We know that a well-thought out open day requires months of planning. Certainly at Ambleglow, we’ve been working with our school marketing clients on promotional opportunities to publicise these events since last year. With the current COVID-19 crisis grinding pretty much everything to a halt, we’re all feeling a bit flat knowing that “in-person” open days will need to be cancelled and there’s currently no indication of when you can reschedule.
If you’re in admissions, then nothing will replace the pride in showing prospective parents around your school and getting a feel for whether they will be joining you come September, but moving your “in-person” open day to the virtual world is definitely something to start thinking about if you are designing your 2021 marketing strategy. Not only is it really beneficial for overseas students, but can be used as a ‘back-up’ in unprecedented times we find ourselves in. That’s why we wanted to take a look at the concept of virtual open days and the benefits they pose.
One caveat before we continue. We understand that not all of you will now have the tools to create a 360° video at your disposal, so we’ll also be hosting a webinar for school marketers in the coming weeks to talk you through how to pull off a successful virtual open day, even if you can’t offer virtual tours. Once we’ve put all the finer details together, we’ll let you know!
Virtual open days are nothing new
The technology is out there. Universities have long served them up for overseas students, who can enjoy a virtual open day from the comfort of their own home, without leaving their country, or even their bedroom. They simply have to register before the event, which they then experience in real time or later access online.
They offer a rich and interactive experience, including:
- live chats and feedback from present and prospective students
- live polls and surveys
- the chance to interview lecturers and students
- webinars and webcast lectures
Interested students get to cover a lot of ground, more perhaps than on foot. You can see how virtual open days appeal to Generation Z.
So, where do you start?
Learn from the best
The UCAS website has a long list of virtual open days. Choose a selection to find inspiration and get a sense of just what can be achieved. You could choose universities nearest to you, or take a trip down memory lane and revisit where you went to university.
Consider your target market
It’s worth recapping the rationale behind your open days. What do prospective families want to see? What do they want to find out from your school?
They want to get a sense of what a school has to offer: both in terms of its academics, extra curricular and facilities, as well as its atmosphere and sense of community. Can a virtual open day capture this? Yes, we absoloutely think it can.
The rise of VR
In similar fashion, the Guardian wrote last week about the world’s best virtual museum and art gallery tours: “The originals are out of reach for now, but you can still see world-class art – without the queues or ticket prices – with an online tour of these famous museums.”
COVID-19 may be just the catalyst in terms of supply and demand.
As live theatre streamed to local cinemas or live sport on television, you soon feel you’re there. You’re grateful you get to see so many different angles, without a pillar in the way or somebody chewing sweets loudly in your ear. And it’s far better than not being there at all.
If your school’s lucky enough to have a virtual tour on hand, then this is a great place to start with your virtual open day.
An alternative to virtual tours
You may have noticed that universities have been doing this for years, and their virtual open days usually involve a virtual tour of the grounds. Something which you may not have and now cannot achieve without being on campus.
But we’re sure you have a wide variety of images from your school’s events and general photos of the school, these can easily be put into a slideshow or a gallery for prospective families.
A great chance to show teachers doing what they do best
Recent closures have compelled school staff and pupils to get busy online, with Google Classrooms and other similar platforms.
At the time of writing, it is uncertain when schools will reopen. Just think how many online lessons will take place over the coming months. Teachers will become increasingly confident in front of the camera.
Simply showcase what you already do
As well as sample lessons, what else should schools offer?
Setting up virtual open days isn’t about adding to the workload. It’s about making sure people don’t miss all your hard work.
You could show them:
- Footage from previous open days
- Interviews with teachers and students
- Footage from music and drama productions
The benefits for all are undeniable.
Virtual open days are so much easier for parents and their children, in terms of time and money. School tours can be enjoyed during or after the event. Consequently, schools will get more people through the door, as it were.
For hosts, there’s the enviable reach, plus the analytics that simply aren’t available from a traditional open day. Schools will be able to find out where people are from, what they like, what they enjoyed on the tour, when they abandoned a clip two minutes in… the list goes on.
Although it’s hard to establish when, virtual tours will one day be the norm, a must-have rather than a nice-to-have.