Campuses Upping Their Dates

Getting an A-plus in student engagement with online calendars.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mykel Nahorniak

CREDIT localistEach year, colleges and universities become a second home for thousands of students across the nation. When it comes to campus events, student participation is essential to creating a sense of community on campus. Events hosted by groups, clubs, professors and administrators are an important aspect of college life, giving students the opportunity to leave their comfort zones, get involved and meet new people. Providing students and faculty with a means through which to discover events happening on campus is crucial – which is why The University of Louisville recently brought their calendar of events into the digital world.

With more than 15,000 students, 370 student groups and 140 event locations, there was no shortage of student activity on the Louisville campus. But their event calendar was stuck in the past, without any of the search capabilities and social network integration key to reaching the college demographic.

Online buzz can translate to increased awareness and packed events, while also having the potential to reach prospective students.

Feedback among the University’s colleges and divisions pointed to the need for a comprehensive, easy-to-use, mobile-optimized calendar that allowed different units to share events with one another.

In particular, Louisville wanted a calendar with links to Google Maps for each event, the ability to search for events, a responsive design that could be viewed on mobile devices, social media integration, widgets to customize content for each department’s needs, integration with existing university programs and the ability to easily generate event newsletters.

In late 2013, Louisville decided to bring their calendar into the modern age with a robust calendar that was easier to search through, boosted engagement on campus, and made event management easy.

The first step was making sure it blended in with the university website. Students and faculty are constantly searching for campus events, and being redirected to a third party site for a calendar can get confusing and could result in miscommunication. The University of Louisville integrated its calendar seamlessly into their existing web presence. The success of the integration led to a quicker transition for students and faculty from the old calendar, to the new one.

Louisville then leveraged its existing calendar content. Events, venues and groups were easily transitioned to the new calendar with a bulk uploading option. From there, the team began to customize the calendar. Different filters and categories were added to make it easy to search for and discover events happening on campus. Student groups showcased all of their events on the calendar, so students could join events and meet others with shared interests.

One of the many benefits to hosting an event calendar online is that it has the ability to generate more buzz than an offline schedule of events. Like any good ambassador, online calendars should help to spread the word about the university and everything that it has to offer. Online buzz can translate to increased awareness and packed events, while also having the potential to reach prospective students.

Robust online calendars should provide users with a forum to talk about events as well as the institution. The University of Louisville was able to facilitate user engagement on their calendar through user comments, check-ins, venue reviews and social media shares. By gauging interest in events, not only through engagement but through analytics, the University can now better plan activities and improve events.

Lastly, with the intent of keeping students and faculty well informed, the University addressed mobile integration with a custom mobile app that automatically pulled events from its calendar platform. Students and faculty are now able to access event information on-the-go and check-in to an event anywhere.

In 2013, the school was averaging 25,000 pageviews per year. Now averaging 200,000 pageviews per year, the University has seen a 700% increase in web traffic. Since launching its new, social calendar in February of 2014, almost 21,000 unique users have visited the calendar. In addition, 25 percent of traffic has been from mobile phone or tablet – au audience the University was previously not serving content to with the old calendar. And more than 2,000 views originated from Facebook and Twitter.

An easy-to-use online calendar works seamlessly with the way people seek information and make plans on-the-go. Interactive, online calendars have the potential to reach more people, and at a lower cost, than other calendars without many capabilities. The University of Louisville’s online calendar has made it easy for attendees to find event information, get directions, share info with friends, find out who else is attending, and talk about the upcoming event – all with the click of a button.

Mykel Nahorniak is the co-founder and CEO of Localist (www.localist.com), one of the industry’s only providers of an online calendar platform with an emphasis on marketing.

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