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Posted by Dave Lister on 01 September 2016

We examine the benefits of virtual tours as part of a university's digital marketing strategy

As we've discussed in previous posts technology is now completely changing the ways in which students search and select a university. New ways to improve how universities communicate and interact with students online are continually being developed.

One of the methods that's becoming increasingly popular with universities is an online virtual reality tour - for the simple reason that it provides them with a great way to connect with prospective applicants on a far wider scale than traditional methods such as prospectuses and standard open days.

In this blog post I will discuss the main benefits of building a virtual reality tour into your digital strategy, show you some leading examples and help you get started on creating your own digital campus tour. 

What is a Virtual Reality Tour?

Virtual reality is defined as “an artificial world that consists of images and sounds created by a computer and that is affected by the actions of a person who is experiencing it”.

In the example of universities, a virtual reality tour can be used to transport a prospective student into a 3D world where photos or videos of a university campus, and its surrounding area are easily turned into an immersive experience, and delivered as a virtual reality tour.

This technology allows a prospective student to explore a university campus at 360-degree angles as if they were actually on the campus grounds, and to travel through the university buildings and facilities by simply moving their head or clicking a button.  They can enjoy this experience via an app, a virtual reality headset or a website.  

Virtual reality tours excite prospective applicants by that fact that they elicit something that mere images cannot; they provide a sense of atmosphere - an all-round experience. This helps universities create an immersive experience that students value, and offers a unique way of interacting with a student, regardless of their geographical location

Adding a virtual tour to the digital experience which your university delivers will not only help you engage better with your target audience, it will also demonstrate your universities’ willingness to keep up with new technologies and help you appeal to an increasingly digital generation.

As can be seen by this list, a growing number of UK universities are already using virtual reality tours to offer prospective students a taste of what life at their university involves.  And in this blog we're going to look in more detail at the reasons why a virtual tour should play a key role within the digital marketing strategy of a university - and what steps to take to get started.

Main benefit of virtual tours to universities

1. Instantly extend the reach of your open days virtually

Committing to a university is not a small undertaking, a number of factors need to be taken into the decision and whilst most students would love the ability to 'road test' a new campus by visiting it in person it can be expensive to travel to several universities, and for some it's just not logistically or financially possible. 

By providing virtual tours your university will instantly extend the reach of it's open day experience to a far greater number of students - increasing your audience significantly from just those who can easily travel to the campus.

Through the digital experience delivered you will be able to help guide prospective students on their selection journey and allow them to dive straight into learning exactly what university life will involve, all without having to travel anywhere near your campus.

The tour could involve taking a look at lecture theatres, having a nosey around the halls of residence, strolling round the university grounds and checking out the sports facilities. Any facilities that make the university really stand out should be highlighted - such as state of the art computing labs, first class sporting facilities or the newly opened student union and the top nightlife it offers.

2. Boost international recruitment

One of the main benefits of providing virtual tours is that it provides an accessible way for foreign students to view your university and its facilities from abroad. Due to financial and time constraints it is often not possible for international students to visit a campus in person from abroad before making their selection decision, in fact the majority choose a university without ever having visited in person.

By providing the opportunity for them to experience everything your university has to offer virtually you will stand out from competing institutions who provide far less immersive and engaging digital content on what university life will involve.

Furthermore, it also offers these students the opportunity to share the university tour experience with key influencers of their selection process such as parents, family and friends, all whom may play an important role in their ultimate decision.

3. Opportunity to showcase both your campus and your city

The scope of what can be shared via virtual tours shouldn't be contained to just highlighting what your university campus offers, it should also be extended to showcasing your university’s town/city – give your prospective students a chance to experience exactly what it would be like to live and study there, highlight everything your university town has to offer. 

It's also important to note that the benefits of a virtual tour aren't limited to just prospective students, existing students can also benefit by exploring areas of the campus that they haven't yet discovered, and it can be used as a tool to promote events and activities at certain locations on the campus.

Examples of universities who have invested in virtual reality tours as part of their digital marketing strategy

Take a look at some of these examples of universities who already deliver virtual tours as part of their digital experience;

  • The University of Sheffield provides prospective students with a series of virtual tours by students, some of which are specifically designed for use with virtual reality headset Google Cardboard - students can even earn print credit through taking part in an interactive game within the experience!

  • The Manchester Metropolitan University Virtual Tour offers students a selection of interactive personalised tours by students from different faculties. This consists of fast moving, first-person camera shots which showcase the courses, facilities, lifestyle and atmosphere of the university. This helps students to easily imagine what their university life will involve and allows them to really focus in what their own experience will look like by choosing faculty etc.
  • Nottingham Trent University provides students with a virtual Open Day experience, introducing them to the most important aspects of student life and providing comprehensive information in a range of areas such as student life, courses, Nottingham as a city, university facilities, accommodation, careers, public transport and guidance on how to apply. 

How to start creating your own virtual reality tours

Before you even get close to evaluating the different types of software available it's really important to first build a clear idea of the content you're looking to deliver through a virtual tour - we recommend asking questions such as;

  • How well do you understand your target audience? To deliver an exceptional digital experience you need to know exactly what information they will find helpful from a virtual tour, and what their frustrations and challenges are with remotely viewing universities - understand this and you will be much clearer on the type of content that is useful to include
  •  What are the unique features of your university? A virtual tour is an excellent method of selling all of the reasons why a prospective student should choose your university, be clear about what makes your establishment unique, what facilities have the wow factor? Make sure you identify them and bring the campus alive online
  • What is the personality of your university and how are you going to communicate this? Give careful thought to the tone of voice which you want the content of the tour delivered in, how do you wish the university to be positioned? What human aspects are you going to include? e.g are current students going to deliver some of the content - if so how will you identify the best people to do this? Do you have personable members of the teaching team who can really sell the university?
  • What is special about the town / city your university is in? What makes students love life here? Showcase the culture that they can look forward to being a part of and highlight some of the landmarks of the area

Once you have a clear understanding of these points you will have a much better overview of exactly the digital experience you're looking to deliver and how comprehensive that should be - this will then influence the decision on the most suitable platform to deliver it. 

In terms of the different platforms available, the list is continually growing - but the good news is that as virtual reality becomes increasingly mainstream the ways in which virtual tours can be produced have also become more accessible.

Depending on the level of sophistication of the digital experience you're aiming to deliver there are some inexpensive options such as mobile app Sphere, where you are guided through a simple process of taking a series of photos and then given the option of publishing as a virtual reality showpiece.

For more comprehensive virtual reality tours there are services available such as YouVisit who will work with you to integrate your tour with additional services such as recruitment and campus events, and CampusTours who will help you build video tours, photorealistic interactive campus maps and mobile walking tours for your university website. 

Next steps

Hopefully this post will have provided a useful introduction to the benefits which virtual reality tours can offer and some steps on how to get started. If you have any further questions or would like to chat in more detail about building a virtual tour into your university's digital marketing strategy then please do get in touch

And if you've seen any great virtual experiences delivered by universities then please share them in the comments section below.

To keep updated on our digital marketing blogs for the university sector then simply subscribe to this blog and you'll get all future posts delivered straight to your inbox.


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