Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

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1 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education Creating Effective Recruitment Results David Marshall President, Mongoose Bob Johnson President, Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC Partner, Customer Carewords, Ltd Overview Over 50% of prospective students have visited college websites on a mobile device i. The most desired content is: Academic Program Cost / Financial Aid Events Parking and Campus Map Visit Request Information When colleges and universities first focused their attention on mobile websites, the campus community seemed most important. Campus bus schedules, for instance, were often featured among the first visible links. For possible future students, that created a large set of unmet needs. Our paper reveals leading strategies and techniques for mobile communications as part of an effective student recruitment communications plan. Follow our suggestions to create a mobile web presence that gives you competitive advantages to meet your enrollment goals.

2 The need for a mobile site As mentioned in the overview, more than half of prospective students view a school s website on a smart phone, colleges and universities are under pressure to develop mobile microsites that meet the needs of this audience ii. One survey found that 59% of campuses provide a mobile solution (up from 37% in 2011), and that three-quarters of those who did not have a mobile solution plan to implement one in the future iii. Not having a well-designed mobile site will become increasingly detrimental. In the past, 20-25% of students have said they will eliminate schools from consideration if the school s website does not provide a good experience iv. Future prospective students are likely to eliminate schools from consideration based on the mobile experience v. An admissions-focused microsite, with mobilefriendly navigation and the right amount (and type) of content, can attract prospective students and enhance a college or university s brand. In this white paper, we will explore content development, design and navigation concerning mobile microsites, with emphasis on the increased importance of helping potential students complete their top tasks as quickly as possible. Developing content: build a site around tasks Mobile website users typically want to complete a task or find a specific piece of information. They want to know the answers to their most common questions: How do I apply? Do they have the program I want? Can I get in? How do I visit? How much will it cost? 2 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

3 In Customer Carewords research over the past 10 years, website visitors, including those to higher education websites, consistently identify three to six top tasks as most important to a successful website experience. Numerous other studies have confirmed this task-oriented approach. One recent survey found that the most requested pages on mobile microsites were related to academic programs, financial aid and campus visits vi. Students expect to find certain information on mobile sites, including academic program listings, cost and scholarship calculators, a calendar of important dates and deadlines, details about academic programs, an application process summary, and online application forms vii. However, only 43% of mobile sites meet at least five of these six criteria viii. the most requested pages on mobile microsites were related to academic programs, financial aid and campus visits. When developing content for a microsite, consider a page or section to address each of these areas, with more detail only when warranted. For example, given that academic program content appears on the Noel-Levitz list twice, consider giving students more information about each program. As students continue to make choices based on programs (rather than the institution as a whole), a mobile site should tell students what they will learn, introduce the people who will teach them, provide sample outcomes and careers, and list any additional benefits for each program. Sharing too much information on a mobile site, however, can backfire. When it comes to mobile, short is too long ix. Lists and bullet points are better than long paragraphs of copy. When you do use paragraphs, make sure few if any are longer than 5 lines. Eliminating all content that is not absolutely necessary is critical to providing a positive user 3 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

4 experience. One study found that comprehension scores for reading complex text on an iphone-size screen are 48% of desktop scores x. First page content should be limited to the essentials. Secondary information should appear on secondary screens. This style of providing information is also known as progressive disclosure, and is based on the concept that mobile users are willing to read more copy the further they dive into a mobile site. Users will keep clicking, as long as they are confident they are on the right path. But avoid dumping users from the mobile site to your regular site to continue the disclosure, as that is usually a shocking experience that requires immediate finger-flicking and sideways scrolling. You lose people when that happens. Any page that is important to your recruitment effort in a mobile environment should itself be mobile-friendly. Once the site is live, remember to review it on an ongoing basis. Use Google Analytics to see which pages are getting the most traffic. Test all the links every week to make sure Any page that is important to your recruitment effort in a mobile environment should itself be mobile-friendly. they remain intact. Skim content, looking for any past dates or other outdated content. Carewords research with future students shows they are very aware of dated content and take is as a sign of website neglect. Finally, realize that a mobile microsite cannot have all the bells and whistles that may be expected on a full website. Video tours of residence halls, interactive maps, live instant message and other complex functionality while helpful can slow development and provide limited return on investment. Instead, campuses should focus on the tasks that students have identified as being most important to them. 4 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

5 Functional design: usability comes first Because our eyes are more agile than our fingers, larger touch targets are essential for mobile microsites. Android, for one, encourages developers to follow strict guidelines for minimum sizes of touchable objects xi. To accommodate fat fingers, links and clickable elements should also have plenty of space around them to avoid unintentional clicks. Once again, less is more when considering the amount of content to include on each page of a mobile microsite. In terms of branding, desktop websites offer plenty of real estate for an institution to show photographs of students, add headlines, and bring in other advertising-type elements to help infuse personality and brand the campus. With a mobile microsite, given the limited screen area, brands are judged based on usability. The user experience is the brand. If the mobile microsite is easy to use, with clear links and icons that correlate to a student s top tasks (and no barriers to achieving those tasks), students inherently recognize that the institution understands them and their needs. That said, there is a place for typical branding elements on a mobile microsite. Institutional colors and fonts should be used. The tone and style of the copy should, as always, reflect the brand. Photographs if used at all should be selected with mobile users in mind; choose dramatic photos with a single focus for the most impact on the small screen. When considering how content will appear to students, sites should be built with iphone and Android users in mind. Students with older phones simply do not use the web as much on their mobile devices. If you re experimenting with responsive design to convert regular website content to the mobile world, keep in mind that successful conversion is more difficult to achieve when moving from a large computer screen to an iphone or Android phone than to a tablet xii. 5 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education...given the limited screen area, brands are judged based on usability.

6 Determining navigation: create a mobilefriendly user experience Mobile sites must work for an audience that is only providing partial attention; a user should be able to navigate the site while walking or waiting in line xiii. Current best practices call for 10 or fewer links per mobile page, versus 30 or more on a full.edu home page. A mobile site should clearly guide future students down a virtual path. For example, the home page of the Nazareth College mobile site (m.naz.edu) only offers three choices Undergraduate Admissions, Graduate Admissions, and an option to exit the mobile site and visit the full website. The audience can quickly identify where they are and where they want to go. Recently, there have been lively debates about whether a mobile site should be aimed at prospective students with admissions-related content (such as academic program information), or current students with campus-focused information (bus schedules, athletic results, etc.). As a compromise, some campus administrators prefer to have the primary campus website appear as the home page for mobile users an issue that can be addressed by adding a mobile redirect option that directs prospective students to the m.school.edu site. The mobile site redirect code is available at no charge, as a service from Mongoose Research. Another answer used by the University of British Columbia for a mobile app: offer just two choices on the first page, one for Future Students and one for the UBC Community that in turn lead to task-specific links for each audience. 6 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

7 When targeting prospective students, ultimately the focus must be on ease of use for the applicant. Even as stealth admissions continue to be a major concern, the goal is to ask as little as possible, while still gathering more than just an address. Fields such as CEEB code and even gender can be omitted on a mobile inquiry form, streamlining the experience for the user. Drop-down menus are a fast, mobile-friendly way to capture information about entry term, intended major and other key information. Some companies also give students the ability to sign up for mobile text alerts; students who receive text alerts have conversion rates up to six times higher than students who do not sign up for alerts xiv. Even as stealth admissions continue to be a major concern, the goal is to ask as little as possible. Of course, a primary goal of any mobile microsite for prospective students should be to encourage contact with the admissions office and facilitate campus visits. Leading mobile microsites allow a student to call the admissions office, send an , or bring up maps and directions, all with one touch. Some mobile microsites even feature an RSS feed of admissions events including the date and time for each one, allowing students to sign up for a specific event right from their mobile device. The key is to make it easy for students; asking them to log in with Facebook or go through other unnecessary steps can hinder response, while making a campus appear unfriendly and out of touch. Once students schedule a visit, an accurate map and clear directions are critical in terms of making a good first impression. An easy-to-read, illustrated map that highlights parking areas is useful; a map that integrates with their smartphone s built-in map or GPS functionality is even better. Build a microsite that lets them use the features and apps that they already know and love to eliminate any possible obstacles and increase response. Even an application for admission can be mobile-friendly. University of the Pacific received 10 percent of the applications for admission for the fall 2010 class from a smartphone application form. 7 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

8 In summary A microsite designed specifically for mobile users is quickly becoming a necessity for admissions offices. However, campuses must pay careful consideration to the needs and expectations of a mobile user, which are significantly different than those of a desktop user. Everything from the amount of content, to how (and where) it appears, should be built to address the task-driven goals of prospective students. A thorough understanding of students needs and how to apply them when creating a mobile microsite is critical in terms of ensuring that the site will function as an effective admissions tool. More information For more information on best practices for developing an admissions microsite, please contact: Amber Rich Mongoose Bob Johnson, Ph.D. Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC Mongoose Mongoose helps colleges and universities communicate with prospective students using the mobile phones that Millennials carry with them every day. Mongoose mobile websites make it easy for prospective students to access information throughout the entire recruitment process. For more information visit Bob Johnson Consulting Bob specializes in effective online marketing communication tactics and strategies, working with over 60 colleges and universities since Ask Bob about expert website reviews, Customer Carewords top task research, SEO and analytics analysis and his signature Writing Right for the Web workshops. For more information, visit 8 Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

9 Sources Cited i Noel-Levitz, An E-Expectations Trend Report: The Mobile Browsing Behaviors and Expectations of College- Bound High School Students, 2012 ii Noel-Levitz, An E-Expectations Trend Report: The Mobile Browsing Behaviors and Expectations of College- Bound High School Students, 2012 iii Joly, The State of the Mobile Web Report, 2012 iv Noel-Levitz, E-Expectations Report: Students and Parents, 2011 v Lance Merker, OmniUpdate vi Mongoose Research data, 2012 vii Noel-Levitz, An E-Expectations Trend Report: The Mobile Browsing Behaviors and Expectations of College- Bound High School Students, 2012 viii Joly, Missing or Hitting the Admissions Target?, 2012 ix Neilsen, Defer Secondary Content When Writing for Mobile Users, 2011 x Neilsen, Mobile Content Is Twice as Difficult, 2011 xi Caggiani, UX Corner: How ICS Follows Basic User-Centered Design Principles, 2012 xii Source: Nielsen, Repurposing vs. Optimized Design, 2012 xiii Dempsey, Beyond Scaling Down: Generating a Successful Mobile Experience, 2011 xiv Mongoose Research, Incorporating Texting into your Multichannel Communication Mix, Leading Strategies for Mobile Communications in Higher Education

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