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Recruiting Communication… Snail Mail vs. the Digital World

adapted from TCS

I recently read Dan Tudor’s evaluation of Snail Mail vs. the world of Digital Media.  It’s safe to assume that everyone follows Dan and has visited his site, but the the record… check it out – it’s worth it.  Whether you agree or disagree with him, there is enough stuff there to at least make you think.

I wanted to take it a step further and add to his points.

With Fall recruiting nearly over (I am hearing many sighs of relief right now!) how are you going to follow it all up?  Email?  Facebook?  Hand written notes? Faxes? Twitter?   All of the above?

I’m an old-school recruiter.  I have always believed that a handwritten letter, though more cumbersome and time consuming, are of great value and worth the effort.  The physical act for the prospect of walking to the mailbox, removing all the letters, deciding on which one to open first, opening it, holding it, reading it and deciding what to do with it all stimulates an emotional experience for the reader.  All the technology, Social Media and networking options are vital, but not at the expense of writing someone a handwritten note on your school’s stationary.  It also doesn’t command the emotional attachment that a letter does.

Take for example this scenario.  How many of you have sent an email and had the meaning misinterpreted?  Everyone.  How many times has that happened with a hand written note?  Almost never.  Why?  Studies say there is something about the physical nature of paper, the actual look of the hand writing, how it feels in the person’s hand and smells that attaches itself emotionally to the reader and helps convey the message and meaning better than the computer, phone or PDA screen.

Over the past few years the evolution in the recruiting thought process has been: these kids mainly communicate through PDA’s, Social Media and networking, etc… I better get on it and on it fast.  You’re right.

There is no question about that.  Do it.  Get on the technology, understand it and use it.  If you don’t – you are behind.  Technology, such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook make interacting with recruits a lot easier and very effective.  Name one of your recruits without a PDA or cell phone.  Is there one?  Email has become secondary and in many cases obsolete.  I conducted an informal survey / test.  While at an event I had a third person send an email to a prospect in plain site of the two of us asking them to call the third person.  I watched.  Then I had the same person “Facebook” them and ask them to call.  10+ seconds later… the prospect called.  When asked why they called… because “You Facebooked me.”  When asked if they checked/got their email… they replied, “I never check email anymore.”   When asked if they got email on their PDA they responded, “sure.”  WOW!… Is email outdated already?  I don’t think so, but it’s not as effective as it once was.

Personally watching the prospect I witnessed it unfold before my eyes.  The prospect never budged on the email “buzz”, but immediately checked the Facebook hit.  In repeating this test over and over, the resounding result was the same.  Even more, mail has made a come back and replaced email in many situations.

I’d also beware of the Facebook trap in recruiting.  To many, me included, it’s a little creepy.  Friending 15 – 18 year old prospects for the adult recruiter is very touchy.  Especially in women’s basketball or any other women’s sport for that matter.  Personally, I’ve never gone the Facebook route for that reason.  I wouldn’t want recruiters Facebooking with my child (son or daughter), I’m not going to do it with some one elses.

If you are going to use Facebook I would discuss this in great detail amongst your staff and get on the same page with what everyone is comfortable with.  Decide on what and how it will be used.  Also, see if your department/university has a policy or concerns with the use of Facebook in recruiting.  Understand the NCAA bylaws governing it’s use.   First rule: speak to the prospect’s parents.  Make sure they are comfortable with it and want it to happen.  Don’t assume it is different for male prospects than female prospects.  That is the trap.

A recent study will give coaches who still love the look and feel of the good ‘ol fashioned recruiting letter some good news:

Mail outranks electronic media when it comes to some important areas.

Physical media, such as recruiting letters and other creative materials, caused more emotional processing in the brains of those tested.   The same physical media left a deeper footprint in the minds of the recipients.

The bottom line of the study, which you can read in full here, is that physical mail and media seems more “real” to the reader.  That’s an important fact to pay attention to because the areas of the brain that are engaged during this processing are some of the places that make the deepest impact when it comes to our emotional connection with the sender.

There are some really effective ideas that are NCAA compliant that you should consider when it comes to making the most out of your snail mail recruiting:

  1. Pay attention to the stock and quality of the paper you use.  The study seems to indicate that the weight, brightness, and other quality factors are noticed by the reader.  For example, what if you wrote about wanting to talk to your recruit about an offer, and did so on a heavier card stock?  The look and feel of the paper you use helps to underscore the message you’re talking to them about.
  2. Since paper registers deeper with our emotions, save your more emotional messages for the printed page. Things like your vision for your program, an official invitation to campus…the messages regarding the things you believe to be at the heart of the prospects decision.
  3. Get creative with your envelope. Does an envelope need to be an envelope?  Get your compliance office to approve everything first, but think outside the box on this one.  When a prospect receives 20+ pieces a mail a day – what makes them decide which letter to pick up first.  First impressions matter, even more so with your envelope.

Any good, well structured recruiting communication system must contain all forms of electronic communication, hand written communication, phone calls and faxes and be well thought out and organized.

I believe it is dangerous to move totally away from hand written mail and solely into the digital age.  Balance, creativity, organization and consistency is the key.

It’s an easy lesson:  Do what is right, not what is easy.  After you lose a recruit, it is impossible to push the rewind button and do it all over adding in things you left out the first time.  You never know what it will be that helps put your program over the top for any given prospect.  It won’t be any one thing every time.  Stay omnipresent to cues your are getting back.  Diversify your recruiting portfolio and give yourself a broader foundation for potential success.

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