Feeling Connected

Forward-leaning universities personalize the mobile experience for students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Krystal Putman-Garcia

credit-localist-imageA strong digital and mobile experience is crucial for reaching today’s undergrads. It’s important for colleges and universities to meet students on the platforms and tools they’re already using instead of trying to drag them over to a traditional experience they’re not going to adopt.

We all know smartphones play a crucial role in students’ lives. A 2014 Baylor University study found that both male and female college students spend an average of 8 to 10 hours on their cell phones per day. They’re texting, sending email, checking social media, surfing the web and listening to music. For universities to stay ahead of the curve in retention and marketing efforts, they need to meet students where they already are — on mobile platforms.

A study found that both male and female college students spend an average of 8 to 10 hours on their cell phones per day.

This is where a personalized mobile app comes in. It’s no longer acceptable to push out the same content on all of your channels to all recipients without personalization. Today, the entire digital industry is centered around personalization and targeting. From targeted AdWords campaigns to segmented emails and customized ads on social media, personalization isn’t just a trend. For example, personalization increases open rates of emails by 22 percent and raises conversion by 115 percent.

Students expect the same personalization and engagement in their college experience, too, from the time they are prospective students until the time they become alumni. In order to have a successful college experience, they want to feel connected to the school culture and feel involved with campus extracurriculars. An often missed opportunity by higher education professionals, engaging students through a personalized mobile experience how they want, when they want and where they want them allows staff to increase relevance of campus events and social activities.

Developing Your App

There are many ways to develop a personalized app, but the first question university marketers must ask themselves is, “What kind of app do we want to build?” For example, the app could have an orientation, alumni, event or athletic focus. Consider conducting a student survey — there’s no better place to get information on what students want than from students themselves.

Next, consider your app’s design: is it user-friendly and engaging enough for students to download and continue to use? Remember that you want to meet students where they already are and on the platforms they’re already using. We know they’re on mobile, but it’s an additional hurdle getting them to download a new app. Make sure your app is designed for them to want to keep it on their phone and to continue using it.

Finally, make sure the app you’re building is relevant. For example, does it deserve its own app, or should it be folded in with other features in a more comprehensive campus app? The student survey will help inform this, as well — be sure to ask questions about how they use and download apps and their preferences.

App Features

Giving students content tailored to their interests, needs and location is the key to getting the most engagement. For example, enabling location-based personalization allows higher education administrators to engage with students in a certain radius an event or activity happening on campus. This drives awareness of events to students, potentially exposing them to activities they would have never learned about otherwise.

Students are social — and the reality is that they’re more likely to encourage their classmates to participate in an on-campus activity by word of mouth. By leveraging social features to boost campus events and activities across their networks, students can check in and share events via Facebook, Twitter, email and text. Also, by customizing an app that allows students to filter campus happenings only relevant to them (i.e. by distance, event type, audience, date, etc.), students will never wonder what’s happening around them again.

The Bigger Picture

Your app should ultimately tie into your larger marketing plan for the school year. There is an increasing push for today’s college marketers to act like digital acquisition marketers, and in response, they have begun to develop sophisticated funnels and track the entire prospective student lifecycle to ultimately increase conversions. A personalized mobile experience fits right into this plan; not only is mobile no longer a “nice to have” feature, but a properly-designed mobile app will also give you the data you need to continue to refine and enhance your marketing strategy for years to come.

Krystal Putman-Garcia is VP of Marketing at Localist, a software firm powering interactive calendars for higher education.

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