Jonny Harper08/07/2020

You may think that the above hypothesis is an odd thing for the sector’s leading virtual open day provider to propose. But having worked with almost 100 UK universities, and having spoken with many of our clients over the past four months, here are just a smattering of conundrums that higher education marketers have been grappling with whilst hurriedly moving their open day experiences online:

  • We can’t use a new live events platform because our academics can only use Teams/Collaborate/[insert other video conferencing/presentation software here].
  • Our senior management team wants us to follow a linear format so that the prospective student can spend their entire day with us (sorry, but LOL).
  • If we can’t deliver interactive content and talk directly with individual prospects, it’s just a video library.
  • Yes, we know that we can present personalised content immediately to visitors on entry to the VOD but we just want them to ‘walk’ into a virtual booth first…
  • We need to run a million (slight exaggeration) live subject talks all at the same time, so there’s no room for error.
  • We’re having a big push to do everything on one day, so there’s no room for error.
  • We’re not sure how our web servers will cope with the increased traffic but there’s no room for error.
  • We’re worried that the academics won’t turn up on time/won’t finish on time/won’t turn up at all/won’t toe the party line.

Now admittedly, I haven’t worked in a university for over five years but the above statements sound scarily similar to the risks that student recruitment teams faced when delivering physical open days.

Why are universities introducing risks that plagued their on campus events into the digital world when they can be so easily avoided online?

I do appreciate that we were thrown into the pandemic lockdown rather suddenly and speed really was of the essence but…if we all just took a small step back and gave ourselves time to breathe, is the way we are running virtual open days right now the way we would deliver them if we started with a blank slate? If we were simply presented with the challenge of creating an interactive, engaging and inspiring experience of university life and learning online, what would we actually produce? And has anyone actually asked the prospective students and their influencers what they want from a virtual open day? (Don’t worry, we have.)

With all universities reaching VOD fever pitch and most of them having now delivered their first university-wide online recruitment events, we have a window of opportunity to assess what has worked, and what hasn’t, and to reimagine the art of the possible. You won’t be surprised to hear that this is exactly what we are doing at Revolution Viewing.

Whilst the above marketers’ statements highlight some of the pitfalls with virtual open days, many elements have been going extremely well:

  • Society has adapted to online events well and virtual open days have enabled universities to have high quality interactions with thousands of prospective students, their parents and other influencers within an hour of an event starting.
  • Revolution Viewing’s virtual tour elements of virtual open days have been performing particularly well with average dwell times reaching over 25 minutes per visitor and very low bounce and exit rates.
  • Prospective students have engaged well with live Q&A sessions following a live or pre-recorded presentation, with more questions asked than at a physical event and answers shared with more visitors.
  • Many academics have risen to the challenge and have produced hugely engaging and inspiring presentations.
  • Universities are now seeing even greater value in virtual tours and virtual open days with many having aspirations to run more online events and have more conversations with prospects moving forward, regardless of how lockdown relaxes.
  • Huge sums of money have been saved from making the switch from physical student recruitment events to online – the challenge now will be to invest future budget wisely in a virtual open day platform that will really deliver for the sector without compromise.
  • The return on investment that can be gained from delivering multiple virtual open days (and applicant days and taster days etc) compared to running physical events is significant. And because a Revolution Viewing VOD sits on your website where you own and control the content, you can track results directly through the monitoring of call to action buttons such as “Apply Now”, “Attend an Event” or “Order a Prospectus”.
  • CRM integration of a Revolution Viewing VOD is also possible which means that you can build up profiles of your individual users to produce targeted communications as well as learning more on a macro level about the behaviours of your prospective students.

These outcomes clearly signal that the virtual open day is far from dead. It is the future of university marketing – more effective than the website, and more powerful than the prospectus. 

Even so, there are some significant improvements that can be made. By working with you using our much valued partnership approach, by putting the audiences’ needs at the heart of any all-encompassing solution and by introducing a robust way of tracking ROI, we will take this now vital student recruitment tool to the next level. And, as you can imagine, we are very VERY excited about it!

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