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?