COVID-19 has presented many unique challenges in 2020, and amongst them for the University has been how best to continue to support applicants in their decision making. After all, the pandemic has reeked havoc on their education and/or work life, the least we can do is to make the journey to university as painless as possible.
With traditional activities, such as campus visits, now off the table, the Marketing & Communications Department at the University had to innovate, and innovate quickly, in the digital space. With minimal notice, the team turned an Applicant Experience Day virtual and provided clear communications with applicants, keeping them engaged with their future and generating a 22% uplift in attendance compared to the on-campus event earlier in the year.
Our first Virtual Open Day followed in June, with a new format and new digital tools to figure out. And it wasn’t just the marketing team that needed to understand them, over 60 presenters and 34 student ambassadors required training too so they could facilitate meaningful interactions during the event. We also had to create a digital space that recognised and served the needs of a virtual open day attendee. It wasn’t a matter of just transferring the in-person open day online, it was a process of really understanding what attendees would want to achieve from a digital event, how they’d be accessing it (over 50% of our website visitors at any given time are on their mobiles), and how we can create an information architecture that was easy for them to use and filled with consumable content. We are now on the cusp of hosting our third Virtual Open Day, each one seeing more attendees than the on-campus equivalents, and high levels of positive feedback.
What we’ve taken pride in is keeping the humanity in our digital offer by providing as much live content as possible, such as webinars and real-time chats, and shying away from pre-recorded presentations and automated chatbots.
Of course, offering digital experiences is not something new for the University. Our award-winning Virtual Experience has been a cornerstone of recruitment activity for several years. It offers students, especially International and UK students who would find it difficult to travel to a campus event, the opportunity to explore over 70 learning, teaching and social spaces through 360degree tours coupled with videos, photo galleries and interesting factoids. This service is available 24/7 and can be viewed at www.bradford.ac.uk/virtual-experience
This year our website has also had to adjust to the communications demands of COVID-19. Our staff, students, applicants and stakeholders have access to the University’s live response to the pandemic via a new section on the website. As the situation is continually evolving, so does the site. We are continually adding to the content available to help everyone understand the measures put in place by the university as well as their own responsibilities to stop the spread of the virus.
As a backdrop to all this innovation and development, the web team have also had business as usual and scheduled projects to juggle. This September saw Government imposed accessibility regulations come into effect. We have always striven to make our website content available to everyone – especially users with specific needs, including for example, visual impairments – and we welcomed these regulations. As a socially inclusive university, we’re proud to have been included in the top 10 list of most accessible university websites in 2020 (Silktide’s online index of websites) and we are continuing our efforts to keep improving the site.
What is fair to say about 2020 is that although we’ve been apart, people from across the University have come together to innovate and create in the online space, putting in a monumental effort to ensure our communities can continue to access relevant information and have the experiences they need to take their next steps. Although we are looking forward to some normality returning, we are also excited to see what’s next for digital marketing.