Phired Up knows that many students, volunteers, and professionals are worried about how COVID-19 is going to impact summer/fall fraternity/sorority recruitment initiatives. This blog is meant to provide insight, opportunities for reflection, and potential solutions.
We recently presented a digital training session on this topic that is available to watch for free here. This post includes 4 possible scenarios, more than 23 practical solutions, 9 Digital Recruitment Principles and 3 detailed examples for your consideration. Read it all the way through. Share it with other thought leaders you respect. Let’s get started…
There are probably four potential scenarios that could play out…
SCENARIO 1: School is 100% Online. No One Comes Back to Campus. Or, There’s Another Scare & Shut Down. Students are not permitted to return to campus. Classes are exclusively online. No on-campus housing, no sports, no tailgates, no convocation, no orientation, no in-person events, no work week, no traditional recruitment like we’re used to having. Or efforts to control the virus reverse, there is a spike in August/Sept, students on campus are quarantined or encouraged to stay home again. Extreme = Yes. Impossible = No. Is it worth a conversation to think about strategies and possible scenarios for a 100% online semester = Maybe.
SCENARIO 2: Gradual Return to Campus. Returning students, new students, faculty and staff might be experiencing illness or choosing to self-quarantine and are encouraged to stay home. Perhaps those who are medically cleared come back to campus gradually throughout August, September, October, maybe even into November, and December. This scenario is still a stretch but not crazy given the limited information we have right now about this virus. There is some precedent suggesting that viral outbreaks like this don’t just go away. As people start to gather again, it’s possible that we’ll see another spike in infections and possibly another round of quarantines — or more.
SCENARIO 3: Social Distancing Continues on Campus. Health professionals continue to discourage large gatherings. When gathering, groups are asked to make sure there are no more than 10 or 25 people gathering for example. This would mean no in-person full chapter meetings, no tailgates, no mixers, no yardshows, no theater seminars, no buffets at the cafeteria, no philanthropy events, no traditional homecoming, no Meet the Greeks, no student organization fairs, no traditional IFC/Panhellenic formal rush rounds, no chapter or council sponsored week of events, no traditional bid day. In this scenario, we’d all be on campus. We could continue to do small group stuff. But most of the full chapter or event based activities that we’re used to doing would require an alternative strategy.
SCENARIO 4: A New Normal, But Things Just FEEL Different on Campus. We are all a little different. Student perspectives and priorities are a little different. Student choices about time, money, and relationships are a little different. The way we see the world and the future is different. Maybe parents are even more protective and even more involved. Maybe things like tall RUSH boards, door stacks, t-shirt designs, party rounds, and interest sessions feel different to our members or the students they’re designed to attract. Maybe the health scare is over, so we return to school with plans to do the same thing we did last year. We discover that our recruitment plans are the same as last year, but everyone involved in those plans has changed. Keep in mind that it’s very possible that the majority of the incoming freshmen will be a few months removed from a life altering experience. Their senior year of high school was taken from them. No spring break, no prom, no graduation ceremony, no year book signing, no final day of class to hug your friends and say goodbye. How will those same students come to college? What will they value? What will they be looking for? Will we be ready to offer it?
So the big question becomes… Can we attract, select, and secure people for fraternities and sororities with limited to no face-to-face interaction?
In the year 2020, the answer is obviously, “YES, OF COURSE WE CAN!”
The next question is, “HOW?” We hope this helps provide an answer.
NINE DIGITAL RECRUITMENT PRINCIPLES
Digital (or non-face-to-face) recruitment will look and feel a little different, and it will take on myriad forms throughout the fraternity/sorority world. But smart recruiters will keep these principles of digital recruitment in mind.
- SPAM IS BAD. The tendencies of many fraternity/sorority members will be to try the fastest, cheapest, and easiest method to “get your name out there” digitally. This is SPAM and SPAM is bad. Focus on trust-building. Focus on permission-based-marketing. Focus on generosity. Focus on highly personal outreach. Focus on being as HUMAN as possible in a digital space. Anything that feels like a mass-approach is the wrong approach.
- DON’T RUSH IT. Going from a stranger without a face straight to, “HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT JOINING A SORORITY/FRATERNITY?” ummm.. That’s a bad idea. Little steps. Stranger > Acquaintance > Friend > Prospect > Hot Prospect > Close the deal. Don’t skip steps (unless they’re asking you to skip steps).
- SCALE REQUIRES ORGANIZATION. If you’re operating digitally, you’re probably operating at a larger scale than you’re used to. More people. More points of contact. Less big events (macro interactions) where everyone is together all at once, and instead a whole bunch of micro interactions. That’s going to require you to be super organized. Have a good tracking mechanism. We recommend ChapterBuilder. Keep track of every interaction. We’re sure you’re already familiar with our other technologies, but they’re all very relevant within a digital recruiting landscape. Learn more here.
- FORMAL TAKES ON A NEW MEANING. Digital recruitment might be more formal than you’re used to (and we’re not talking about rounds and rules and process). Your conversations and interactions might look and feel more like interviews than “hangouts.” That’s o.k. In fact, it might end up being good. There’s good research to show that non-Greek students already know we’re fun, but they don’t know much else about us. Maybe more formal interactions will mean they have higher expectations about what it means to be a fraternity/sorority member. Members will likely have longer more meaningful, in-depth conversations with prospective members than what can happen during an event, a presentation, or a “round” of recruitment.
- PURPOSE OVER PEOPLE. This one might be controversial. In a digital recruitment environment, it is likely that prospective members will make more head-based decisions than heart-based decisions. In other words, they might not join because “they like the members.” They might join because they understand the value the organization will have in their life and they are inspired by the purpose (not just by the people). We don’t necessarily think this is bad. You’ll become friends along the way. But if new members join for the PURPOSE and fully understand the value of membership up front (beyond having close friends), they’ll likely engage with the organization in different (better) ways as members.
- RE-PRIORITIZE. In the past, parity, fairness, rules, and structure might have been the priorities. Those were priorities for a reason, but they might need to change in this new environment. Social capital, showing off, flexin’, swag, large-group-everything, house tours, events, presentations, handshakes… these might have been the priorities of the past. Those made sense then, but they might need to change in this new environment. Decide what is truly most important to you today. Make a list of your own principles. Build a plan based on that list.
- YOU’RE GOING TO DO IT WRONG. Sad face, right? But we all are. It’s o.k. We’re adjusting and inventing on the fly. Do not aim for perfection, aim for compassion and care. Don’t worry about what should happen, worry about what could be. Know your values. Focus on them fully, and execute to the best of your ability in a way that aligns with your values and makes you feel like you’re being good human beings.
- EMPOWER SMALLER GROUPS. This is going to be a difficult one. We’re used to a very inclusive holistic democratic approach to recruitment. Most of the time most chapters want all of their members to participate so that all members can meet all prospects and then everyone votes on everyone. That is going to be difficult. Good news… we have plenty of models of representative democracy around us to learn from… we know how to empower small groups of leaders with clear expectations of how to make decisions on behalf of the larger whole. Trust and transparency will be the secret sauce that makes all this work.
- DON’T FORGET THE BASICS. Just because it is digital recruitment, doesn’t mean core philosophies don’t hold true. Your plan has to be Dynamic, not static. You still have to be Socially Excellent. All the “basics” hold true (but the handshakes are digital now). Values must lead! We will grow fraternity and sorority by demonstrating fraternity and sorority… whether that’s on-line or in-person. This is still a relationship business; the methods of building those relationships might just need to be altered slightly.
WHAT THIS COULD LOOK LIKE
Before we get to detailed tactics and plans, let’s take a moment to imagine some basic case studies so that you can picture this in your mind. These are from our staff…
A Panhellenic Example
Imagine a Panhellenic community that mimics rounds on a video-interview style platform. Each PNM might receive a schedule followed by links (for Uberconference, Zoom or Google Hangout meetings) and times to log on. On the chapter side, each bump group might have X-1 links for their group if they have 4 women recruiting in the same room (If they are a bump group of 4, they have 3 links and talk to 3 women) and rotate members in front of computer screens. If completely remote, chapter members can “bump” by sending the PNM the video link to the sister they talk to next in the round. Imagine PNMs receive a link to “interview/chat” with a designated chapter member for the allotted time. She can screen share some photos to talk about their experiences etc. If the chapter wants to share a common message, they create a recorded video that the chapter member shares with the PNM (maybe one for each round). On the bright side… these video convos would likely be longer than a normal bump rotation. Chapters who use MyVote’s advanced matching feature could easily generate suggested matches to designate what PNM speaks to what chapter member. Each chapter could host a digital “pre” round on MyVote where chapter members can review PNM’s profiles and make matching recommendations on what chapter members they think would be a good conversation match. Recruitment counselors could host an Uberconference room and be available to login and chat whenever a PNM wants to hop in. She could ask questions/gauge the group by using tools like Mentimeter. Councils can continue to use CampusDirector paired with the PNM Companion App to enter preferences and complete the MRABA. Bids could easily be distributed digitally or in a more personal manner with Panhellenic exec members doing a two-minute video call with each PNM (depending on the size of the community).
A CBFO Example
Imagine an MGC chapter that starts by building a prospect list from three key pipelines: a) Instagram Follow/Follow-Back/DMs to incoming and current students, b) A list acquisition from a multicultural affairs office, and c) A small scholarship managed entirely through social media and texting for targeted incoming students. They conduct interviews for the scholarships, of course. They also host three “Virtual Informational Meetings” using a tool like Zoom. They push out 3 simply and affordably made videos that feature their members talking about their values/purpose, what they’re seeking in prospects, and answers to the most commonly asked questions (i.e. What does your process look like? What if I can’t afford it? Do I have to be from a certain demographic?). Each prospect goes through a series of group interviews, and all final top prospects get a one-on-one interview with each executive board member. This is a lot of interviews and video calls, but it is worth it.
An IFC Example
Imagine an IFC council that creates an experience for potential members that starts in the spring and continues through the fall, entirely via digital media. The council launches a major paid social media inbound ad campaign, conducts a scholarship for “Incoming Gentlemen,” executes some major Instagram DM’ing, conducts direct email, phone call, and texting work to a list acquired from the university, and does virtual “town halls” targeted to local communities from which a lot of incoming students typically come. They then conduct two weeks of on-line potential member orientation classes, “virtual fun” events, video releases, live video presentations, small group and one-one-one video interviews, and a final live bid presentation “show” (that seems like the NBA draft). Here is one very relevant resource, and another that might give more insight for this particular example.
TACTICS AND PLANS
This is not meant to be an all-inclusive or perfect list of digital tactics and plans for your plug and play usage. These are meant to demonstrate digital possibilities. It is so important to live in possibilities and solutions right now. We CAN do this (should we need to). Sure there are obstacles. We’re leadership organizations, so now it’s time to lead and come up with new solutions to the new challenges we’ve been presented.
PROSPECTING & PIPELINING
- Inbound Marketing: “Outbound” marketing is about “getting your name out there.” It’s fine. “Inbound” marketing is about marketing efforts that result in getting people to share their name, contact information, ideally more data about them, and permission to continue connecting with them. Almost all of your prospecting efforts should be “Inbound” marketing efforts. Chapters, councils, and entire communities (not to mention inter/national orgs and umbrella organizations) should be quickly investing heavily in smart inbound marketing efforts to build your prospective member lists.
- Social Media: There are about a million ways to utilize social media to drive names onto your list. And they change every few months, it seems. Here are some basic ideas to consider to use social media for more than just showing off cool pictures of your members’ summer vacations.
- FOLLOW/FOLLOW-BACK/DM: Follow incoming or current students from the chapter account. When they follow back that is an invitation to send a personal DM (making clear you’re not a robot) to invite a conversation about your organization (or just about regular stuff). Add them to your list.
- PAID ADS: Purchasing advertisements on social media platforms is a smart and useful use of your money if those ads direct people to connect with you and give you their contact information. Use smart inbound marketing techniques that result in names on your list (hint: aim all interactions at a landing page that collects contact information)
- SCOURING FOR CONNECTIONS: Nothing wrong with spending some time looking through individuals who have self identified as incoming students next year. Learn about them, connect with them if appropriate, offer to be helpful in their lives. Don’t be creepy, but do be smart enough to realize that they’re begging for connection before they get to college.
- SEEK REFERRALS: Share the fact that you’re seeking to connect with “the best of the best” students through your chapter and personal social media feeds. Make clear who you’re seeking and don’t just post publicly, ask individuals and leaders of other student organizations privately through social media for those connections too.
- COMMENT: See a current or incoming student posting some strong content? Let them know. Give them some social media love in genuine ways so that they know they’re being noticed. Invite further conversation in your comments.
- List Acquisition: A list of incoming students, a list of current students, a list of Eagle Scouts at your institution, a list of students from key feeder high schools with intentions of enrolling, last year’s no-bid list, a list of student organization leaders. Ask anyone and everyone for access to lists. Use them responsibly and be as personal as possible with your outreach.
- Referrals: “I’m trying to connect with the best of the best students on campus.” “I’m trying to identify students who care very much about helping to uplift our cultural history and those who share our heritage.” “I’m just seeking 5 incoming students that you think would be real change-makers.” Asking questions like that (via email, text, phone call, or social media) to as many people as you can possibly think of is probably going to yield better results than anything else we can recommend from a prospecting standpoint.
- More Digital Prospecting Tactics: First open this document of “60 Tactics for Meeting Non-Affiliated Students,” and consider that the following could all be done digitally (with slight adaptations): Recruitment Scholarship, Sorority/Fraternity Referrals, Mind Joggers, Partnering with Select Organizations, Non-Greek Surveys, Ask The Rest to Find The Best, Professor and Class Referrals, Alumni Referrals, No-Bid List/Past Recruitment Lists, On-Line Referrals, Resource Center, Chunking, Scouting, Parent Solicitations, Referrals from High Schools, Presentations to Student Organizations, Niche Targeted Marketing, Top 20 Lunches & Coffees, Crossword Puzzle Help, High School Pipelines, Positive Absurdity, Organize Study Groups, Advocacy, Make it Easy To Sign Up, Text For…Something,.
INTERACTIONS AND EXPERIENCES
- Registration: This is an easy one. It’s almost entirely digital on most campuses now already. If you use CampusDirector, our team can help you optimize your registration process to make it as easy as possible for PNMs and for your community to collect the right information. If you’re not using a registration tool, it’s time to start. Having a single simple way for someone to officially indicate interest in fraternities and sororities on your campus is a must-do in this environment. CampusDirector, ChapterBuilder’s Council Dashboard, Google Forms… whatever it takes. Make sure there’s a single central place for all of your prospecting and pipelining efforts to funnel interest into.
- Potential Member Orientation: There are plenty of campuses and communities who are already doing pretty intense PNM orientations digitally. We recommend reaching out to Florida State as a model community for this. They’re doing it for all councils, and their Panhellenic digital PNM orientation is second to none. TechniPhi’s PNM Companion App can do most of the heavy lifting of this process for you as well.
- Videos: Marketing, promotional, and recruitment videos are not new. In fact, many organizations have gotten pretty good at them. You might be wondering how to make a great one. Good news. We have instructions for that right here.
- Texts and Phone Calls: Let’s be honest. A lot of digital recruitment is likely to be done via text message. Here’s an example of an effective outgoing text message to someone who just got onto your list through some prospecting efforts: “[Name!] This is Alex. My friend KC connected with you on Instagram. We’re trying to connect with incoming students to talk briefly about involvement on campus. I’d love to FaceTime or video call this week. Does Thursday or Friday afternoon work better for you?”
- Live Presentations: In place of informational meetings, house tours, “Meet the Greeks,” portions of recruitment orientation, chapter presentations on their philanthropic work or preference round presentations could all (conceptually) be delivered live via webinar software (Zoom, AnyMeeting, Uberconference, etc.)
- One-on-One Meetings: There will almost certainly be more on-on-one meetings in a digital recruitment scenario. There are professional fraternity/sorority recruiters who basically only do referrals, texting, and one-on-one meetings to build a chapter from scratch. And those one-on-one meetings can absolutely be done through FaceTime, Skype, Google Meet, etc. Here’s a resource for how to conduct a great one-on-one meeting.
- Formal Interviews (1:1 or Group): At some point (whether we’re doing face-to-face or digital recruitment), every potential member should probably be interviewed formally. Maybe multiple times. Plenty of major businesses conduct employee interviews all on-line, and there’s no reason this can’t become a staple part of a digital fraternity/sorority recruitment experience.
- Virtual Fun: Admittedly, face-to-face fun is more fun than virtual fun. But work with what you’ve got. Consider streaming multiplayer video games, virtual Netflix watch parties, board games on-line, group video chats while doing service work, shared playlists and discussions, and more. Our world is quickly coming up with lots and lots of new ways to have fun in groups while everyone is located in a different place.
- Potential Member Pitch Videos and Application Packets: It is not unimaginable for fraternities and sororities to require significant digital pitch packets, personal videos, and deep applications from prospective members in order for them to be considered for membership. Some organizations already require some of these things.
- Questions & Answers: We recommend getting started right now with written and video answers to these questions that are easily accessible on-line to potential members and their parents.
- Membership Selection: We already have one tool that many Panhellenic chapters are using for digital membership selection from their own personal mobile device. MyVote. Let us know if you want to talk through that tool or other alternatives for your needs.
- Bids/Invitations: Giving an invitation for membership can easily be done virtually. We have a guide on how to give a bid appropriately (and ideally). Just do it via video call.
While this particular urgency is a surprise, the idea of digital recruitment is not shocking to us. We’ve been thinking about it.
Until we’ve created Match or eHarmony for fraternities and sororities (and yes, we’re talking about it), the above list is a good approximation of what “digital recruitment” could look like starting right now.
Phired Up is ready to help. And here’s to hoping and praying that things go back to normal (whatever “normal” means).
*Note: This blog is not about Phired Up advocating for or against digital recruitment. We just know folks are considering it as a potential reality, and they need guidance on how to do it right. As always, fraternity/sorority recruitment should be based on trust-filled relationships, an honest and powerful value proposition, and a genuine opportunity for a potential member to find belonging, purpose, and personal development through sisterhood, brotherhood, or siblinghood.