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Gecko Talks Recap: 5 ways to level up higher ed events

We share some of Sam Houston State University’s insights from our latest webinar. Want to find out how you can level up student engagement at your events? Read on…

Running events is part and parcel of any recruitment strategy in higher education. But running them and running them strategically are two very different things. How, then, can institutions ensure they create events that truly deliver on student experience?

We recently held our latest Gecko Talks webinar with Courtney Chastine from Sam Houston State University, which discussed how to run stand-out recruitment events. Sam Houston State drilled into their ‘why’, what technology they’ve used to drive engagement, and how they’re measuring impact and return on investment. Oh, and they’ve got metrics to back it.

You can watch the webinar on-demand or read on to discover some of the biggest takeaways from the event. We’ve focused on five highlights that will help you raise your game and stand out from the competition when it comes to on-campus events.

Courtney Chastine
Gecko
In any capacity that anyone interacts with us, whether that’s attending an event, through a phone call, or walking through our office, we want our service to be top-notch. We want it to be built in a way that will meet their needs.
Gecko
Courtney Chastine
Director of Visitor Services, Sam Houston State University

1) Create a mission statement

For the Visitor Services team at Sam Houston State University, levelling up their events started by creating a clear vision and mission statement that would underpin everything they did next. With changes to the department and with new staff and responsibilities to manage, Sam Houston State wanted to be really clear on what they were doing and the strategy behind it.

Courtney explains, “Our vision for Sam Houston State is that we want everyone to be a Bearkat, our mascot. In any capacity that anyone interacts with us, whether that’s attending an event or through a phone call or walking through our office, we want our service to be top-notch and built in a way that will meet their needs. The way that we do that is through our mission statement, which is ‘every person, every visit, every call’.

“A lot of the time mission statements are just paragraphs on your website that don’t really mean anything, but our mission statement drives our daily decisions. Our student ambassadors love it and they say we ‘PVC’ everything. Every person we see, every visit that we have, every call that we take, we make sure we’re serving our customers well.”

2) Diversify your communication channels

When Courtney first started at Sam Houston State University the tools they had available to run student events were a lot less sophisticated. A few years ago they were using an Outlook Calendar and then moved to a system with a simple event registration page and confirmation email.

However, they realised that their system didn’t meet their needs – and if it didn’t meet their needs it definitely didn’t meet the needs of their students. They recognized that email had become saturated and they needed to find different ways of communicating with prospects.

Courtney says, “The thought of just using email is terrifying because inboxes are just full of stuff. Taking a new approach that still used email – because I think it’s necessary and people do trust it – but being able to incorporate texting and live chat, too, served us really well. It meant we could communicate with our guests a lot more and a lot quicker.”

3) Send the right information, at the right time

Knowing what information to send and when is a crucial component of any events strategy. Overloading students with the right information, but at the wrong time, can create confusion and overwhelm, rather than being the helpful communication you hoped!

That’s why, on the morning of the events, Sam Houston State keep their communications tightly focused on logistics. They send texts to students on the morning of an event, but they don’t confuse the messaging with other information about sessions or what’s happening later in the day. It’s all about how to get there and what they need to do when they arrive.

Courtney explains, “We know that if we can get students on our campus and to check in then we can manage all of the other event details later. If we can get them there, park them, and get them to check-in then we know we can get them off on the right foot.

“Our communication on the morning of the event is all about don’t forget this address, here’s the parking information, and here’s where you check-in. Students don’t care about their fourth session of the day at 7am when they’re trying to get there. Knowing when to communicate certain information is really important to running successful events.”

4) Measure ROI

We were keen to know where Gecko added value to Sam Houston State’s events. But what does success look like for them? It wasn’t about the attendees or sessions numbers as attendee numbers are always roughly the same. Where they have seen a measurable impact is on their visitor surveys, which they send to their guests after every event.

“We get around 1200 people per event and previously we would send an email afterwards with the survey. The email wouldn’t arrive for at least two days afterwards because we had to reconcile the check-in data from check-in highlighted books. Back in 2017, before we start texting students, we got 110 responses to the survey, which is under 10%.

Let’s compare this to when they started texting students the survey a matter of hours after the event had concluded. “Now we’ve started texting students, we get a 30% response rate. We text the survey about two hours after the event is over, so when it’s still fresh in their minds. We’re getting more pertinent data, and we’re getting more of it.”

5) Use data to drive decision making

Collecting more data about your events can help you understand the customer experience better and, ultimately, deliver better events. For Sam Houston State, their customer surveys helped them unearth pain points in the guest experience. Using this information, and backed by their data, Courtney has been able to make important changes to their events.

“We asked about the parking experience in the student survey. We used to have students park far away and when we asked about it in the survey the responses were negative, negative, negative. I could then take that to people within our institution and say, this is important, our guests are having great experiences here – apart from the parking.”

This strategy also enables them to resolve legacy issues with events. For example, where someone does a speaking slot at an event because they’ve always done it – even if it’s not the best choice. “If you want data to justify something that you want to do [or not do] for your event, put it on your survey. Let the data speak for the things you already know. Then you’re not being the bad guy, you’re just reporting what the guests reported.”

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