Virtual tours are increasingly becoming a core part of higher education marketing. They enable prospective students and their families a first glance at your campus, helping to recruit both out-of-state students and those who might not have the funds or transportation abilities to make it for an open house.
In its landmark E-Expectations Survey, research firm Ruffalo Noel-Levitz found that virtual tours are among the most influential resources for both students and their parents. In fact, around 60% of both juniors and seniors said a good virtual tour increased their likelihood of enrolling at the school according to the same survey.
You might be familiar with this argument. It's why so many colleges and universities are either building or have already built virtual tours as part of their recruitment plan. That building process, though, is only the beginning.
Even the greatest tours matter little to your recruitment funnel if no one sees them. The only way to truly build an experience with a positive ROI is to promote it the right way. When your audience sees it, the tour can serve as a differentiator for your school. These 7 tips can help you integrate the virtual tour into your current student recruitment plan.
1) Strategize Your Website Placement
Yes, your virtual tour lives on your website. That's important; the same E-Expectations Survey linked above found that your university website is the single most important information source for both students and their parents. Not linking it here would be a significant mistake.
But just what does that mean? In effect, you have to be strategic. There are a number of opportunities to link your virtual tour for your audiences to find it easily:
- Your homepage, often the first page any member of your target audience visits before they dig deeper into the various sections of your site.
- Your visit page, offering an easy from-home opportunity to check out your campus for anyone signing up for a physical campus visit.
- Your about page, where students and their parents go to learn about your university. They might be interested in touring campus while researching!
And of course, these are just a few of the potential placement opportunities. If your tour, for instance, makes a stop and features your science building, you can link that section directly to any pages related to STEM majors or research. The same is true for your dining hall or residence halls, which might fit perfectly onto your student life pages.
The key, though, is keeping the placement relevant. All of the above placements make sense in isolation; at the same time, you need to avoid overkill. A few, strategic links on key landing pages tend to be more effective than a big banner on every page throughout your entire website.
2) Treat Your Tour as an Inquiry Generator
The rise of so-called 'stealth applicants', who apply to your university without ever having contacted your admissions office, is concerning. It means that you have little to no chance to actually convince them that your school is the right choice before they make an admissions decision.
As a result, if your recruitment plan is similar to most others around the country, chances are you place an emphasis on generating inquiries through your website. Getting student to raise their hands voluntarily gives you more opportunities to send relevant messages to them, building brand equity as you try to 'sell' them on why they should attend your college over the others in their consideration set.
Your tour can be an important component of achieving that goal. You might want to gate it behind a sign-up form, similar to an admissions visit: the experience is free, but only after you gather some basic contact information.
Another option is to keep the tour open to the public, but periodically send a pop-up that requests more information to keep viewing. This approach is less intrusive, and the open sneak peak might make it more likely for students and families to sign up just to keep watching. Once you have their information, your recruitment plan can commence.
3) Think About the Entire Funnel
The value of virtual tours as inquiry generators is undeniable, but should not preclude you from considering other stages of the recruitment funnel as well. In fact, it can build value through the entire recruitment journey with a variety of nuances you can leverage:
- Promote your virtual tour to current incomplete applicants, which can encourage them to complete their application and potentially pay their application fee.
- Promote your virtual tour to students on your admit waitlist, keeping them engaged even as they might begin to receive full admit decisions from other schools.
- Promote your virtual tour to your newly admitted students, with an explicit goal to increase yield and housing sign-ups. Links to student experiences are particularly valuable here.
- Promote your virtual tour to students who have paid their tuition deposit, seeking to decrease melt and encouraging orientation sign-ups. Especially in the light of new NACAC ethics guidelines, melt will only increase in importance for student recruitment.
Don't limit the value of your virtual tour to generating inquiries. Instead, build a more holistic approach that considers its value for your entire recruitment funnel. That maximizes your chance of positive ROI and keeps the experience front and center as students move from first contact to their first day in your classroom.
4) Build a Social Media Plan
Ruffalo Noel-Levitz found that social media is where students learn about a university's culture and student environment. You likely already have a robust social media strategy in place that covers channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Built the right way, your virtual tour can supercharge these channels.
Marketing studies continually find that modern social media marketing can only be successful when it is visual. Images, videos, and VR experiences continue to outperform any other type of content on almost any platform popular among audiences today. That makes this channel a perfect fit to market your virtual tour.
Exactly what that looks like depends on both your resources and your tour's capabilities. At the very least, regular links to the experience help to drive traffic. Engagement with relevant hashtags surrounding #virtualtour and related topics can also build that attention. But at the same time, you don't have to stop there.
With the right vendor, you can integrate live social feeds into your campus map and tour. That means not only enhancing the experience of audiences currently partaking in the tour, but also creating a broader reach and engagement on the platforms themselves. That type of user-generated content can be a powerful engagement driver that ultimately results in more attention, clicks, and conversions.
5) Integrate Your Digital (and Non-Digital) Channels
Let's not stop at social media. In reality, your virtual tour can be a powerful clicks and conversion driver for almost every digital channel you use to drive student inquiries, applications, and tuition deposits. Beyond your website and social channels, consider some of the following opportunities:
- Email messages, particularly those focused around driving to visits and encouraging conversions. You might also want to consider adding links to your virtual tours to every admissions counselor's email signature.
- Your blog, where you can highlight particular routes or hidden gems in your tour. This is also an opportunity for students to express their thoughts and guidance in relation to both the tour and its opportunities.
- Paid ads, which act as direct traffic drivers for potential students. They become especially effective for your virtual tour if you choose to target out-of-state audiences who are less likely to visit campus than their in-state counterparts.
- Text messaging, which can be more straightforward than most of the above. That includes both mass texting and more personalized 1:1 texting from your admissions counselors.
And of course, messaging about your virtual tour does not have to be limited to your digital channels. It can be just as effective in your viewbook, postcards, and other materials otherwise driving towards the visit. Hey, if your audience can't make it to campus, why not bring campus to them instead?
6) Level Up Your College Fair and High School Visits
We're getting into advanced territory here. All of the above integration possibilities are relatively minor and require little adjustments other than messaging. That's not quite true for the next tactic, which can make all the difference in one of the most important but challenging recruitment opportunities.
We're talking of course about college fairs. These events are specifically designed to increase student choice, making it difficult for individual universities to stand out and differentiate themselves. That doesn't have to be the case.
Think about a college student walking up to your booth and seeing a large screen that shows a tour of your campus. Instead of having to look at a static map, they can experience for themselves. Think about the difference that experience makes compared to the typical pile of admissions materials.
Then, magnify that experience. Consider adding a few VR glasses that allow visitors at your booth to truly immerse themselves into the tour and the campus experience. Allow them to forget where they are for a minute as they tour your campus. It's an experience that will be both memorable and important for any student trying to make sense of the countless booths visited during the fair.
7) Enhance Your Campus Visit Experience
Finally, a well-designed and executed virtual tour is not just a replacement for the physical visit. Done right, and promoted the right way, it can augment the experience that potential students and their parents have when they visit your campus.
Consider the possibilities:
- Kiosks in your admissions center that allow visitors to tour the campus while they wait for an event to begin.
- Checkpoints across campus that allow for extra experiences, unlocked via mobile devices, such as videos or information about a specific spot on the tour.
- Regular call-outs by tour guides who mention which stops on the physical tour are virtual tour stops, and what audiences can gain from checking it out in more detail when they get back home.
And that's just the beginning. Beyond digital marketing, campus visits might just be your most important recruitment tool. Imagine being able to enhance those visits even further, driving more applications and tuition deposits by adding an immersive virtual component to that physical visit.
It's not cheap. Chances are it will take some time to implement. But if you can improve your campus visits through a natural virtual tour integration, you have a chance to truly make your visit experience stand out from other schools that your potential students might look to visit.
Turning Your Virtual Tour Into a Recruitment Differentiator
The tour itself, built the right way, can help you showcase your campus in ways that at once don't require and increase the desire for a campus visit. But if it lives isolated on your website, and few members of your target audience finds it, it is unlikely to make a major impact on your recruitment efforts.
We know that in today's higher ed environment, students apply to an average of 6 colleges and universities, and that number is steadily rising. Standing out in that crowded field is increasingly difficult. Only a well-marketed tool, available through multiple channels, can make that impact you seek and offer a positive ROI. Marketed the right way, through a multi-channel approach that effectively leverages a variety of touchpoint, your virtual tour turns into a powerful recruitment tool.
But of course, there are two sides to that equation. Just as a marketing plan is essential to enhance the impact of your virtual tour, you need a quality experience to which your audience responds positively. That's where we come in.
Concept3D has helped colleges and universities build both campus maps and virtual tour experiences for years. Our verticals have since expanded, bringing knowledge and experience from a variety of other industries to build better experiences for our clients. Ready to consider a virtual tour that can turn your college website into a true recruitment differentiator? Contact us today to start the conversation.