By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
Thin mints…that’s my favorite kind of girl scout cookies and I never hesitate to buy a box when I see the local Girl Scout troop set up outside one of our neighborhood supermarkets. Other than the fact that they taste really good, what’s the primary reason that both I, and many others across the country, don’t hesitate to hand over a few dollars for a box each year?
Conversely, why do we all try and end the conversation as fast as possible when a salesperson knocks on our door?
It boils down to trust. The organization selling those cookies has spent years building it, and we have faith that our donation is going to a worthwhile cause. On the other hand, we don’t know the salesperson at the door and it’s likely that we haven’t ever heard of their company.
The gut reaction we have to each of those scenarios has big implications for college admission professionals, and that’s what I want to focus on today.
Most of us don’t like interacting with people we don’t feel like we can trust. Prospective students and parents are no different. Establishing trust early in the college search process with both is an important piece of a winning recruitment strategy. Without it, how can the student or parent believe that you or your school will deliver on those statements or assurances that get made throughout the recruiting cycle?
The same factors that you and I use to judge the trustworthiness of people and organizations are being used by this generation of students to judge your trustworthiness. Many of those prospects tell us that initially they’re figuring out whether or not to have a serious interaction with your school based on whether they feel like they can trust you or not.
How you construct your letters, what you say in your emails, the layout of your website, and what you post/how people at your school act on social media all factor into whether or not a prospect chooses to trust you enough to engage back.
Here are a number of other things I want you to consider:
What your website and email templates look like: When they look at those, which studies say they do, what’s the brand image that comes to their mind? If you’re a smaller school, do you look like the bigger brand institutions? If you’re a well-known college or university, how are you separating yourself from your other big-name competitors?
The first letter or email between you and your prospect: I’m not talking about the marketing materials encouraging them to visit, or postcards, or other general material that your school sends out. I’m referring to the first letter or email that goes out with your name on it or the name of someone in your office/admissions department. Does it look and sound like every other one your prospect is receiving? I can guarantee you that when you reach out and communicate with a prospective student for the first time the way that message is worded will determine whether or not they feel you’re worth interacting with. (Hint: Shorter, less formal, and you not only inform, but you attempt to engage, that’s the key).
What they’ve heard about you: If your prospect has heard good things about your school from people they know, the entire relationship changes. You automatically get the benefit of the doubt. Let me ask you, “What are you doing to make sure that your current students, as well as the students (and their parents) who chose another college instead of yours, experience superior customer service?”
Their fear: It’s the other four-letter “F word” that most admission counselors don’t think is important, or don’t know how to talk about with their prospects. I talk about fear extensively when I lead an On-Campus Workshop because fear is present throughout the recruiting experience and prospects tell us that when an admissions counselor talks about it the right way, it vastly increases their comfort level with that counselor.
What you’re asking them to do early on: If you’re asking a prospect to reply to your email early in the recruiting process, there’s at least a decent chance that’s going to happen. Conversely, counselors and schools that jump right into visiting campus or filling out their school’s application before building some trust and value will quickly lose the attention of many of their prospects. Forced urgency rarely leads to increased trust from your prospect. Be mindful of what you’re asking them to do and whether or not you’ve given then ample reasons as to why they should do it.
What they see about you social media: What you, your students, your athletic programs, and other departments on campus post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and the other social media platforms matters to this generation of students. In fact, it matters a lot! Your online presence is one of the most immediate impressions that gets formed by your prospect. And in most cases it helps to determine how much interaction they wish to have with you and whether or not they’re excited to learn more about your school.
You make the process about them: How are you proving that you understand the college search process is about their wants and needs and not why you think they’d be crazy not to pick your school? More importantly, how are you communicating that?
Your honesty: This generation of prospects and their parents are actively searching for people who prove they’re honest. In just about every recruiting survey we conduct ahead of a workshop I see one or more responses that say something like, “tell me the truth” or “just be honest with me.” Don’t be the admissions professional who, in trying to build trust, over promises and under delivers. You need to repeatedly demonstrate that you’re someone they can trust. That means from time to time it’s okay to admit when your school isn’t better than a competitor in a particular area.
I encourage you to have a discussion about each of these things as you develop your recruiting plan for this next class of prospects.
And remember, I talk strategy with college admission professionals and leaders across the country just about every single day. If you have a question or you want to know what I’m seeing and hearing when I talk to you peers, all you have to do is email me and ask. You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. I thought you might enjoy this picture I took at sunset last night right after take-off above O’Hare International airport in Chicago.