The current challenges with UK student recruitment are widely reported – increased tuition fees, demographical changes resulting in fewer 18-year-olds in the population, visa issues, budget cuts, financial instability and Brexit… to name just a few! Universities are having to work harder than ever to communicate what makes them distinctive to as wide a range of prospective student as possible.
One way in which universities are managing to more effectively communicate what they have to offer, is by investing in digital content that engages with their audience on an emotional level and tells a story about what the student experience is really like. To this end, there has been an explosion in the amount of virtual tour, virtual open day, video and other rich media content being produced by UK universities, with many in the sector now using virtual reality to help them provide an immersive experience for those who can’t visit their campuses.
Vicky Hayhurst, Commercial Director at Revolution Viewing, the sector’s leading rich media agency, commented: “The sector’s approach to marketing has risen to the recruitment challenges it currently faces. HE marketers know that they need to produce content that sparks the interest and desire of prospective students whilst painting an accurate picture of the true student experience. In this regard, our primary research programme and solution analytics have proved that virtual experiences are a key recruitment tool.”
A typical virtual solution produced by Revolution Viewing gains over 3,000 unique visitors each month – that’s over 36,000 visitors year which provides an extraordinary return on investment. Vicky stated: “We have found that, as well as having high engagement and high session durations, our solutions encourage prospective UK students to attend open days on campus and they inspire increased interest from prospective international students who can’t attend these events. They play a powerful part in key acquisition and conversion strategies.”
A good example of this is Dundee University which launched their new virtual tour before the Clearing period this year. The marketing and communications team displayed the virtual tour prominently on their website as well as sending links to it in emails to all prospective students to whom the University had made an offer. They also included the virtual tour in their campaign advertising and featured it in newsletters to international agents.
On monitoring the engagement via Google Analytics during the month leading up to Clearing, Dundee found that the virtual tour was gaining 2,000–3,000 page views per day and, during Clearing, it was peaking at 8,000–12,000 page views. About 20% of their web traffic for open-day bookings was coming from the virtual tour and bookings increased by 500. Vicky said: “This is a great result and a testament to the marketing and communications team for thinking carefully about how they could make the virtual tour work for them in advance of the campaign as well as actively measuring engagement to help prove the virtual tour’s effectiveness and return on investment.”
Manchester Metropolitan University’s interactive video-based virtual tour also performs incredibly well with an average session time of five minutes – fives times more than what is considered to be a good session time for digital content – and monthly unique visitors exceeding 9,000.
And there are more examples like this from every type of university all over the UK – from Swansea to Bradford to Anglia Ruskin and from Heriot-Watt to Leeds Beckett to Bournemouth. Most of these solutions contain immersive 360˚ virtual tours as well as engaging video content which Revolution Viewing’s research has proven to be what prospective students really want to see when comparing facilities and offerings at universities they are shortlisting.
It feels like this is just the tip of the iceberg, however, and surely it won’t be long before you walk into a student recruitment fair and see every university is using a virtual reality headset to show prospective students what they’ve got to offer.