by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
A historic upset. Check. Buzzer beaters. Check. A 98-year-old nun becoming famous. Check. And friends of mine tearing up their brackets and uttering some choice words after a weekend that could only be described as complete madness. Check, check, and check.
If you’re like most people, you probably found yourself glued to a TV at some point last week between Thursday and Sunday watching this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. I’m not going to lie. I spent almost the entire weekend with family and friends flipping back and forth between the four CBS/Turner channels.
While taking in all the action, some very important lessons and recruiting reminders for college admissions professionals surfaced. So, throughout the weekend I grabbed my MacBook Pro and jotted down a bunch of reminders just for you. Here they are:
Take the time to come up with better questions. So many sideline reporters are great at asking questions that produce the right answers. By “right,” I mean the correct answer that a smart, student-athlete or coach should give. Their answer won’t make any waves, will let them go on to the next question, and continue on until the end of the interview. This also describes many of the conversations that admissions professionals have with prospective students. If you don’t go deeper and think bigger with your questions you’re going to get a standard, vanilla answer. The problem with that is, you don’t really learn anything new about your prospect, and the end result is you aren’t able to move the process forward. I want you to ask questions that require extra thought, which then will produce insightful answers.
Lesser-known schools can and will beat bigger name brands. This happens every year in the NCAA tournament. Why? A big reason is a lot of the smaller schools have players on their team who had the opportunity to pick a well known, bigger name school during the recruiting process. The reasons why they didn’t vary, but when a coach (or in your case, you or your admissions colleagues) offer consistent, personalized messaging that creates connections and explains why your school is the smarter choice based on the student’s wants/needs, it won’t be an automatic loss when you go head to head with a bigger name school. Far from it.
The importance of social listening. The UMBC Athletics Twitter account had approximately 5,000 followers prior to Friday’s game against Virginia. 72 hours later after their historic upset, and a close loss in the second round, that number stands at just under 110,000. Social listening gives you the ability to take all those new conversations and followers and develop important insights and opportunities for engagement.
This generation values authenticity. A lot more people know who Zach Seidel is today. In case you’re not one of them, let me explain. Zach was in charge of the UMBC Athletics Twitter account during the NCAA tournament. Part of the reason their follower count spiked so much were Zach’s genuine, down to earth, and at times quite humorous tweets. There’s an important lesson for you here. Zach’s tweets weren’t just a play by play of UMBC’s two basketball games. He did an outstanding job of both informing (sharing facts about UMBC) and engaging. His tweets were consistently authentic (silly, funny, and snarky), and that helped bring national attention to his school. Make sure your social media posts aren’t just a repeat of things on your website, and take the time to engage authentically with your followers.
Capitalize on big moments. In keeping with UMBC as our case study, from the end of their game last Friday to Sunday morning, the school’s bookstore store received about 3,500 online orders – almost as many as the total for the entire previous year. The school is also in the process of trying to trademark “Retrievers,” “Retriever Nation,” and “16 over 1” because they want to keep the conversation going long after the tournament ends. Leveraging attention and emotions immediately after any successful event is vital. Create powerful content (storytelling) with the help of videos and photos that is relevant, helpful, shareable, and drives action. You could also offer discounted or free merchandise to show your appreciation.
People are your secret weapon. If you don’t work at Loyola University Chicago, you probably didn’t know who Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt was before last Thursday. She’s the 98-year-old team chaplain who has since become one of the faces of this year’s NCAA tournament. Long after this year’s tournament ends many of us won’t remember the score of a particular game, but we will remember people like Sister Jean because of her spirit and passion for her team…plus it’s hard to forget a 98-year-old nun. On your campus you have one or more people like Sister Jean (aka micro influencers) who are memorable and can help you make emotional connections with prospective students and families. It could be current students, faculty, staff, or your alumni. It might even be someone who lives in your surrounding campus community. Make it a priority to find those people and tell their unique stories. This generation of students continues to make it clear that when a college representative can help them make a connection it’s extremely beneficial when it comes time to make their final decision.
Consistency matters from start to finish. Cincinnati led Nevada by 22 points with 11:37 remaining in the game. Then the Bearcats got comfortable with their big lead, and Nevada proceeded to outscore them 32 to 8, winning the game by two points. Consistency from start to finish is so important when it comes to winning in the NCAA tournament. Very few leads are truly safe. Similarly, just because your deposits are up or you’re ahead of your projections doesn’t mean the work stops or slows down with that group of students. Develop a melt plan that involves consistent communication to your committed students (and their parents) and continues to demand interaction until the day they arrive on your campus.
If you’ve got a question about this article, let me again remind you that I’m only an email, call, or text away.
And if your NCAA tournament bracket is still somehow intact, tell me who you’ve got in your Final Four and who your National Champion is. You can email me here or connect with me on Twitter at @CoachTiers