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Recruiting Generation Z into Fraternity and Sorority Life

Before you read this, you should know that this post also exists: CLICK HERE. That core data about Gen Z is really important for you to consider. Another related post comes from a presentation we delivered not too ago. It’s titled “Damaged Goods” and dives deeper into some of the data about today’s incoming college students and all that they’re experiencing (CLICK HERE). (Oh, and here’s another recent post that outlines some important stats about today’s students).

And finally, before you dive into this blog post, watch this video:

Now for the rest of the blog! Enjoy!

We probably don’t need to tell you all the facts about Generation Z… for many of you in college now, you are a Gen-Zer (or on the cusp). But you might not be aware of the characteristics of your generation that have an impact on how we recruit. We believe some of the most important generational trends that impact fraternity/sorority recruitment are:

  • Financial awareness (they’re children of the financial crisis).

  • Gen Z has a similar “anti establishment” mentality as Gen X (your parents most likely). They’re less attracted to big groups and are more interested in value-added, personal relationships.

  • They tend to be information seekers (and finders). They’re digital natives and know how to access all the information they need.

  • They have a strong thirst for making sure things are “worth it.” This generation is highly driven, career-focused, and entrepreneurial. They’re seeking opportunities to help set them up for a successful life, and if they can’t find it it, they’ll create their own.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s dive deeper.

We’ve not only looked at the wonderful research being done out there on Gen Z students… we’ve also been asking students directly. Specifically, we conducted a major national survey of high school students recently. These results are not officially published yet, but let us give you a quick sneak peek.

  • Quick Demographics: Approximately 2,000 surveys from HS aged students (freshmen-senior). Balanced collection from each region and international responses.

  • Most used social media platform: 85.7% Instagram, 74.3% YouTube, 58.6% SnapChat

  • Top communication method with friends- 74.7 % Text, 71.5% Face to face, 60.0% Instagram DM

  • Hope to receive from college: 49.3% A memorable experience, 48.3% Professional/career development, 31.0% new friends

  • Top concerns for college: 67.3% affording college, 48.0% failing classes, 28.0% feeling alone. 3.6% being hazed

  • Words they associate with F/S: 65.6% cliques, 33.5% conformity

  • Where they learn about F/S: Movies 67.2%, TV 55.6%, Instagram 33.2%

There’s lots more to come from these survey results. We’re learning a ton from the data as we dive deeply into it. Without getting too detailed (because this is supposed to be a quick blog post), here are some big lessons that high schoolers seem to be teaching us right now.

We are in the experience economy. The number one thing this next group of students entering college want is a memorable experience. In other words, our marketing and recruitment efforts shouldn’t be about conveying information, they should be emotional and focused on creating experiences that add value to the PNMs lives.

Affording college is their number one concern. That’s not a shocker at this point. But in a long list of concerns they had to choose from, being hazed only had 3.6% of respondents select it. That tells us that despite the fact that they’re learning all about fraternities and sororities primarily from movies and TV, they aren’t internalizing the darkest story lines. They don’t hate us (yet). Let’s keep it that way, eh?

50.3% have a high or neutral level of interest in fraternity and sorority life.

Like we said, there’s lots more to come from this, but it’s an exciting start!

O.K., so let’s get really specific. Here are our top tips for recruiting TODAY’s students. We have to update our strategies and tactics to match the needs of these students.

  • Make It Personal. Don’t group text, mass email, Insta tag, or Facebook invite. They won’t be attracted to the large group feeling, they want a personal invitation. They’ll want to know that you want to build a friendship with them, not a mass of surface level friendships.

  • Identify the Value. This should be what we focus on the most. In their mind they are doing the cost benefit analysis about whether it’s worth it or not to join. Remember, you are asking for important resources – time that they could be spending on studying or advancing themselves and money when an education already has a costly pricetag and they’re top concern is affordability.

  • Don’t Forget The Fun.  The value and worth are crucial to highlight and focus on when recruiting. But we can’t forget about the fun. They want to have a memorable experience but one that doesn’t take away from their future.

  • Stand Out.  There are so many involvement opportunities on a  campus to choose from… and many of them are free. How do you stand out as different from the other organizations? What do you offer that they don’t? It has to be more than “buddies.” You are a premium organization, so make sure they know what makes membership priceless.

  • In Person. Of course this generation uses digital more than any before it, but they value true in-person, human-to-human connection more than anything they see on social media. Remember, they grew up with “fake news,” so what you post on-line better be backed up by real-life experiences.

  • Use Authentic Video. No I’m not talking about flashy, expensive, Hollywood style sorority recruitment videos (necessarily). The Gen Z audience is on YouTube more than any generation before them. They are following vloggers, tutorials, real people -  not music video-esque recruitment videos. Type “sorority recruitment” into YouTube and you will find popular vloggers giving incoming freshmen tips on makeup and fashion, what things to say or not say. Is that the content we want to be dominating the web search? We should be making our own, real “vlog-style” videos that give PNMs a better idea of what recruitment and membership will be like.

  • Explain Selection. These are information seekers; when we lie to them and don’t provide more detail about how selections are made, we lose them as members. Using phrases like “trust the process” and “some people slip through the cracks” aren’t cutting it.

  • Highlight Academics. Make sure you are including how your organization is helping with academics. Career success and getting good grades is a top priority – they know how much their education costs and are taking it seriously. If you come across as an organization who only parties, many students won’t be interested.

  • Focus on Individuality (or highlight it).Gen Z students are individuals, and want to hold their individuality. They aren’t interested in organizations that make them have to conform and often see fraternity and sorority as places where that is true. Focus on the diversity represented in your chapter and be open to recruiting people who are different.

  • Correct Their Assumptions. Most of what students learn about fraternity/sorority is from movies, TV shows, and Instagram accounts. When a potential member looks at your social media or meets your members, are they reminded of the negative stereotypes they assumed were true?

  • Have Accurate Information Easily Accessible. These students are going to want to learn whatever they can online. Thats a scary thing… Googling fraternity/sorority currently doesn’t result in the marketing narrative we all have in mind. What information do they need and how can we provide it to them during their web search?

This is all happening RIGHT NOW! It’s exciting and important. But if you get super nerdy about this stuff and want to go deeper, will you consider for a moment how this generation (and the next) will likely transform our whole industry? Here are some guesses…

  1.  Our fraternity/sorority world will start to find brilliant applications for newly available data. We know more about our members, and more importantly, about our potential members than ever before. We have access to their life’s records on social media. We should use smarter technology to manage our recruitment processes so we know far more about HOW people are joining and HOW our organizations are growing than we’ve ever known before. This data will change our entire fraternity/sorority world. If you’re not already considering data-driven recruitment strategies and applications, now is the time.
  2.  Our members will get tired of doing things that don’t work, because they’re used to things that do work. If you download an app on your phone, and it doesn’t work, you move on. If you plan recruitment events that don’t work — well, for decades we’ve just repeated them over and over. This new generation of college students won’t stand for that. They’ll seek proven methods that actually work and utilize them. This is a group of students seeking innovation and tailored experiences that are built just for them. Maybe the “All Greek BBQ” that originated back in 1994 ain’t gonna cut it anymore.
  3.  Our relationship with race and ethnicity will change. All the research about “Generation Z” is suggesting that their view of race and gender is far more blended than generations before them. This is no surprise at all to our readers. Our organizations must become more intentionally inclusive. This is happening quickly on the student level, but many inter/national organizations need to catch up too. Our culturally-based groups are becoming even more relevant, important, and in demand. The way we think about “historically _____” organizations will be challenged in the near future.
  4. Our organizations will expand beyond traditional 4-year American institutions. Community colleges, other continents, alumni/adult-student groups, etc. The demographics of today’s college students combined with a far more global citizenship and drastically changing economics for college students are demanding an altered expansion strategy. This is already starting to happen.
  5.  Our organizations will need to show some results. What tangible ways are we making the lives of our members better throughout their lifespan? What meaningful impact are we actually having on our communities? The organizations that are already able to show these results (and there are a few) are separating themselves from the pack quickly. Being a “general social fraternity/sorority” probably won’t cut it for much longer.
  6.  Our organizations will shift their focus to PRE-MEMBERSHIP. Assertively seeking and carefully selecting only mature, low-risk members to carry on our fraternal legacy will make more of an impact on risk-management problems, public relations problems, retention problems, dues collection problems, and all the rest of our problems than decades of educational programming and institutional polices have made. While fraternal organizations will always provide the most powerful educational and developmental opportunity available on a college campus, inter/national organizations will start to manage their risk by requiring more proof of moral and social responsibility before someone receives a bid.