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Developing a Campus-Wide Mobile Presence

Improving communication and engagement
University Business, May 2017

Students today don’t respond to the traditional methods of communication from their college or university like they once did. While websites and email are appropriate for housing and delivering certain types of information, institutions need to develop a campus-wide mobile presence in order to reach students effectively and in the format they prefer. 

In this web seminar, an expert in higher ed mobile strategy and the associate director of the Dean of Students Office at the University of Florida discussed strategies for developing a campus mobile app to improve communication and foster deeper community engagement.  

Joey Ziminsky

Director

GuidebookEDU

Mickey Howard

Associate Director, Dean of Students Office

University of Florida

Joey Ziminski: I have a team that consists of former student affairs professionals, as well as other tech professionals, who have come to be passionate about affecting the student lifecycle and who are intrinsically motivated to be in that space. When someone is talking to us about developing a mobile app, or a mobile presence or strategy on campus, it seems to start with understanding the lifecycle.​

The word “engagement” is important. It’s not just checking a box, “Yes, we have an app, we’re good.” It’s about how you are using that technology to hit your audience and make sure that you’re engaging students when they’re moving forward through their student lifecycle.

Mickey Howard: The idea of reach can take a lot of different forms. For us it started with where we could first set a foundation, and that was at orientation. Then we started using analytical data from our satisfaction surveys, and then we started looking at when students were searching for particular information. It wasn’t when they got to campus in the summer, it wasn’t when they got there in the fall—it was when they were making a decision. So, how can we have a role in that? We mixed the student satisfaction piece with some back-end website analytics to better understand the uses of not only our own departmental website, but also the university, to start influencing the bigger picture.

Then we started looking at families, who are becoming much more a part of our students’ development. They’d already been a great gatekeeper and a great sounding board for years, so we wanted to find a positive way for them to continue that. Is that giving them similar information to what we’re providing students? Absolutely. Can we do that in a way that still empowers the student, but also gives peace of mind to the family? Absolutely. For us, that came through mobile technology.

Joey Ziminski: We always hear that the first six weeks are so important. How do you use mobile to work with the first six weeks to retain students and keep them engaged?

Mickey Howard: We like to think that the retention idea, the success idea, actually happens earlier than that. It starts from the moment that students submit that application. That’s when you can start laying the foundation for their success. We’re beginning to get much more targeted. We know the top three reasons why students aren’t retained at the University of Florida, so now we can start actually targeting them from the moment that we’re recruiting.

Joey Ziminski: How can you engage these students?

Mickey Howard: You have to give them a reason to download the app. If you’re providing everything else on a website, what’s going to make them go to that mobile piece? The biggest thing is providing timed messages. The mobile platform is just a vehicle for that to happen. For us, the new student piece was making sure that there was a carrot there for them to want to download, because they’re giving up precious real estate on their phone. We want to make sure that it’s worth it.

Joey Ziminski: Discoverability is important too. The University of Florida is one of hundreds of schools that Guidebook works with and our platform is very flexible in the way you use it. There are schools that have multiple guides—10, 20, 30 on one platform. They are hoping that students will discover them, but there’s also the ability to cross-promote and work cross-departmentally to make sure that students are engaged throughout multiple steps of the lifecycle.

Mickey Howard: Especially with the new students and their family members, it’s easy to get confused about what office or who does what. How do we take all of these different websites that exist in different places and condense that information into an easily digestible form? For us, that’s part of our mobile strategy. At events, it’s about connecting the mobile technology as well as scheduling and different resources that they might need on the ground, right then and there. Then how do you pair that with email?

Now you’re creating the sphere of influence, but in digestible bites. Students and families want to connect with humans more than they want to connect with technology; however, technology is a tool for them to connect with people. That’s how mobile fits in—I want to connect you with other people because I know the value of that and I know that the more you feel connected to a campus, the higher the rate of success and retention will be.

Joey Ziminski: Our mantra is to empower professionals on campus to engage their audience. Every school has the ability to create an app easily, but as a platform, we have an entire staff that’s keeping up with the different changes in technologies.

We see a lot of student affairs departments becoming more and more entrepreneurial when they’re talking about being able to provide these services for students. When picking a mobile platform, we’ve seen that it’s super important to our clients to be able to have their brand out there and be able to customize it. We also see that a lot of clients value the fact that they can actually do this and try it out and get used to the technology. And more and more, we’re seeing that collaboration features, push notifications, user metrics and scalability are also important.

Mickey Howard: When we started this process in 2012, I knew that mobile was going to be the next great frontier, that students were engaging in that space. I think the big question now is not if mobile but when and how. Mobile technology is not going anywhere.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit www.universitybusiness.com/ws030717

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