Virtual reality: it’s not an element in a futuristic movie, it’s here now, and it’s a powerful way to introduce prospective students to your university. Colleges and universities are developing immersive virtual reality tours to engage with students and leave a lasting impression. When you’re inviting future students into your campus from afar, what do you need to do to lay out the welcome mat effectively?
What is a Virtual Reality Tour?
Virtual reality tours span a wide range of different types of promotional materials. Their goal is to give potential students the feeling that they’re right there visiting your college or university. Tours can be as simple as photos that allow the students to get a 360 degree image of different locations, or they can be quite involved, such as narrated video tours of specific parts of your campus, complete with additional links to faculties, campus resources, and social media to round out the tour.
Students can’t afford to visit every campus. In the absence of an unlimited travel budget, virtual reality tours are a powerful tool. At their best, they allow you to give students a true feel for your campus, giving them glimpses into campus life and facilities that they’d normally get if they were on campus. They inspire emotion, attention, and engagement, since they’re hands-on and interactive. Prospective students come out of the tour feeling like they know your college, both its physical layout and its campus culture.
Understand Your Students
In marketing, understanding your audience is job number one. While you may be marketing a university or college, you’re still marketing. Your tour isn’t about what you want to show off, it’s about what your prospective students want to see. What do students want to see? A virtual reality tour should include:
- Interactive photos and video of key sites on campus
- Highlights of some of the research that occurs on campus
- Campus culture, including key social events throughout the year
- Campus personalities, such as quotes from students and professors
- Information for new students, such as a visit to residences
- The campus’s connection to the community around it
- A map that helps them understand the layout of the campus
Your university is not homogeneous. You have many different sorts of people who attend. You have world class researchers searching to do their doctorate, parents who are considering going back to school, professionals looking for an edge in their field, and yes, newly-graduated high school students who are looking at their first experience living away from home. Understand the different people who attend your educational institution, and speak to their needs in your virtual tour. Your tour should forward your prospective students to sources of additional information as well. That way, worried first time students can learn about campus security and social clubs and researchers can learn about the many educational events and venues available to them.
Virtual reality tours are also a way to highlight projects for donors or help alumni reminisce and connect to their former campus. As you consider the benefits and possibilities of a tour, remember this important donor niche as well.
Create Your Goals
Every college has different goals when it comes to new student engagement. After you’ve looked at your audience’s needs, identify your university’s priorities as well. What do you want to convey to prospective students? As you would in any kind of marketing endeavor, begin with your story. Understand your brand as a university, and strive to infuse this into your virtual reality tour. For example, if you’re branding yourself as a university that’s attracting world-class young researchers, your tour will look different than a campus that’s branding itself as a college where first year students can get a solid start close to home.
Consider the following as you create your virtual reality tour:
How can you help your tour speak to the needs of specific groups of incoming students?
What are your most attractive features — do you want to highlight specific faculties, geographic areas, or services?
What tone do you want to set in your virtual tour — how will it reflect your campus culture?
What is your budget for this project?
How is the rest of your infrastructure set up to handle inquiries or connect to elements of this virtual reality tour? For example, if you want to link to your social media accounts, is that department ready?
Choose the Right Partner
Whether you’re working in research or taking a student on a virtual reality tour, your choice of a partner matters. When you’re thinking of developing a tour, you need to choose the right partner to help you achieve your goals. Look at the technologies different companies offer and whether they can achieve your goals within your budget. Specific features to consider include the following.
- Multi-featured, so that you can integrate panoramic photos, video, interactive maps, and text as you desire.
- Mobile-friendly, since many students will watch campus tours on their cell phone or other mobile device.
- GPS-connected, so that students can visit the campus and give themselves a tour as well.
- Social, so that students can feel free to share what they’ve learned with others.
- Lead generators, so that these engagement tools connect to a call to action, such as an opportunity to connect with an employee on campus or receive an admissions package.
- Ongoing maintenance, so that your virtual tour will work as well six months from now as it does today. All of your links should work and your photos should load properly, and you and your partner need to ensure that this is the case.
At eCity Interactive, we’re here to help you understand and reach out to your university audience. If you are interested in exploring the possibilities of a virtual reality tour for your university, we have the technology and the insight to help you get started. From new students and their families to longstanding donors, we have the insight and expertise you need to improve your donor relationships. Want to learn more about Virtual Reality? Check out another post about The Future of Virtual Reality.