The Evolution from Old-School to Digital Recruiter

This blog post by Jeremy Fern originally appeared on the Seventh Point: Media Street Smarts Digital Recruiter blog

Do your prospective students really care what you have to say? Or how you say it?

In the early 2000s, I started my higher ed career as a rookie admissions counselor at a small North Carolina university. Those were the days of big monitors and Internet speed so fast you could literally watch your screen load like a PowerPoint swipe effect. I still remember the massive paper-cuts I’d get preparing colorful manila folders for each of my students, keeping handwritten notes of every minor detail down to their favorite candy bar and the name of their dog.

Back then social media wasn’t the hotbed it is today. Sure, most of us had a MySpace page and toyed around with AOL Instant Messenger, but we were focused on letters, postcards, phone calls, and emails. Let me be clear that there’s great and lasting value in these traditional ways of cultivating relationships with students. In fact, today direct mail print publications are still ranked as one of the most influential means of connecting with prospective students.

But let me challenge your thinking too. Do your prospective students really care what you have to say or is it about how you say it? AOL Instant Messenger was popular back then, and I used it to recruit students quite successfully. As long as I could match a real name with a username, I was good. Let’s face it, I have a good memory, but I couldn’t remember if “fuzzybunny25″ was Ashley or Courtney. I kept using phone calls, emails, and personal notes for a more personal touch. But by using the technology of the day, I cultivated relationships with these prospects by speaking their language. It wasn’t about what I said as much as it was how I said it, or what I used to say it. My students didn’t want the commitment of talking to me on the phone yet; they wanted to keep me at arm’s length. And using the newest way of doing that at the time, AOL IM, was just the fix.

Today, AOL IM might not be a powerhouse of recruiting students, and it was never really designed to be that. But that doesn’t stop us from using social media, texting, email, and other mediums as ways to connect. Yesterday’s traditional admissions counselor is today’s digital recruiter.

Duke University’s manager of social and digital media strategy, Cara Rousseau, can vouch for that. Her unique role at Duke finds her splitting time up between the media relations office and the undergraduate recruiting office. Here’s what Cara had to share about embracing new technology to help in recruiting and engaging prospective students at Duke:

Google+ Hangouts On Air (HOA) has been a huge success for us as it helps us connect prospects with our current students. The focus of using social media in admissions at Duke is to engage prospective and admitted students by connecting them with the piece of campus they care about (i.e., faculty, clubs, academics, athletics, etc.). We use Google+ as more of a social layer on top of other social media platforms. When we host a Google+ HOA event, we use different themes like “spirit” and “pride,” and we’ve chosen epicenter locations on campus such as Cameron Indoor Stadium, a residence hall lobby, and the Hall of Fame. To promote these events, we’ve really taken a cross-platform approach by promoting hangouts on Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and e-blasts. Also, creating #hashtags specific to our HOA event and encouraging students to get on Twitter during HOA events can help drive awareness for Duke. In a given hour-long hangout, we might have 50-60 questions asked, and based on who is submitting those questions we see a higher conversion percentage of students matriculating to Duke.

A Big Week of Hangouts for Duke

Click on Video to Watch


The point is, Duke University is using social media as a means of community building – to help students get engaged, locked in, and committed. Social media sites such as Google+ are tools that can bring your campus to the bedroom of prospective students. Rousseau’s final thought was, “Prospects get to see what Duke students are like, our diversity. It’s really less about marketing Duke and more about providing a window into Duke’s culture.”

This is just one example of how Duke’s admissions recruiters have used today’s technology to become digital recruiters. The power and reach of social media give you instant access to an audience that just years ago was impossible to reach. Let’s see…where was I…oh yes, I was in the middle of a tweet, a Facebook post, revining, a text, and Yik Yaking. Hope my Klout score goes up!

Stay tuned for the 2nd part of the “Digital Recruiter” blog, in which I’ll share five tips for evolving into a digital recruiter.