As the smart phone is becoming the communications device of choice for high school and college students, higher education institutions better get mobile if they want to reach their customers. While it is important to connect on social network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and others, colleges also are developing their own mobile applications to address their unique needs. These customized apps are helping recruit college-bound high school students, while fostering interactions with those already on campus.
How should schools get started? By listening – the number-one rule of social engagement – to students about what they want in an application before creating it.
Apply to College (an “App App”) – The convenience of the online application process has expanded to the smart phone. Prospective students can submit their applications, as well as accompanying supporting materials, such as YouTube videos or photos, via their mobile device. The days of waiting for that bulky envelope to arrive in the mail box also are fading, as the colleges’ newly admitted students can be notified of their acceptance through their smart phones – then promptly share the good news with friends on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Get Around Campus – Maps, parking information and interactive tours are popular features on some college apps. Visitors can easily navigate the campus with the use of a smart phone, rather than attempt to decipher an unfamiliar map or seek a campus kiosk. Some schools also have developed transportation applications, which enable students to see the progress of shuttle buses, to decide whether they need to sprint to make it to the next stop.
Obtain Valuable Information – Details about courses, majors, departments and faculty members, including contact information, can all be included in a college-specific application. Events, such as upcoming athletic competitions, concerts and lectures; the latest campus news and videos; and specials at the dining hall or local restaurants also are featured. The college app is a great marketing tool, as it supplements traditional materials sent to prospective students, such as Viewbooks, catalogues and program brochures. It also can be used to engage alumni and donors by keeping them up to date on the latest campus happenings.
Access Academics & Financials – Almost all college students with smart phones say they use them when idle during the day, such as when riding in a bus, train or car. That is the ideal time to tap an app to accomplish necessary tasks, such as adding or dropping a class, paying a bill or posting to an online discussion board.
Receive Emergency Alerts – College administrators grapple with identifying the best strategies for communicating with the campus during a crisis. The college app can provide an effective vehicle for delivering important messages and alerts as the phone is usually at a student’s fingertips. This would supplement other methods being used to get the word out to campus as quickly as possible.
More than 90 percent of undergraduate college admissions officers believe social media marketing strategies are worth the investment, with most planning to employ them more in the coming year, according to a recent UMass Dartmouth study. Half consider downloadable mobile apps to be the most useful tools for recruiting undergraduates. One-third report that social media is more efficient in reaching their audience, while helping reduce the costs of traditional media advertising.
As more high school students use mobile devices to learn about colleges and universities, the institutions can no longer afford not to play in that arena.