As a new academic year beckons, universities are working hard to ensure their admissions remain strong after an uncertain start to 2020. Since the onset of coronavirus, many schools have switched to digital outreach methods, whether by hosting virtual information sessions, student fairs or other online campaigns.
While the experiences offered may differ from activities such as the traditional campus visit, virtual events can still have quite an impact on students. If run effectively, they can prove to be an engaging and interactive experience for all in attendance.
1. Choose the right platform for your needs
Before setting up your virtual information session or event, it is important to choose a platform that will fit your needs. It may be helpful to consider the relative cost, capacity for attendees and what type of features you need (i.e. video recording, email reminds, cloud storage). Popular choices include:
A clear favourite that has emerged from the pandemic, Zoom offers video conferencing that also includes real-time messaging and content sharing features. Your team members or clients can join meetings from any device, so it’s perfect for universities with flexible needs. Zoom also includes recording and scheduling functionality.
GoToMeeting offers video conferencing and collaboration features. You can quickly launch meetings from your email, CRM or other tools. GoToMeeting also offers messaging functionality so you can stay in touch between video meetings.
VFairs (for student fairs)
Vfairs creates a virtual event that mimics an in-person experience. You can incorporate rich content to help students find out relevant information through video vaults, brochures, course outlines and photo galleries. Plus, you can foster engagement through audio, video, or text chat.
Zoho can be used for both online meetings and larger presentations. You can schedule meetings for a later date or start them immediately. Features include access to audio, video, and screen-sharing tools, plus recording.
2. Promote registrations well in advance of the event
The first place to find attendees for your information session is by contacting prospective students who have expressed interest in your on-campus tours, as well as your current student-lead database. Yale University, which typically welcomes between 1,000 and 6,000 visitors each week at this time of year, reached out to its on-campus registrants to offer them the first places in its virtual sessions which are run twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Apart from reaching out to registered visitors, you can promote your sessions organically via the landing page of your website and through social media. When it comes to paid marketing, you can attract the attention of new students by running Facebook and Instagram ads to the registration page for your information session.
3. Include reminders
To increase your live attendance rates, ensure you set up reminders for registrants. This should look like sending an immediate confirmation email that includes the time, date, live link, and the opportunity for students to add the event to their calendar. Depending on your software, reminders can be scheduled 24hrs before the event, a few hours before, or at a designated time of your choosing.
4. Be aware of “Zoom bombing”
Not everyone who joins the virtual session may have pure intentions. Organizers should be mindful of “Zoom bombing,” a relatively new phenomenon which occurs when someone hijacks an online webinar session. The best way to prevent this from happening is to ensure your session is private, and require registration. While publicizing the direct link to your information session may increase your live attendance rates, it opens the door to these unwanted Zoombombers. The good news is that if this problem arises, the host has complete control over the meeting and can quickly act to remove the person from the session.
For those using webinar services, tools to mute participants and focus on presenters are also useful to avoid any such occurrences.
5. Have a moderator to assist with delivery
The moderator not only serves to monitor the session but also ensures the smooth flow of conversation. A moderator should not be the person who is presenting, but someone who also has “host” capabilities, and will manage attendees. This can involve admitting attendees to the live room, responding to queries in the chat, and bringing key questions to the presenter’s attention, when it comes time for the Q&A. A moderator will help to ensure that your event runs as smoothly as possible!
6. Create a clear structure for the session
To ensure the smooth flow of your information session, make sure it follows a clear format. The virtual session should be much shorter than an in-person event. It can start with a welcome, followed by key presenters. From here, speakers can move on to tours, meetings with students and Q&A sessions. While it can be tempting to answer incoming questions as they are asked during the sessions, it is best to communicate with attendees that these will be answered at the end to ensure a consistent structure.
7. Make sure to do a test run
Before hosting your session, it is helpful to do a practice run. During live events, not everything always goes according to plan, especially when technology is involved. By taking the time to do a test run, you can help to reduce uncertainty and avoid potential mishaps. You will be able to catch any potential problems that could occur during the live session and familiarise yourself with the software to ensure the best result when going live. Don't forget to check your equipment also!
8. Include a call-to-action
With events hosted in the online world, it is more important than ever to guide students to their next steps. You can do this by including a clear call to action at the end of the session that directs attendees to complete an application form or reach out to specific departments with further questions.
9. Share the recording afterwards, and stay in touch!
Not everyone will be able to make it to the information session live. That is why it’s essential to offer a recording of the event to students and their families, so they can watch it back at their own leisure. This is also helpful for those who attended live, as they may want to go over the information they received and share with others.
Shining a positive light on an uncertain situation
While COVID-19 may have temporarily changed the way universities interact with students, it has paved the path for a range of creative new ways to interact and engage with students. For recruiters, the learnings taken as a result of the pandemic are likely to have a positive impact on recruitment strategy well into the future. We look forward to seeing more of these digital recruiting activities for years to come!