The University of British Columbia Mobilizes Its Student Experience

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UBC offers prospective students mobile-optimized access to information that keeps them engaged during the college research and application process, while creating an omnichannel atmosphere that aligns with the average user's online behaviors.

When it comes to education, colleges and universities must maintain strategies that sync with the habits of its prospects. For the University of British Columbia, blending mobile with the student experience allows the school to meet the needs and expectations of its global youth audience.

As Graeme Menzies, UBC's director of prospective student marketing, communications, and social media, emphasizes, the institution's Web analytics data and external research sources indicate that prospects from Canada and around the world are increasingly connected to smartphones and tablets. Therefore, introducing mobile-friendly tools not only provides good customer service, but also boosts engagement and satisfaction. UBC launched its first all-purpose mobile application in early 2011 and has continued to hone and improve its mobile strategy ever since, tapping into the behaviors of the world's intellectually curious youth to garner interest and disseminate vital information.

Here at 1to1 Media, we sat down with Menzies and Phil Chatterton, UBC's director of digital media technologies, to explore the University of British Columbia's current mobile offerings, how easy access impacts the application process, and what the school hopes to accomplish as it works to improve its future strategy:

1to1 Media: They say more than 60 percent of prospective college students use a mobile device to shop for college. How does this align with what UBC has seen and do you expect it to grow?

Graeme Menzies: The number of mobile visitswe've received to our Prospective Student website has increased significantly over the past year. Over that period, our mobile traffic has increased by 95 percent and the use of tablet devices to access our site has increased by 92 percent. We have observed this percentage increasing, and we know from other external sources that the use of mobile devices by all types of people in all types of markets is, generally speaking, growing. That said, our goal is to make sure that all our online channels are easilyaccessibleand easy to navigate, regardless of the device used. We recognize that the same prospect may use more than one method to access our sites, depending on the scenario. For example, a user may employ her mobile device to quickly check a fact or to view a video on our website, but may subsequently operate her desktop device for a more extended review of the more than 250 undergraduate academic programs UBC offers its prospective students. It's important that we anticipate a variety of user scenarios so that any user, on any device, can find and accessthecontent they want with as much ease as possible. As an institution that attracts students from around the world, from a variety of economic and infrastructure circumstances, we recognize that such scenarios and access to devices and services may vary considerably.

1to1: Why must colleges look to integrate mobile marketing strategies? What opportunities does mobile offer that traditional methods don't?

GM: Mobile devices excel at finding, accessing, and sharing important high-level information quickly. Any postsecondaryinstitution that can't or hasn't made information readilyavailablethrough mobile is making it more difficult for prospective students to access information about their institution quickly. They will consequently beat adisadvantage compared to other institutions. They also risk frustrating their "customers" and, by seeming old fashioned and behind the times, may scare off students who expect to be able to receive and navigate information quickly.

1to1: How is UBC using mobile devices during the registration and admission process?

GM: The admissions and registration process is complex, requiringconfidentialpersonal information and documents to be uploaded, and fees to be paid,amongother things. So there is much of the process that, by its transactional nature, is difficult-or inappropriate-toperformon a mobile device. However, we do use mobile-friendly strategies to provide admissions-related informational and motivational content. For example, we have an excellent UBC Prospective Student mobile app that provides a high-leveloverviewof the application process, including several short video tips about the process, which students can use as they plan and prepare to apply. We also have mobile friendly videos about the application process on our YouTube channel (and on the app), and we use our dedicated social media channels to answer students' application-related questions. This year we also created an interactive digital edition of our Viewbook publication using the Adobe Publishing Suite, which is created specifically for tablet use.

1to1: How have UBC recruiters integrated mobile technologies to streamline their duties?

GM: Many of thehigh schoolsthat our recruiters visit don't permit the use of mobile devices (this is intended to limit students' use of mobile devices in the classroom but naturally affects staff and visitors too). In addition, our recruiters visit a wide variety of locations internationally and the quality of online infrastructure varies considerably from place to place. So we make sure recruiters can do their jobs and be successful regardless of what technologies may or may not be available to them. However, our online/mobilerecruiting efforts are coordinated by our Prospective Student Marketing Communications team based at UBC; this team works closely with travelling recruiters to communicate key messages, promote recruiting events, and torespondto student questions and feedback. Forexample, the UBC-based social media coordinator may use Hootsuite to assign aFacebookquestion to a recruiter travelling in Europe, who may answer that question at whatever time and on whatever device may be convenient to them at any given moment. Synergy and coordination between the home-based communications team and the travelling recruitment team is key to success.

1to1: Have you seen noticeable results since implementation? Has mobile presented any unforeseen challenges?

Phil Chatterton: The results have been better than we expected for our central mobile initiative. We have seen significant uptake by students across theModo Labsplatform, which includes mobile web, Android, and iOS platforms. Thousands of students are now using the mobile platform to gather daily information like today's news, walking directions, or where to get a meal. We chose Modo Labs not only because other solutions were either portal or platform only, and we needed both, but also because it was easy and fast to deploy.

When we went out to speak to students about the mobile platform and our mobile initiatives during the first two weeks of school, we had more than a thousand students stop by our booth or speak with our street teams to give feedback. The feedback confirmed just how important mobile access to services and information is for them. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but also contained a lot of areas where we can improve. They know that we probably won't be right on top of the hippest mobile trend, but that we are trying hard to give them an experience that is personal and that can perform on a mobile device.

1to1: How are prospective college students engaging with UBC via mobile? Are there any behaviors that are typically more common for mobile versus desktop, and vice versa?

GM: Mobile devices,especiallyof the small screen variety, are best for when prospectivestudentsare looking for non-complex content-things thatmaybeclassifiedasinformational and motivational in nature. For example, if a student wants to quickly find out what the application deadlines are, or if a certain program is offered, or what the fees are, this can be easily done with a few finger taps on a mobile device. Also, if a student wants to watch some videos about UBC, this can be done easily on a mobile device. And, if a student wants to view or share some information about UBC on social media channels, then a mobile device easily outperforms the desktop. Search for "#UBC" on Twitter or Instagram and you will see how wellstudentsand UBC are using mobile devices to share that kind of information and content.

1to1: Now that UBC has laid the groundwork, how does the school plan to expand its mobile strategy? Are there any new endeavors or goals on the horizon?

PC: Based on [students'] advice, we are looking to improve services across the board. We are looking to connect the mobile platform with the student information system and the learning management system so they can get access to grades and learning content. We are also looking to upgrade the mobile library experience so they can get better access to library resources. We will also be working to upgrade the core platform in order to provide a more personal experience by enabling a custom user interface as students log in with their campus-wide login. These improvements should help to meet the host of requests we have received by students.

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