Sunday, May 08, 2011

Relationships and Recruiting

Buzz word central these days include branding, relationship marketing and of course social media. Is there an intersection here that can be of use? I'll argue yes, especially when it comes to recruiting. And, this is bad news for the NCAA.

Bold stuff, yes?

What has me thinking about this is the relationship part. At the end of the day, success on the internet revolves around friendship. The persons we are close to, we accept a lot of input from and we are not concerned about the over-sharing. But why?

I'm going to posit that it is because we know each other. Yes, that's a totally objective, undefinable proof. Just cause it is simple to the point of cliche doesn't mean it isn't true. We care about people we know. The only way to get to know someone is to open up and be willing to share things about yourself. See the relationship part?

So for a coach to make the connection these days with a prospective student-athlete - or let's broaden that, a university to reach any prospective student - they better be ready to engage with those people on a personal basis.

A one-to-one basis. Ah, here's the NCAA rub. Social media can be used to recruit, but once it is personalized, that becomes not permissible. However, generic, one-to-many messaging can often look staged, or worse self-absorbed. That's injurious to the person (or school) trying to make a relationship work.

Big talk - where is the proof. Don't have it. At least, not right now. What I have is a year and a half of working with the interactive blogs I started at the University of Arkansas. Sharing becomes caring, caring becomes friendship.

When we started, just me and a handful of fans that I would answer almost any question for and in turn, they began to trust and become untreated - not just in the games, but in the little community of friends that was building.

Building to the point of over 2,000 cumulative per game this spring in baseball, peaking past 3,600 for a high mark.  That's a better average attendance than many Division I baseball teams get in the actual ballpark.

Sure, when you're team can put 9K plus in the house on a regular basis, easier to get those numbers. But why don't that many come for football, which averages over 60k a game but was doing great (in comparison to other SEC schools who shared their numbers) at 1,500 a game?

Because in baseball I have time to talk with the fans more, get them interested in me and take interest in them. I fully recognize how conceited that statement was - but it is a fact. I've built a following, of sorts, just like a good play-by-play announcer does with the fans. The best radio voices know, you respect your fans, they will respect and adore you.

What in the hell does this have to do with recruiting? The essential element is personal relationship. If I was being bland and branded, fans would come for the facts, and that's it. The potential for loyalty and taking a fan to friend (and if you keep it up from friend to donor) is in the personal touch.

That's what the NCAA is not allowing - and in 2005 social media logic, makes sense. Today we are in a world in which the regular student really does believe they should have a personal relationship with teachers, with administrators, with admissions officers. The more successful ones in those areas understand that. For them, it's not a burden to interact with students. It is a privilege.

If Bobby Jo Williams is the starting point guard of a local team with a 25 ppt average, good ole Coach Smith can't post on his wall or message him directly without potential repercussions. But if Bobby Jo is a 35 ACT and interested in biomed, darn sure the honors college admissions director and dean are going to be all over him.

We want our student-athletes mainstreamed. In this one way, why can't we treat all the potential students of a school the same.

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