Whilst some countries are beginning to see the end of lockdown regulations, others have yet to spot the light at the end of the tunnel. For all of us, though, the COVID 19 pandemic has brought changes that won’t disappear overnight. 

We’re extremely proud of the way that the education sector has rapidly pivoted to deal with the challenges of social distancing. We’ve all worked hard not to leave any student behind despite pertinent risks to our normal way of life. Soon, it will be time to look to the future and explore how you’ll work with those changes. 

One thing is clear – we’re now all better equipped to handle a digital future in education. We’ve seen that online learning is not only possible but can be a highly effective way of teaching to new markets. The challenge now will be in figuring out how to engage students effectively using just digital tools. Digital events will be a big part of the answer.

If you’re hosting your next open day or university event online, make sure you consider these 5 key concepts for stronger brand engagement.

1. Students needs haven’t changed

A degree is a huge undertaking whether you’re studying on-campus or online. Students are hyper-aware of how their education will affect their future in the long term. That means that, if you’re going to be running events digitally, you’ll need to offer all of the functions you normally would, just online.

Financial services, wellbeing, careers, disability and pastoral support will all need to strut their stuff in your virtual events. Fortunately, universities already supplying online degrees have had this process mastered for quite some time. Look to online master’s degrees at universities like UCL, Manchester and King’s College London to find out how they manage online discovery and events.

2. Bring them closer

Students still want to feel connected to their university, no matter how far away they are. Making your institution feel welcoming digitally is a big challenge. However, it’s one that can be solved with time, effort and the right digital tools.

Universities that are doing it right make big investments into digital campus tours and virtual classrooms. They’re incredibly important tools that can help make students feel a part of something special. They also help to develop your brand authority. This, in turn, can improve recruitment, retention and overall student success. Take a look at the University of Reading’s fantastic virtual campus tour or the thoroughly engaging virtual open day at the University of Lincoln

3. Don’t forget your institution’s strengths

Some universities have been creating digital events for years. If you’re new to the game, it can feel like you’re under-prepared to meet the new demands students are placing on you. It may also feel like you need to change your messaging to address these new challenges.

Whilst you still need to be mindful of the different needs online visitors have, don’t forget that they’re still attracted to your core assets as an institution. The strength of your teaching team, course content, partnerships, accreditation and reputation will always be at the forefront of their minds. Make sure your event messaging communicates how these strengths will impact their education no matter where they’re studying. 

4. Create a personal dialogue

It’s true that your social media, content marketing and recruitment pages will all need to be on point if you want to attract students online. But it goes further than that. Engagement means bringing students into the conversation and building a one-to-one relationship. That, as their heart, is what online events are all about – building a meaningful connection with students.

Institutions like the University of Leeds are fantastic at creating a dialogue using platforms like their 24-hour student support team. Not only will you need to consider building these kinds of platforms, but you’ll also need to ensure they take centre stage in your event communications. The brands that win are the ones that establish a profound relationship quickly.

5. Quality still rules

For decades, online learning was something of a taboo and often regarded as being sub-par in relation to on-campus education. Events are part of the process of shedding that reputation, showing that the quality of courses you can offer is as high as any on-campus programme. However, bear in mind that your students will be thinking critically when they attend. If your platform is buggy and you’re struggling with communications, it reflects poorly on the quality of your courses.

On top of making your event run smoothly from a technological perspective, you need to think about how you can display your high standards for course content. The Open University does a great job of this by making course content available through their OpenLearn course system for free. You don’t necessarily have to do the same, but you do have to make one thing clear – that your course content is incredibly high quality. 

When students can experience first-hand how your course will help them achieve their life goals, you’re on to a winning branding proposition. Events provide you with the perfect opportunity to guide them through that process. Consider ideas like example lectures and lessons all delivered through your online platform.

It’s never too late to take advantage of the new trend towards digital education. Just remember, every day, more universities are taking up the challenge and doing great things with their digital tools. If you want your brand to stay relevant in a changing world, it might be time to start investing in digital events. For online students, international students and even domestic students who can’t attend your open day, a great online event may be the touchpoint that swings it for them.