SophiePalmer14/09/2020

Virtual experiences have always been a proven conversion tool. As we approach the “new normal” there’s no doubt that they’re here to stay. The time is now to make the ultimate virtual experience! Here’s how you do it…

From our primary research programme we know there are three main elements prospective students value when viewing a Virtual Experience. They are a good user experience; high quality content; and making them easy to find. For this blog I’ll focus on those key areas and explain how to get yours in tip-top shape:

User experience
High quality content
Discoverability

User experience

Give your visitors the best UX by making sure that your experience caters to them. Here are a few ways to achieve this:

Provide a solid user journey

Your website has been built with many different university stakeholders in mind. Your virtual experience can be a dedicated ‘shop front’ space designed especially for your prospective students. Consider the different needs of undergraduate, international and postgraduate students and make sure they are all catered for.

The best way to do this is to build good filtering into your experience. This allows visitors to find content relevant to their needs and interests. Our research shows that virtual experiences are a useful tool throughout the whole of the student recruitment cycle. Because of this we are currently developing a system allowing different content to be shown to visitors depending on their stage in the application process. We know there are different messages and information that you need to provide at each stage. This ensures that the experience will always cater perfectly to the needs of your visitor.

Keep it updated

Building a great virtual experience is a lot of work. Once it’s ready, it’s easy to press publish and consider the job done. This will work to an extent, but the best solutions never stagnate. Shout out to the University of Essex marketing team here! Theirs is a fantastic example of a university keeping its content fresh and relevant. Whenever I look at the University of Essex virtual experience they’ve updated the main menu with their latest campaign. And the campaigns tie in with the student recruitment journey. We supply all our Virtual Experiences with a CMS so you can easily update your copy and campaigns.

At the moment, the first page of Essex’s tour is used to promote an upcoming open day. I have no doubts that will change in a few days!

Make it interactive – for maximum impact

In the digital age, we are used to interacting with what interests us. To hold the attention of your prospective students longer, make sure you have interactive content available throughout the Virtual Experience. As well as holding their interest, this makes it easier to share more information with your visitors. For example, on your 360° photos add hotspots with information, videos and image galleries, so it’s easy for prospective students to learn more about an area or facility. As well as looking at the facilities, a student might want to access further information about the course and hear from members of the current cohort.

In the centre of this screenshot, that red drop with the video icon is a hotspot for Bradford’s engineers to find out more. Clicking it opens ‘Peter’s story’, where a current student tells us about his experiences. See for yourself in the University of Bradford Engineering department tour.

Providing information in a variety of ways is a good way of ensuring that you cater for different preferences. It also means that your tour doesn’t overwhelm visitors with too much detail from the get-go.

Another way to make things more experiential for your visitors is to hold online events within your virtual experience. With open days and applicant days still unlikely to be held on campus, hosting webinars, live chat and Q&A sessions through your tour allows you to communicate essential information in an efficient and cost effective way.

High quality content

When we tested our virtual experiences, 88% of students said that they would find this type of tool helpful to select their perfect university. Many students linked the quality of content to the quality of the experience they would receive at the university.

Increase influence, interest and decision making with a mix of digital media

It’s important to have a range of 360° photography, videos, still images and articles making up the content of your virtual experience.

Our research showed that students at different stages in the recruitment cycle want a variety of information presented in different ways. In the early stages, prospective students want to see a quick and digestible overview of the university’s facilities, possibly through a short brand video, like the one below, from London Metropolitan University. Once they are seriously considering applying, or have applied, students want to see much more detail. 360° photographs will do the job well, allowing your visitors to explore the university in their own time and at length plus you can add in article content and links out to other webpages.

Great example of a brand video – a perfect introduction to London Met.

Bear in mind that content must be authentic as well as high quality

Prospective students are really savvy. They know what has been professionally produced and what hasn’t. Anything that represents your university needs to be of high quality; as mentioned above they will associate the quality of content with the university experience.

This sounds a bit counter-intuitive when talking about authentic content such as vlogs, so let me explain! Vlogs are not meant to be polished, professional videos but the ones representing the university do still need to be well-produced. Vlogging students need to be well framed and to capture their videos on a smartphone or GoPro, making sure they aren’t covering the microphone. We’ve seen countless vlogs filmed in halls of residence with the curtains closed, the camera wonky and far away. That won’t work well! Making sure that kind of behind-the-scenes production is solid is the sort of thing prospective students will appreciate.

Here’s a great example of authentic content from the University of Middlesex, which also has good production value.

If you’re struggling to find the time to provide guidance to your students, we can help out with professional training delivered from our Video Producers directly to your vloggers.

Represent as many people as possible – the more views, the better

The greater the representation of views in your virtual experience, the better. This is not just so that prospective students, parents and teachers can all find someone relatable in the tour. It also gives your visitors a more rounded and fulsome perspective on university life. A good course video probably includes a current student and is relatable and interesting. A great course video will include a student and an academic; the cherry on top would be to feature an alumni too. This adds to the credibility of your message and provides another perspective, usually with different detail.

This Bournemouth University video features two students and a lecturer. A good range of views.

Discoverability

Consider when and where you’ll display your virtual content

This is about making sure that some of your best lead generation and conversion content works for you all the time. The first, most obvious place to link to your virtual experience is your website home page. This is a good start. To make it as easily accessible as possible, we recommend links on the course pages, accommodation pages and deep linking to content throughout the whole of your website.

Beyond your website, there are many other places that your virtual experience could work for you and enhance your offering. Consider making a version available on touch screens at your physical open days. It’s another way that you can provide information and USPs to your prospective students while they are a captive audience on campus. If you’re attending an event such as a recruitment fair, it’s a good idea to have your virtual experience available on a tablet so that interested visitors can interact with it.

HELOA’s Jack Clare and RV’s Nick Hancox at the HELOA conference in January this year – we brought a touchscreen along so that when people got fed up of talking to us, they could see what we do in action and try it for themselves.

Make it accessible

Now that government accessibility guidelines have come into force, it’s important your virtual experience is compliant with the new AA standards. This isn’t just so you’re adhering to government regulations. It’s vital to make sure your content and messages are reaching as many prospective students as possible. We know that the guidelines can be a bit of a minefield so check out the blog written by our Technical Director, Jonny, for a simple overview.

Finally…

I hope that gives you some ideas about how to make sure your virtual experience stands out from the crowd. We are following our own advice and currently building the ultimate virtual experience (RV’s Virtual Experience 2.0)! It brings together the best of our existing experience, knowledge, and primary research. At the time of writing, we’re running a research study with prospective students testing concepts. We’re hiring an SEO specialist and we’re consulting with a Conversion Rate Optimisation specialist. We’re doing everything we can to take the virtual experience beyond anything that’s been done before. We can’t wait to share the results with you in January!

By January we will have built our first new, all-singing, all-dancing Virtual Experience. We can’t wait to share it with you. If you want any more information in the meantime, there’s nothing we like more than to talk about our newest project! Contact us to find out more.