Improving and Measuring Mobile Engagement. Playbook for Higher Education

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1 Improving and Measuring Mobile Engagement Playbook for Higher Education

2 Offering a Mobile App is One Thing Knowing how to build an engaging mobile app and measure its impact is another. The question for colleges and universities has evolved quickly from whether or not to have a mobile strategy to how to use it to effectively engage students. The power of mobile is clear: surveys show that nearly half of students in the process of choosing a college use a mobile device to look for campus information. But nearly two-thirds of mobile marketers admit they re not measuring the success of their mobile strategy even though many acknowledge that funding for mobile projects depends on showing results. It s a Brave New Mobile World Even in the digital world, the axiom you can t manage what you can t measure holds true. So, how do you know if your mobile strategy engages students? What are the vital signs? In the analog world, you knew your recruitment marketing was working by how many brochures you mailed, how many families showed up for tours and how many calls your registrars office received. You could count how many course schedules your school printed and the number of event tickets provided to (and used by) prospects visiting campus. But those are yesterday s telltales of engagement. Today, your prospective students use their smartphones to find out about your school much more anonymously. What should you do to engage them? And how can you tell whether the recruiting material that goes with your app is working? What are today s telltales, and how do you evaluate and measure them? This Playbook will guide you through measuring mobile engagement and help you calibrate your app strategy to satisfy on-the-go students demands. 73% of college students own smartphones 64% of colleges say mobile emarketer - College Students Put Mobile Marketers to the Test apps are effective for recruitment Noel-Levtiz - Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices the trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. 2

3 Mobile is a Must for Engaging Today s Students Mobile technology is swiftly maturing, yet mobile analytics are still in their infancy. That s a challenge for even the most seasoned college marketing and admissions professionals. Nonetheless, mobile is a channel they must master and measure because it s where students and prospects spend most of their time. Teens represent the leading edge of mobile connectivity, Mary Madden, senior researcher for the Pew Research Center s Internet Project, explains in a recent report. Today s teenagers are digital natives who are constantly connected and rarely while sitting in front of a traditional computer. Their patterns of technology use often signal future changes in how we ll all use mobile, Madden says. That s why mobile has moved with lightning speed from a nice-to-have to a musthave marketing tool on college campuses. And it s a long-term play: nearly threequarters of mobile phone users on U.S. college campuses own a smartphone and that s expected to jump to 90% by Results of 2012 emarketer Survey Note: college students defined as individuals of any age enrolled full - or part-time in a 4-year or 2-year undergraduate institution; own at least one smartphone and use the smartphone(s) at least once per month Source: emarketer, August 2012 the trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. 3

4 Four Best Practices for Creating Engaging Mobile Apps Today, simply having an app is not enough to keep your hyper-connected and mobile savvy users engaged. In order to ensure the highest ROI, it s important to spend some time thinking about your audiences and delivering the content that will compel them to take action. Here are four quick best practices for creating engaging apps: 1. DELIVER A QUALITY EXPERIENCE. If your student or prospect is disappointed in their app experience, you ve lost them. That s especially true if your user interface is glitchy, but it s also true if a user just can t find the desired information. The foundation for a quality experience for an app user is both reliable technology and relevant, timely and digestible information. But what is a quality app experience? To fully answer that question, you need to understand your audience. Use surveys to find out what students and prospects want and need in a mobile app. Armed with that information, explore how your mobile app can improve their campus experience by building community connections, offering virtual tours, providing events schedules or even just supplying transit maps. Your app should be the first place students go to get connected and to get answers. 2. COMPEL DAILY INTERACTION. The starting point for engagement is to create an everyday app that students can t live without. And there s a lot of competition out there for your students attention. Apple reports more than 775,000 apps are available for the iphone and ipad. Media research and ratings firm Nielsen says that as the number of smartphone apps has grown, the amount of time people spend on them has not. People may download dozens of applications on their mobile devices, but they regularly use just 15 to 20 of them. If you design your app for engagement, students not only will download it they ll keep coming back. And such frequent, long-term usage is the truest indicator of the value of your app-based marketing and communications strategy. Quick Tip: Vary Content and Goals by Audience Your app should aim to engage a wide range of constituents, however your goals and content should vary to each group. For prospective students, think about content that will simulate the campus experience, so they can visualize what life is like on your campus. For current students, aim to add transactional value to their everyday lives in order to increase their psychological engagement with the university. 3. CREATE AN EVENT-PLANNING DESTINATION. Campus events whether longtime traditions or new activities are ideal content for an engaging app. At the core is a functional, up-to-date calendar, but creating a must-click event planning space on your app also requires offering news, photos and social media. You want students and alumni and parents to think, It s homecoming weekend, the app will have what I need to know about what s happening. the trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. 4

5 4. ACT ON YOUR ANALYTICS. To keep students engaged, you must constantly look for ways to amp up your app - and then move at the speed of mobile to improve it. The tools embedded in your app technology must let you see what s working and what isn t. And your app technology must allow you to act on that information by making frequent improvements without waiting for IT. For example, just two years after launching its app via Mosaic, Loyola Marymount University had updated it six times adding new features and functionality with each release. The University of Alabama did even more finetuning, updating its app 11 times in the two years after it was launched. A short list of app essentials from the Harvard Business Review A recent Harvard Business Review article, For Mobile Devices, Think Apps, Not Ads, details what makes an app stand out from the crowd. Below is the business magazine s list of app must-dos, applied to academia. Apps should: Add convenience. Let students pay tuition or order takeout from the cafeteria via the app. Offer unique value. Your school s app should be students No. 1 source for how to get around or what to do. Offer incentives. Game tickets. Bookstore bucks. Restaurant vouchers. Students love free stuff, and they ll flock to your app for it. Entertain. School-related games, trivia and contests can get students hooked on your app. Provide social value. Your app can be what students are talking about and where they re talking How to Measure Engagement with Mobile Apps Mobile metrics allow you to measure app open and re-open rates, location and time of interaction, messages delivered, whether users opt in or out of some features and much more. How do you know what s important? Which metrics will give insights about what s happening at your school? Start with your students. Tap into your own data about students mobile habits and preferences to understand just how connected they are and how engaged you should expect them to be. As you set parameters and baselines for measuring mobile engagement, it might help to equate them to online/website engagement metrics that are familiar to many. Loyola Marymount s Success: More than 14,000 downloads, accessed more than 100 times per day Contributed to a 10% increase in applications that year 2/3 of students reported that ilmu significantly impacted their decision to attend the university the trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. 5

6 Top Three Measures of App Success 1. ACQUISITION METRICS: WHERE DO USERS COME FROM? App opens equates to total page views. New versus active users Knowing whether users have just arrived or are coming back for more helps you understand if your application and marketing are successful at a high level. 2. ENGAGEMENT METRICS: HOW STICKY IS YOUR APP? Time spent in app Building off of Astin s Theory of Involvement, we know that increased levels of psychological engagement lead to higher levels of involvement with their education overall. The average time spent in mobile apps ranges between 4 and 8 minutes, so be sure to set a baseline in order to track your progress. User actions With mobile apps you can track specific actions that users take. Every tap should be trackable, meaning you can tell how many users take a tour; add an event from the app to their personal calendar; or check in on the basketball score. 3. OUTCOMES METRICS: DOES YOUR APP BOLSTER BROADER GOALS? In-app transactions Tracking everything from student applications to pizza deliveries enables you to tie specific features to top line university goals. Conversions Gauge success with specific conversion targets such as boosting recruitment, retention, academic performance, attendance and more. For example, do you want students to complete in-app class registrations? Do you want prospects to apply to your school via the app? Your conversion targets and overall app strategy should align with your administration s broader ambitions. The Value of Measuring Mobile Engagement the trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. 6

7 The App Wrap A few final tips for creating engaging apps and measuring their success: Use your analytics. Analytics allow you to determine which app features are working (or not). Leverage that information to drive future improvements and ultimately improve engagement with your users. Understand your users. The more you track and listen to feedback, the more you ll know about users and the more accurate you ll be at gearing app offerings to their specific interests. Even the anecdotal information found in comments or app store reviews can go a long way toward helping you understand the user experience and why app engagement is trending up or down. Plus, personalizing the app experience based on user data will create stickiness and foster loyalty. The Rolling Tide of Mobile More than 122,000 users have downloaded the University of Alabama s app since That means the university is reaching prospects, students, alumni and parents. In fact, app downloads equate to 360% of the student population. Check your tools. Make sure you have the right technology to enable ongoing measurement and easy app edits. Does your app infrastructure allow you to track every tap a user makes within your app? And when analytics reveal a problem, does your technology allow you to make changes quickly? The end goal should be to make editing an app as easy as editing a website. Such ease and speed is essential in the swiftly moving mobile world. Conclusion Mobile apps moved quickly from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have for colleges and universities. The questions now are how to use a mobile app effectively to engage students and drive broad institutional goals, and how to measure that app s success. Best practices center on creating a quality app user experience through good technology and compelling content and tools. Measuring the success of your app strategy starts with knowing user origins and preferences, understanding their behavior and aligning app-relayed targets to your school s priorities. Crafting an engaging app and then measuring the results is critical to getting the most out of your mobile marketing strategy. the trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. 7

8 About Mosaic You re looking for a mobile solution that allows you to not only measure engagement appropriately, but also quickly adapt to students needs and interests by adding new features and functions. Historically, apps have been difficult to change and modify without the involvement of IT or technical resources. But a new generation of mobile app infrastructure is making it easy for marketing and admissions professionals to update and manage content without having to rely on IT. Apps are just like websites: the fresher the content, the more people will come back. Mosaic is the market leader in campus life app development. Since 2009 they have helped hundreds of institutions worldwide develop and deploy their mobile strategy. If you have any additional questions that have not been addressed in this Mobility Playbook, or to learn more about Mosaic, contact us at bit.ly/mosaic-contact. About Blackboard Mobile Blackboard Mobile, a division of Blackboard Inc., is dedicated to providing innovative mobile solutions to educational institutions around the world. Blackboard Mobile has partnered with hundreds of institutions to enrich teaching and learning and life outside the classroom. Based in San Francisco, the Blackboard Mobile team currently delivers two mobile solutions: Blackboard Mobile Learn, bringing interactive teaching and learning to mobile devices, and Mosaic, providing on-demand access to essential campus information. the trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. 8

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