How Student Champions Can Drive an Effective Mobile App StrategyJessica Weaver | Student Employee in the First Year Experience Office, Saint Leo University
That’s the reality of today’s higher ed campus. Students are tied to their mobile devices more than ever before, and to create maximum impact, it is important to share information in the most beneficial way possible. A practice increasingly adopted by colleges and universities, the shift from paper to digital is a great opportunity to establish better lines of communication with students.
As a student (Class of 2019) and a student employee in the First Year Experience office at Saint Leo University, I can see our university’s mobile app strategy from both perspectives: as a user and as an administrator of our mobile apps.
When I was a first-year student, I saw that the orientation app wasn’t effectively promoted, and as a result quickly lost traction. While there was clearly value in having an app to centrally house information for students to conveniently access during orientation, at the time it was largely unused by students who were unaware of how or why to use it.
What’s to keep your app from dying on the vine? How do you promote the app so that a critical mass of students uses it in the intended way? What content will best engage students?
Go to the source: Enlist students themselves to best understand and meet their needs for an effective mobile experience.
Bringing New Life to Our Mobile App
In 2017, when I joined the First Year Experience team to support social media and marketing efforts, there was room for improvement in our mobile app strategy. We all agreed: If we’re going to take the time to create an app, we want to make sure it’s easy for students to access and use.
With a few simple yet high-impact steps in how we approached our mobile app strategy, we were able to transform the use of apps on campus. The Saint Leo University app “Lions’ Guide”, built on the Guidebook mobile app platform, now plays an important role in making incoming students feel included and comfortable on campus.
Here’s how we did it.
Drawing on my experience as a student, a marketing major and an admissions employee, I come from a unique vantage point in understanding what type of content and outreach will work to best engage students. Kira Parisi, a computer science major and student staff member for the Office of First Year Experience, and I make a great team, complementing each other in coming up with and implementing ideas.
Guidebook makes it easy for anyone on our team, including non-technical students and employees, to add new content and make updates on the fly, which allows us to have #StudentChampions with different skill sets and perspectives contributing.
Every piece of #Content in the app needs to have a purpose. Previously, the app housed only the orientation schedule. Today, it’s a full guide with 90 percent of the information students need to know in order to be successful in their first year, right there at their fingertips.
Especially in that first year on campus, it can be challenging to get acclimated and know what’s going on both on and off campus. Our goal is to provide information and resources that help our freshmen students to feel comfortable and included, such as:
- The “Let’s Go” section, featuring restaurants, stores and things to do in the area.
- “SLU 101,” with professor contact info and course details for Saint Leo University 101 courses.
- “Lingo Dictionary” to help new students be “in the know” about different things around campus, like the S.O.B. (Donald R. Tapia School of Business building, where most business majors will have class), the SAB (Student Activities Building) and “The Lions’ Lair” (a café where you get food and coffee).
This type of information is gold for new students trying to acclimatize to a new environment.
Instead of trying to replicate our website, we knew it was important to create an app that complemented it. Case in point: We created a fresh #FAQ for the app. Compared to the FAQ on the university’s website (which is geared more to prospective students and their families), the app FAQ speaks directly to first-year students. We polled students to find out what they had questions about when they first stepped foot on campus and made sure to include all of that information, such as where to get a parking decal or a mail key, or when they can kayak on the lake.
If students can’t find information they need in the FAQ, they won’t get the runaround by calling different departments. The app directs them to phone numbers and emails for important resources on campus, such as student success coaches—their next stop to get an answer if they can’t find it in the app.
Instead of assuming that students will just figure it out on their own, we serve as their guide in the process. Drawing on what we learned as students, we aim to make the app the first stepping stone for students.
In the past, students weren’t well informed about the app so it went unused. Now, with a more concerted #Marketing effort, including actively promoting it with QR codes via social media and all communication channels, we’re seeing high adoption rates. All incoming students get a tutorial: how to use it, where to find information, etc., as well as the opportunity to suggest what else they’d like included.
Kira and I are very involved on campus, so when we hear about a cool place in nearby Tampa or Orlando, we immediately update the guide, post a notification, and promote it: “Hey, everyone, check out these new restaurants added to the guide.” Not only does this drive people to the app, but it supports two-way engagement with our social media channels. We also keep people’s attention with ongoing calendar updates and by posting news about events and activities on Interact, Guidebook’s in-app social feed.
The efforts are working. Students have shared feedback that the app is well organized and is easy to use. The effortlessness of the app allows students to quickly access information they need—a definite plus for busy college students.
One unexpected use of the app is that it became an alternative access point for the university’s #StudentPortal. By creating a web-view of the portal inside of the app, we enabled students to log in to the portal to view schedules, emails, etc., on their phones. And students much prefer this: we consistently hear that they prefer to use an app to get into the portal instead of opening up a browser session.
As social media ambassadors, Kira and I are trained in how to uphold the Saint Leo University brand, and our branded mobile app reflects that #BrandConsistency. We took the time to make sure the entire app—from menu icons to calendars to to-lists—was standardized in the university’s green and gold. Since Guidebook makes it easy to customize the look and feel, it’s an extra step that really pays off, creating a consistent look and feel that further helps students feel part of the university environment.
Saint Leo University leadership recognizes that undergrads can be a valuable resource in creating an effective mobile app that gives students what they need, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the effort.
A student employee in Saint Leo University’s First Year Experience office, Jessica leads social media and marketing efforts for the university’s orientation program, including development and marketing for the mobile app.
Author Perspective: Student