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Case Study

How Sam Houston State University supercharged their higher education events strategy using Gecko

7 ways Sam Houston State University has innovated to deliver a great student experience at their recruitment events...

How Sam Houston State University supercharged their higher education events strategy using Gecko

Events in the higher education space have changed a lot over the past few months. While it can’t be overstated just how much of a challenge the pandemic presented to those working within higher ed, it also acted as a real catalyst for change. It accelerated a move to a more nimble and forward-thinking approach; one that left out-of-date processes behind and leveraged digital tools to really elevate the student experience at HE events.

Today, we’re speaking to one of our customers who did that in style. Sam Houston State University, located in Huntsville, Texas, have used the last few months to drive forward an innovative digital-first approach to their higher education events strategy.

While their events are typically in-person, they’ve drawn on numerous modules in the Gecko platform to create a seamless digital and in-person experience for students at every single touchpoint.

Director of Visitor Services, Courtney Chastine, talks us through the 7 ways they supercharged their events strategy – and saw some incredible results…

Courtney Chastine
Gecko
I can't say enough, if you're not texting your attendees then you should be. As with any event, things can change, get delayed, or go wrong. Texting allowed us to have really quick communication with our guests.
Gecko
Courtney Chastine
Director of Visitor Services

1) Create a streamlined check-in process

Before:

“It was only a few years ago that we used a paper check-in process for our events. We’d tried an online check-in process a few times. However, it was always a little bit shaky because our events are held across campus, which meant we were always at the mercy of the campus network. As a result, we had to revert back to a paper check-in, which had a lot of limitations.”

After:

“We’re now able to scan in guests offline, so we aren’t reliant on the campus network. We also text them a QR code so they can have it ready when they arrive – before we were emailing them but the emails would go unread. Our process really went from being manual, paper, and slow, to scan your QR code and you’re on your way.”

2) Use the platforms students are using

Before:

“We would use a check-in app called Guidebook for our events, and that was the only way we could send on-the-day communications. We were mostly emailing students at this point. While it did mean we could push out updates or messages to people who have downloaded the app, we saw very low usage of the app by our attendees.”

After:

“We started texting students, which has been a lifesaver. I can’t say enough, if you’re not texting your attendees then you should be. As with any event, things can change, get delayed, or go wrong. Texting allows us to have really quick communication with our guests. We can now have day-of communications so if any of the sessions move or are pushed back we can notify students quickly and easily – and we can do it on the hoof!”

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3) Keep track of attendees

Before:

“Our late guests were a real issue for us before. They missed check-in and then they just got lost in the shuffle – they would forget to check-in and we were losing them. We knew we needed a better system because people are always going to be late.”

After:

“Each of our team use tablets to check-in students and then we gather those after check-in has closed to sync and log the data. That means we have immediate and full attendee and non-attendee data and we can target people who haven’t checked in yet. We send them a reminder to go to the late arrivals area and entice them with a free t-shirt, so that solves our issue.”

Gecko for on-campus events

The Gecko platform can support you in developing engaging higher education events. Want to deliver high touch student experiences that exceed expectations? Read more about our On-campus Events module.

Find out more

4) Fix problems fast via Live Chat

Before:

“We had an issue with one of our sessions at a recent event. It was listed as a Spanish tour but the tours were all unusually full. We wanted to make sure that everyone who had registered knew they’d registered for a Spanish tour. My staff had been emailing and calling students for a few days but not getting a response.”

After:

“I just said, you know what, I’m going to text them. I shot out a text message and in about 10 minutes every single student that was registered responded. Half of them didn’t mean to register for a Spanish tour and through GeckoChat we were quickly able to move them to an English tour and communicate the time of that tour with them.

“I can’t overstate how helpful Chat has been for our events. Our staff download the app and we’re able to live chat all day. If we send out a message and students say they’re lost or confused we can quickly respond and reply right back to them. We also link it on our RSVP page so they know that they can communicate with us all day.”

5) Speed up your follow-up communications

Before:

“On the Monday after an event our staff would have to manually input our check-in and attendee data, which would take a few days. We couldn’t communicate with our attendees and send out our surveys until we’d inputted that information. We also didn’t have final attendance numbers or any feedback about the event for a few days. Our faculty members like to see data as quickly as possible but we weren’t able to provide that.”

After:

“With our attendance, we can now send out surveys and have results coming in before we’ve even left campus. Then when we come in on the following Monday we have full data and we’re able to share that with our campus faculty members straight away.”

Sam Houston State University

6) Segment your communications

Before:

“We offered tours in Spanish as part of our events packages, but people just weren’t showing up for them. We thought they just weren’t being marketed well, but we knew there was a need for them and felt we were offering something valuable.”

After:

“We’ve updated our registration form with a check box asking anyone who’d like information on Spanish tours to tick the box. We can then filter those contacts and text them the time and location of the Spanish tours. We did that a week before and then the day before an event. We went from having empty or only a few people on the Spanish tours to having completely full Spanish tours. We realised it wasn’t that people didn’t want that service, it’s that we weren’t communicating it effectively.”

Want to share Sam Houston's story? Grab the PDF version here

7) Track sessions at larger events

Before:

“We’ve tried in so many different ways to track sessions at larger events. From punch cards to manual counting where we would just send someone to rooms to count everyone, it was a lot. But we were never able to successfully track sessions at our events.”

After:

“We’re now able to have up-to-the-minute visibility of the sessions at our events. If a session is booking up quickly at an event we might want to add more, and so this functionality means we can make decisions using real-time data. On the backend, it allows us to do more targeted marketing. If someone didn’t go to the financial aid session, for example, we send them a message and invite them to the virtual financial aid session.”

3 final things to consider - Courtney’s top tips

If in doubt, over-communicate

“My advice for running great events is to figure out what the sticking points or roadblocks are for your attendees and then think about what comms can fix it. You may think parking is a small thing, but if you send out a text reminder to your students on the morning of the event it’s one less thing they have to hunt down in their email communications.

“We also take a similar approach with our RSVP page for our event. We place the Gecko chat widget on our home page so it’s there whenever anyone needs it. We use call campaigns and phone students the day before, and that means we can confirm numbers and limit the number of no-shows. It just gives us a heads-up before the day itself.”

Use parent data too

“We discovered that parents want information about events, too. Just texting the student or emailing the student isn’t enough for them as often they’re not sharing that information. The team that syncs up our data to our CRM (Radius) looked at this. We wanted to create parent data but tie it to the student data – we didn’t want to create parent data that would then become its own user. We can also send them their own survey about the events.

“It’s also worth considering the platforms the parents are on – we tended to find that they mostly responded to email whereas the students are more engaged with chat and text.”

Create a cohesive voice

“​​Interdepartmental collaboration is one important thing to think about. We use Gecko and so does our Admissions office and our Accepted Students office, and that means we have access to the data on that student at all of those touchpoints. We know if they’ve accepted their offer, what course they’re planning on studying when they arrive, and so on.

“From a student perspective, that means we’re a really cohesive voice. Even though we do lots of different things in our different roles at the institution, students don’t see that, so it’s great to have that across-the-board communication to enhance their experience.”

Courtney Chastine
Gecko
My advice for running great events is to figure out what the sticking points or roadblocks are for your attendees and then think about what comms can fix it. You may think parking is a small thing, but if you send out a text reminder to your students on the morning of the event it's one less thing they have to hunt down in their email communications.
Gecko
Courtney Chastine
Director of Visitor Services