Virtual student recruitment fairs: the jury’s out

by jguiver on 14/07/2011

In the current economic climate (an often used phrase!), we are all trying to recruit as many students as possible using as few resources as possible.  At the recent NAFSA conference in Vancouver, the theme ‘doing more with less’ was a common one in sessions aimed at international student recruiters.  The big question everyone wants answered: How can we continue to grow our international student numbers with a recruitment budget that is shrinking?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that one (sorry!), but something that keeps popping up in ‘doing more with less’ discussions is virtual student recruitment fairs.  If you aren’t familiar with these, they are like the traditional student recruitment fairs – hundreds of university reps in booths handing out information, students milling around visiting booths and asking questions – but with one big difference: it’s all virtual.  Everything takes place online.  The virtual booth is set-up with links to important university information, such as the online prospectus, how to apply and downloadable application, student profiles.  The booth also has links to videos and 360 degree virtual tours of campus.  You, the recruiter, sit at your desk or on your comfy couch at home, and wait for students to ‘visit’ your booth.  Students who ‘stop by’ will type their questions into a chat text box, and you type back a response.  Usually the company or group which has organized the virtual exhibition will email you the contact details of any student who visited your booth so that you can follow-up the enquiries later. 

It all sounds like a really fabulous idea.  You get to ‘meet’ hundreds of prospective students without having to traipse halfway across the globe.  But do students at virtual fairs respond in the same way as students who you have met in person?  By that I mean, do virtual fairs convert into enrolments at the same rate as real-life fairs?  I don’t know, which is why I am raising the question.  I’m hoping someone reading this has an answer.

I’ve participating in a few virtual fairs which were organized in different countries.  My experience was the same at both: great in theory, disappointing in reality.  The upside is that the financial commitment to virtual fairs is not usually as great; so if it is disappointing, at least not a lot of money was spent.  Having said that, I’m thinking about doing another virtual fair soon.  It’s been a few years since the last one, and perhaps things have changed.  And perhaps I’m more knowledgeable now about digital marketing/recruiting, so I’ll be better able to follow-up on leads.  I’ve not yet made up my mind, and I’d like to know what you think.  What are your experiences with virtual fairs?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashish Sachde July 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

Hi Jessica,
Its interesting to know that the financial commitment is very less from the University side in virtual fairs. Hence trying them out is less painful.

If i were a student from India wanting to study abroad, i would not sign up for a university from a virtual fair. I simply do not know where i am putting my money. The investment is huge and so i believe students would not take such a crucial decision of selecting a university in a virtual fair.

Meeting in person physically in a real life fair would give an assurance which is not replicable in a virtual fair.

Although personally i feel even real life fairs do not yield excellent results these days!!!

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jguiver July 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Good points, Ashish!
Thanks for your comment.
Jessica

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Jamie Simpson July 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm

We have had similar experiences to you. They sound very good and are cheap. The numbers of students who register interest is usually good but the rate which convert to applications is very low. As you mention it is cheaper than travelling to a fair however what do you think about the virtual fair as a good ice breaker? We have worked with a few colleges who have used the fair to get contacts and then arranged meetings etc in certain countries and met the students in person as a follow up. This saves your trip budget a few thousand pounds on the stand and the outcome is that you have the students undivided attention (oppose to a fair where there are many different stands to visit) and the in person meeting and help with applications, visas etc has gone down very well with a good application conversion rate.

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jguiver July 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Hi Jamie
Good idea, re. use it as an icebreaker. It makes an overseas trip much more focused, and as you said, you get the full attention of students who have already shown an interest in your institution.

Thanks for the input!
Jessica

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