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Innovating the Campus Tour with Mobile Apps

Using technology to recruit prospective students
University Business, October 2017

Some 75 percent of high school seniors say they visit a college campus without ever contacting the admissions department. Not all prospective students want or are able to take a guided tour of campus, but without an alternative, many students visit on their own, and are walking away with unanswered questions and no communication from the college or university.

In this web seminar, attendees learned how the University of Washington tackled this issue by leveraging mobile technology to bring the campus tour straight to prospective students’ smartphones, providing a self-guided campus tour app that allows students to tour campus on their own time, and at their own pace.

Chris Trudell: What challenges was your department facing as you came to decide on using Guidebook?

Tonya Namura: We’re a lean and mean team, pretty small in terms of general recruitment for an institution of our size. We were looking for something we could do without a giant budget and without a lot of people to implement it. We needed something that could meet the resources that we have but still create a larger impact.The University of Washington is a big research institution. That is a fantastic thing, but can also be intimidating to the prospective students. 

We wanted to create an experience where they could picture themselves here. We’re big on authenticity—we’re not trying to put forward a face of something that we’re not, but we’re also trying to show that we can be different things to different people. Somebody can come here and do amazing physics research, but we also have a great dance program, and an undergraduate social work program. We want to be real about what students can do here, but we also want them to see how that could work for them.

Chris Trudell: How did mobile technology come to be part of the conversation?

Tonya Namura: One of our challenges is that we can’t always offer tours for people who are actually standing on campus. Mobile technology seemed to be the most obvious solution for that part of the problem. The bonus is that prospective students can also interact with mobile technology off campus. We encourage them to take the mobile tour from their living room and get a feel for what it might be like here. The combination of the two was important to us.

Chris Trudell: The Guidebook platform is meeting students where they are. They are attached to their devices. We need to focus on the way students engage with an institution for the first time, and that may not be through the traditional desktop experience. They may not just type in an institution’s website to learn more. They might find out about an institution through social media, or going to their device and seeing photos on a simple Google search. Creating a mobile-first strategy pulls those pieces together.

Tonya Namura: We’ve definitely seen an uptick in the use of mobile when it comes to accessing information. When people are on campus and they’re asking questions, they might be holding their phone and saying, “Wait, I don’t see it on your website.” It is critical that whatever problem we are trying to solve, whatever information we’re trying to disseminate, is also accessible in a mobile environment.

Chris Trudell: How did the University of Washington come to create a mobile campus tour?

Tonya Namura: There are a lot of factors that go into the decision to attend a school, but the final decision often comes down to emotions. That emotional decision often happens when somebody steps on campus and they later say, “I just knew. I felt like this was somewhere I should be.” We needed to offer people a way to get that experience even if they couldn’t step foot on campus.

Chris Trudell: What was your approach to delivering the platform?

Tonya Namura: We tapped into our local talent—we rounded up a couple of drama students who also happened to work at our front desk. We wrote stories, did a ton of interviews and culled all of the information. We wrote a script for them just as a guideline, because we wanted it to sound like they were talking to each other. It took a little longer than we anticipated to get all of that collected and edited down and put together, and it took a few cuts and a lot of revision. But it was well worth it to make sure we had something we felt good about.

Chris Trudell: Was it intuitive to build the content?

Tonya Namura: Certainly. That was a major consideration with whatever product we were going to choose. We wanted to be able to do a lot of the work ourselves, and to do changes ourselves, not only because we didn’t want to have to pay somebody to do it, but because if there was something to change, we wanted the ability to change it here right away. Once we did the offline production—the photo selection, the audio, the writing—it was super easy to get it online and get it all put together.

Chris Trudell: Could you speak to what the platform means to your department?

Tonya Namura: This has been a success for us. We’re seeing activity on the mobile app. We’re seeing activity in places that are not on campus—as far away as China, Hawaii, Portland, San Francisco. We know that we’re achieving our goals, and that means that we are reaching the people we want to reach, both on campus and off. It also helps boost the overall impression that people have of our office, and of the University of Washington. This is the mobile/digital age. If you don’t have mobile/digital technology, sometimes that leaves an undesired impression with your audience. We are excited to say, “Yes, we have an app for that.”

Chris Trudell: Can you provide a final recommendation for creating a self-guided mobile tour?

Tonya Namura: The biggest recommendation I have is to think about the student stories. Think about why you want this mobile application and what messages you want to convey. Then think about the authenticity in that. Students know when they’re being pitched to. Always roll back to that authentic student experience and what that means for your campus.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit www.universitybusiness.com/ws081017

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