Rich media content: the future of University websites

A few weeks ago, myself, Steve and Gareth attended attended IWMW 2016 (the Institutional Web Management Workshop) in Liverpool. The overall theme of the conference this year was ‘Understanding Users; Managing Change; Delivering Services’. I attended a workshop on rich media content, specifically on how to maximise user impact from such content.

As a general takeaway from the conference, it was clear that universities are striving digitally to meet the needs of their IT-literate users. Many websites were undergoing digital transformations similar to St Andrews to ensure their content is as accessible and appealing as possible. It was suggested in the workshop that using a combination of digital and rich media content increases this appeal and accessibility.

What is rich media content? 

Rich media content is content which includes video, audio and interactive features like 360 video or a virtual tour. 

How is rich media being used in universities? 

By offering virtual tours, virtual open days, 360 videos of accommodation and video testimonials, universities are enabling each prospective student to develop a clear view of the university they are going to spend several years at.

In some cases, a piece of rich media content can be the deciding factor of whether or not a student chooses a particular university. This type of content is a marketing tool that speaks to a younger generation who value video and interaction over long chunks of text and stock images of students reading together.

It was clear from the workshop that it isn’t enough to just have rich content, but to use it at the correct time in the student recruitment lifecycle. For example, when students are in the pre-application ‘awareness stage’, they don’t really want to see information on the specific modules they’ll be undertaking. They want to know more about where it is they’ll be studying these modules. The campus, the gym, the community, accommodation etc. This is where a general, introductory video can come in use. For example:

Once they’re aware of the university and what it has to offer location-wise, they’re now in the ‘interested stage’. To make the most of this interest, virtual tours and 360 video can deepen their interest, bringing them closer to application.

Here’s Leeds Beckett University’s virtual tour.

According to research from rich content providers, after the student has applied is the time to present very specific information about their course to them. Bath Spa University has a good example of this:

Another stage which institutions can benefit from is during clearing – the system used by universities to fill the remaining available undergraduate places before the start of the first semester. The University of Bradford created a video specifically around this theme, and the use of Lego characters makes it memorable and different:

What do students look for in rich media?

There are a number of ways you can make rich media content more appealing to a prospective student, for example:

  • Authenticity is key – scripted, awkward interviews aren’t encouraging for prospective students.
  • Content that works best is content created by students, for students.
  • Quality isn’t the determining factor in the success of a video, as long as it makes sense and shows something useful.
  • Don’t focus on (or sometimes even include) academics.
  • Be different, focus on what really makes your institution special.
  • Location, campus and facilities are so important to prospective undergraduates – show this accordingly.

Being authentic in any form of content, be it written or rich media, is vital in today’s digital world. Creating a video on something that you think is relevant without doing any research could lead a student to feel that you aren’t putting their needs first. Authenticity and content that addresses prospective student’s problems will help you stand out from the crowd and provide students with information that will benefit them.

Have you tried any forms of rich media? How successful have you found them?

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