Virtual tours have gradually become an increasingly important piece in higher education marketing over the past decade. When COVID-19 changed everything in the college recruitment process last year, that trend only accelerated. Today, a virtual campus experience, or virtual tour, is among the important pieces a college or university can offer to prospective students and their families.
That’s not just a theoretical or general statement. With our clients and using national research, we’ve found significant benefits of virtual tours in the higher education space. When executed the right way, they can boost your marketing in more ways than one.
So let’s dig into those benefits. Below are 7 ways virtual tours can boost your marketing in the higher education space.
1. Provide a Quick, Initial Overview of Your Campus
To start, virtual tours provide a great opportunity for prospective students and their families to get an initial idea of what your campus looks like. Our top clients, for instance, receive an average of 15,000 annual visitors, who spend more than 15 minutes on the tour. Those visitors’ median age of just above 16 shows the audience as prospective students early in the recruitment cycle.
According to RNL’s E-Expectations report, virtual tours rank as a top deciding factor when looking at schools. It ranks highly among juniors and sophomores, further showing just how important the tour can be early on.
The key to success is not just showing the physical parts of your campus. The right content can do much more, giving your visitors insights into what your school is like in a fun, interactive format. That increases your chances of becoming part of the selection set down the road.
2. Help Students in the College Selection Process
Done right, virtual tours can do far more than just help early in the process. In fact, research consistently shows how vital they can become as high school seniors decide what school is the best fit for them:
- 81.5% of high school seniors view virtual tours when selecting what school to apply to.
- 85% of high school seniors would be more likely to select a college or university if they were able to take a detailed virtual tour of the campus and see the inside of buildings like residence halls, classroom, the library, cafeteria, social spaces, or the gym.
- 10% of high school seniors said virtual tours were the single most important decision factor when selecting their university.
That last bullet is an especially significant number. For a full tenth of your freshman class, your virtual tour can be the biggest difference-maker in enrolling. That, plus the general importance level across incoming freshman classes, makes this platform a central piece of the modern recruitment cycle.
3. Create Interactive Alternatives in Uncertain Times
Plenty of articles have been written about college recruitment during COVID-19. Virtual tours consistently come up as one important tactic, and for good reason. As thousands of colleges shut down their campuses for physical visits last spring, they became the biggest—and, in many ways, only—alternative to present the campus and its many spaces.
In-person visits still play a core role in the college search process. But virtual tours rose rapidly in importance for families. Furthermore, those reasons are not going away anytime soon.
We don’t know what the future looks like, and how campus visits will be affected. We do know that virtual experiences have now proven to be a viable alternative for many students and families, especially considering the fact that they require less commitment or budget. They have proven their place in the recruitment communications cycle. Also, they’ve created interactive alternatives that will benefit students in light of changing external environments.
4. Build Natural Conversion Points for Communications Follow-Ups
The modern higher education marketing cycle is complex. Conversions require complex communication streams and interactions, all designed to build in-depth relationships with prospects that eventually pay off.
Within that complex web of communications, virtual tours can play a vital role. In short, they create natural conversion points for audiences that gather their contact information for more relevant, segmented follow-ups at a later point.
The most straightforward conversions are “learn more” and “visit registration” forms for prospective students. Enticed by the content presented to them, this audience becomes more likely to take that next step to get more information. Our research shows that on Concept3D tours, 35.9% of visitors leave their contact information to count as a conversion.
Other opportunities might be more indirect. A donation form on a tour stop discussing a major building project might be just as beneficial as an opportunity to provide feedback to improve the tour. The more natural these conversion points are, the more likely audiences will take advantage and do their part in driving your marketing efforts forward.
5. Diversify Your Marketing Across Schools and Colleges
Don’t think about your virtual tour as a simple, straightforward experience for all audiences. Instead, as we’ve outlined in a previous post, they can be the basis for a more nuanced communication strategy, highlighting specific areas of your institution such as your individual schools and colleges.
Individual stops or tours for these areas allow you to get more nuanced, reflecting a student’s need and desire to learn more about their specific area of interest. That means showing science labs or lounge areas in your science school, compared with trading rooms or production studios in your business and communication college.
Of course, the same principle can also apply to more diversified audiences such as your alumni, or the local community. Depending on the strategic importance of the audience, a more nuanced virtual tour can go a long way to present the information they need to receive in an immersive, interactive way. The key, then, is weaving the individual tours into a larger, more comprehensive experience that brings it all together.
6. Create Relevant Content Throughout the Recruitment Cycle
Back to recruitment marketing, though. For the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities, recruitment is the lifeblood of the institution’s business model. Virtual tours, as we’ve highlighted above, can help in the selection process. But their use doesn’t necessarily end there.
Instead, they can play a significant part in your admit-to-deposit yield, as well. Students who may or may not have visited campus likely need a reminder of just what they experienced before they make the final commitment on where to attend. They might be more interested in other areas, such as housing and student life than they were at the beginning.
Then, they attend orientation. As they move closer to move-in day, they’ll need reassurance. This is the dreaded melt phase that, thanks to a relaxing of NACAC ethics rules in 2019, has become a lot more competitive. There’s a reason Concept3D higher education clients see the vast majority of their traffic around fall semester move-in.
Generally speaking, the virtual tour can be a consistent presence throughout the recruitment cycle. That’s why on average one out of three viewers return to it within six months. Offer relevant content that showcases your school, and you can make it a centerpiece of all stages in the recruitment funnel.
7. Improve Your Marketing ROI
Finally, we end with a simple statement: virtual tours can improve the return on investment for your marketing efforts. That’s indirectly the case through all of the benefits and statistics we’ve outlined above. But it’s also a more simple truth, grounded in a few core facts:
- The average Concept3D client receives a 10.2x ROI on the annual cost of their virtual tour in terms of the revenue it brings in.
- Across industries, a 360-degree tour from Concept3D tends to pay for itself in less than 70 days.
- Using calculations from industry sources like US News and World Report, the average virtual tour brings in 69 students and 1.5 million in total tuition revenue per year.
In an era of tightening higher education budgets, proving a positive return on each investment becomes absolutely vital. Fortunately, the numbers bear it out: the right virtual tour has the potential to not just pay for itself, but pay for itself many times over in bringing in students and driving revenue.
How to Build the Right Virtual Tour for Your University
Of course, all the above benefits are general. Interactive and virtual experiences can be a core higher education marketing tactic, but only if you know how to build a tour that allows you to leverage these benefits.
It needs to reflect your institution, shining a light not just on the most beautiful areas but also those that most reflect your mission and brand. It needs to provide answers to questions that your audience most frequently asks. And of course, it needs to flow naturally, with an intuitive digital experience that requires no learning curve but plenty of engagement opportunities.
We can help with that last part. Concept3D has a wide array of higher education clients, from private to public and small to large, all unlocking at least some of the benefits we’ve outlined above. Ready to learn more? Contact us to start the conversation.