Dos & Don’ts for universities hosting web chat events

Web chat events are all about initiating and sustaining relevant, engaging conversation among participants. When you hit the mark, web chats are excellent at strengthening prospective student interest in your university. But, web chats are easy to get wrong, largely because facilitating good conversation is challenging.

With the right preparation, though, you can better position yourself for success. From our experience supporting university clients with their web chat events, we’ve landed on what works and what doesn’t. Here are our top ‘Dos and Don’ts’:

DON’T: Segment your audience too narrowly
Web chat events tend to have relatively high no-show rates; we typically see roughly 4-5% of those who sign up attend. So, if your invitation list is too small, you won’t see enough volume on the web chat to drive benefit for the participants or your university. If you’re reaching prospective international students for instance, consider targeting by region of the world instead of at the country level.

DO: A trial run with your panellists
Lack of coordination among panellists can kill a conversation. Before you get online to host your chat, make sure panellists are familiar with your web chat platform’s functionality so there is no delay in submitting responses. Also, make sure panellists know what types of questions they are responsible for answering and, where there is uncertainty, panellists know how to coordinate behind the scenes during the chat to assign who should answer the question.

Prospective students will disengage if they experience delays getting responses from panellists or if they receive the same answer multiple times, so make sure everyone involved from your university is well-prepped.

DON’T: Host a web chat event for students who are early in the recruitment journey
We’ve found that web chat events that are hosted for prospective students who are just at the beginning of their journey tend to fall flat. Students in the early stages of looking at university have a limited scope of questions during these events. When students are further along in their process and know more of what they’re looking for from a university, they have more diverse and better quality questions that build valuable conversation.

DO: Prepare a ‘how to moderate’ guide
Web chat platforms allow the moderator to vet incoming questions/comments before enabling all participants to see them. Make sure your moderator knows what kinds of questions or comments you don’t want to take during the event, either because they’re inappropriate or distract from the discussion topic.

In addition, have discussion prompts prepared to help you keep the conversation going. You may run into lulls in the conversation and will need to have your own questions or comments ready to get prospective students talking again.

DON’T: Be too formal, but do have structure to the event
While web chats are dynamic, you don’t want to let the conversation completely run wild. Create a sense of structure by having the moderator manage participant expectations throughout the discussion. Clearly state when the chat is starting, introduce the panellists, inform how long the discussion is planned to last and give a friendly reminder when the chat is coming to a close.

DO: Include current students and/or alumni in your panellist group
Prospective students get a more authentic feel for the student experience when they hear from actual students. Current students also remember clearly what it’s like to be an applicant and offer holder at your university, so they’re better able to answer questions or contribute to a topic of discussion in a way that gets to the root of prospective student concerns and interests.

DON’T: Let panellists get too outnumbered by participants
When you host web chat events with large groups of participants, the flow of questions can become unmanageable. To keep up with demand, try to have around one panellist to ten participants.

DO: Include texting in your web chat marketing plan
As you recruit to your web chat event, try text invitations in addition to website, email and phone call invitations. Recently, we supported a web chat with one of our clients and text messages were sent to the target audience the evening before the web chat. Overnight, we saw roughly 200 new registrations!

To learn more web chat best practices or discuss other student engagement channels and strategies, reach us at mary@uni-quest.co.uk.

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