, 1) “why would they care about this?” and, 2) “how is this different or better than what our neighboring rival is probably going to post about their campus or program?” This is the start of you defining your brand correctly with a new class of college prospects, so take it seriously!
- Don’t Underestimate the Power of Visuals
The power of visuals cannot be overstated when it comes to engaging with teenagers on social media. Avoid relying solely on text-heavy posts that may overwhelm or bore them. Instead, incorporate captivating visuals, such as high-quality photos, videos, infographics, and student testimonials, to make your content more dynamic and visually appealing. These visuals should reflect the diverse and inclusive nature of your campus, allowing teenagers to envision themselves as part of your vibrant community. And again, make them different than what you see your competition posting!
- Steer Clear of Controversial Topics
In my strong opinion, it is crucial to exercise caution when discussing controversial topics on social media. While it’s essential to foster open and inclusive dialogue, sensitive topics can polarize and alienate prospective students. Avoid engaging in debates or taking sides on contentious issues that may clash with the diverse backgrounds and opinions of your target audience, especially when it comes to politics or controversial current event topics. (Note: If taking a stand on certain topics is a defined part of your culture and team or school identity, then this rule doesn’t apply. Here’s a good example from our podcast as we talked to one coach who makes a point of going against this rule, and has been successful doing so: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2DavdjQqAqHEOj7FbegBvs)
- Don’t Disregard Their Privacy Preferences
Respecting privacy is paramount when connecting with teenagers on social media. Avoid prying into personal matters or asking invasive questions. Ensure that your communication platforms prioritize user privacy and data protection. Address privacy concerns proactively by explaining your institution’s policies regarding data security and how you safeguard personal information. Establishing trust and respect for privacy will contribute to a more positive and productive online relationship over the longterm.
The bottom line is simple: Navigating social media to connect with teenagers, especially during the start of the college recruitment process, requires finesse, adaptability, and an understanding of their online preferences. By avoiding these seven common pitfalls, you increase your odds of establishing an authentic connection with prospective students. By incorporating these research-based recommendations, college coaches and recruiters can build faster a deeper engagement, trust, and successfully recruit talented individuals who will thrive within their program.
Dan Tudor is the founder and President of Tudor Collegiate Strategies, leading his team of professionals in their daily focus of helping coaches communicate and recruit more effectively. Since 2005, TCS has been the trusted national resource for athletic departments in building their staffs’ abilities and effectiveness when it comes to building their programs. To talk to Dan, or see how he and his company can help your program, email him at email@example.com.