When I worked on campus, one of my favorite interactions was greeting admitted students and their parents when they arrived to take a tour. Their excitement was palpable, and you could see them falling in love with our institution as they explored campus and got to know our community.
This spring, things are different. With campuses closed, many students and their parents are reconnecting with your campus or getting their first impressions virtually. More than ever, colleges and universities are leveraging virtual campus tours to enhance connections with admitted students, build relationships with future classes, and remind current students why they should return to campus.
The numbers speak for themselves. Google searches for “virtual campus tours” increased 2x in the past month. And, in that same timeframe, 1.4 million people viewed one or more of our YouVisit virtual tours. As student interest in virtual visits grows, here are some best practices to help your tour stand out and increase student engagement throughout the admissions funnel.
High school seniors are taking virtual tours at a rate 228% higher than they were at this time last year
High school juniors are viewing virtual tours at a rate 258% higher than they were at this time last year
High school sophomores are viewing virtual tours at a rate 204% higher than they were at this time last year
Make sure your virtual tour is widely accessible across your site
While search volume for “virtual campus tours” has skyrocketed, some students and parents may not be aware of opportunities to visit campus virtually. To make sure as many people as possible find your virtual tour, embed it on your institution’s homepage. And consider including a virtual tour link in your website’s navigation bar, allowing visitors to take your virtual tour from any part of your website. Including the tour link in your website’s header and footer will also help it stand out and improve access.
In addition to embedding the virtual tour on key pages like your admissions and admitted students landing pages, think about other places students might go expecting to see campus images such as your athletics or residence life pages. One of my favorite virtual tour capabilities is the ability to launch your tour immediately from a destination of interest. For example, students browsing your College of Engineering’s landing page could click into a virtual tour and be transported immediately to a tour of the College of Engineering.
Promote your virtual tour across all marketing channels, especially via email and social media
Promoting your virtual tour across marketing channels drives tour traffic, and it engages Gen Z in the kind of immersive experiences students crave. For example, some admissions teams place their virtual tour link in their email signatures. Some enrollment leaders I spoke with in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis were skeptical students would respond to email marketing. We’ve found email open and click-through rates have remained steady throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and response rates are 17% higher than they were for similar emails sent this time last year.
Another great way to amplify your virtual tour impact is through social media channels. Many of our partners enjoy success installing a virtual experience link on Facebook, starting a virtual tour hashtag on Twitter, or promoting their virtual tour in an Instagram story. And while your prospective freshmen are more likely to use these social media channels than LinkedIn, a post promoting your virtual tour on LinkedIn will re-engage alumni with your campus.
Ensure your virtual tour is just the first step in a student’s engagement
Virtual tours help reveal stealth activity, so it’s important to have an effective inquiry collection experience within your tour. A conversational inquiry form like those embedded in YouVisit virtual tours give personalized prompts as the visitor moves through the form. These forms generate two times the number of inquiries and give enrollment teams insight that helps them convert interest into intent.
It’s also key to use inquiry data from your virtual tour in your marketing and communication campaigns. Tagging your website so that you can track conversions and interactions after a student completes the tour allows you to personalize future communications with that student.
1. Embed or link to your virtual tour on your website’s homepage, in the navigation bar, and in the header and footer to ensure students don’t overlook a chance to tour your campus
2. Drive awareness by connecting your virtual tour to all your marketing channels
3. Make sure your tour prompts students and parents to engage further and use their web page visits to understand more about their interests and goals
While it seems counterintuitive, students who take virtual tours are more likely to visit campus in-person than those who do not. I look forward to the day we can welcome students and families back on campus for more of those falling-in-love moments. Nothing replaces experiencing a campus in-person, but a virtual tour is the next best thing.
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