As a former admissions counselor, I can attest that the rapid transition to virtual recruitment was anything but easy. Seemingly overnight, the pandemic forced us to convert decades’ worth of tried-and-true recruitment tactics into digital alternatives. Schools have seen varying degrees of success with their efforts, but one thing is for certain – virtual events are here to stay.
Another factor to consider is Gen Z’s high expectations for digital content, which means you need to deliver virtual events that are top-notch. To maximize your efforts, we’ve compiled some best practices for each phase of virtual event development – from planning, to execution, to reflection.
Step One: Preparation
At the ideation stage, it’s important to take a step back and put yourself in your students’ shoes. Depending on where they are in their college search journey, they may be more or less familiar with your institution and their questions will vary accordingly. Therefore, you want to make sure that you have a firm understanding of who your audience is and what their needs and expectations are. This will help you tailor your event to topics that are most relevant to your desired audience. For instance, juniors in high school may want to hear more about higher-level topics, like academic opportunities and campus life, while seniors may want to learn more about the admissions process, financial aid, and career outcomes.
Once you’ve identified your audience and their most pressing questions and concerns, it’s important to leverage a healthy dose of creativity when designing your content. In the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, we saw a 9% increase in the application per applicant ratio, meaning that students are juggling more college information than ever before. As a result, prospective applicants may attend dozens of events just like yours. To stand out among your competitors, it’s important to identify ways in which your institution can provide a unique and meaningful experience.
You may initially feel limited with what you can do in the virtual space but remember that “events” can take on a variety of different formats. Video conferencing – encompassing both webinars and meetings – tend to be the most common event format. Webinars allow the student to listen and ask questions, but they usually don’t engage with audio or video. This is typically a good option for large-scale events, as it reduces the number of disruptions or distractions that you and your audience may experience. Meetings, however, do allow students to engage via audio and video. This tends to be a good option for small group sessions or one-on-one appointments and can be a useful tool to ensure personalized engagement despite geographic restrictions.
While video conferencing is a great option, don’t forget to leverage social media, as well. 91% of students think that every college should have a social media presence and most platforms offer creative opportunities for you to reach and engage with students in unique ways. You can take it one step further with platforms like Wisr, a personalized online community where prospects can learn more about your school and even engage with student ambassadors, which is a strong influencer for Gen Z. You can also leverage virtual tours to help students experience your campus is like from the comfort of their own home.
No matter which type of event you choose to host, you’ll want to be intentional about how you promote it. To maximize your reach, you shouldn’t rely on just one promotional tactic. Emails are a strong option, but they limit your reach to students who have already expressed interest in you. To supplement, consider publicizing your event on mainstream college search platforms, like Cappex and Naviance. Intersect allows you to publicize your upcoming events with more than 6.6 million current high school students in Naviance while Cappex allows you to curate your school’s profile on Cappex.com. This is a great way to ensure that students are aware of your event schedule, how to register, and where to look for more information. By leveraging platforms beyond your school’s website to promote your events, you can engage with students who are not yet interested in you – but could be.
Step Two: Execution
When it comes to executing your events, you’ll want to take special care of several logistical elements that play a critical role in the event’s success.
To make sure that everything runs smoothly, you’ll want to practice in advance. Hosting an informal information session for any stakeholders that may be involved gives you a chance to provide important information to staff ahead of the event. If you plan to use any sort of interactive media – such as slides, audio, video, or chat messages – then this is also a great opportunity to give those elements a trial run.
You’ll also want to make a list of duties for you and your team to allocate. Be sure that any staff members working the event are very clear about what their duties are, how to execute them, and who to turn to should they need assistance. You should also consider creating an event guide to distribute to each staff member, which can contain the schedule, emergency phone numbers, and a list of who is responsible for which tasks, among other items. Here are some common duties to get you started:
- Managing the Q&A and chat functions
- Launching polls
- Securing student, faculty, and staff volunteers
Most importantly, you will want to consider how student data is being collected and managed. For some events, students might register on your website in advance of the event, which will automatically provide you with their contact information and any topics that they might be interested in (which is helpful for follow-up communications). But for other events, the technological elements might be managed by a third party, such as virtual high school visits, which are sometimes managed by the high school. In such cases, you will need an alternative way of allowing students to formally express their interest in you. One option is to use your CRM to create a digital registration form, the link for which you can give to students in the chat just before the event begins. You can also create a QR code as the link and display it on screen so that students can use their mobile devices to fill out the inquiry form.
Step Three: Reflection and Wrap-Up
You might be tempted to relax after the event is finished – but you’re not done just yet! There are still some critical tasks that you need to attend to.
Firstly, you’ll want to ensure that your registration or inquiry data has been properly recorded and is accessible by your communications and admissions teams. The data that you collect is a vital resource in not only measuring your event’s effectiveness, but also in your ability to build relationships with both prospects and admitted students. Make sure that all data has been successfully transferred into your CRM and that each record has all relevant details in place.
Secondly, you’ll want to launch a survey so that you can secure feedback from your attendees on the event’s effectiveness. If your team already has a survey template, you’ll want to make sure that the content is tailored to the event that you hosted. If your team hasn’t launched surveys before, then you’ll want to start doing so! They are a vital resource in helping you understand which activities are resonating with your prospects.
Lastly, if you partnered with anyone to create and run the event, thank them! Having support from current students, faculty, and staff is critical to giving prospective students the insight they need to make an informed decision and maintaining those relationships is the key to your success. For smaller events, like a high school visit, a simple thank you email is a great option. For larger events, you may want to check with your team to see if you can offer your volunteers small tokens of appreciation, such as university apparel or small gift cards.
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