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This post is written by Jordan McArthur, Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Guidebook.
How changing information consumption habits are making mobile apps a primary channel

As a mobile app company, Guidebook has had the privilege of helping hundreds of schools create and grow their mobile presence. Not only has it given us a lot of data points to consider, but it has also provided a front row seat when it comes to the ways in which schools are taking advantage of mobile communication.

Until now, nothing has truly answered the question, “How do I reach all the students I’m looking to connect with at the same time?” We’ve seen schools tackle this in many ways over the past decade – from listserves to public digital announcement boards – but they all seem to fall out of fashion as soon as we can perfect them.

Part of the problem is that we’re losing digital communication channels faster than we can adopt new ones.

As early as 2012, email was declining by 34% among 18-24 year-olds. Teenagers are abandoning Facebook for Snapchat and Instagram at staggering rates (only 14% say Facebook is the most important social network). Will anything stick and finally allow us to solve the centralized communication problem?
 

The obvious, ever-growing answer

Over time, the one constant among the ever-changing digital communication landscape has been the adoption of mobile tech. Global smartphone ownership has outpaced desktop usage and we’re spending most of that time in mobile apps (88% of our digital consumption is within apps; only 12% in mobile browsers).

Higher ed institutions recognize this shift, and you’re likely to run into the app conversation at some point during your career – regardless of your function. A knee-jerk reaction for many colleges is to use internal resources to develop a home-grown app, but most run into resource and scalability issues before it ever gets off the ground.
 

The app enablers

It’s for this reason that we’ve seen an explosion in universities requesting platform app-building solutions like Guidebook in recent years. Guidebook alone has seen an increase in onboarding growth of more than 60% year-over-year for the past three years running. It’s all because apps built within a third-party content management system are easier to maintain, cheaper to deploy, and they allow different campus entities to replicate the app model across campus.

That last point is perhaps the most important. Repeatability is key, even if the content is variable. With Guidebook, for example, a university can create a branded shell app – downloadable from the major app stores – which then allows them to house smaller apps (or guides, as we call them) within the main one. The use cases can be as varied as the number of audiences on campus.
 

An app for every step

Interestingly enough, we’ve seen that app platforms have allowed universities to be extremely creative with how they use mobile technology due to their blank canvas nature. As the number of uses for apps and guides grows, so do the number of touchpoints across the entire student lifecycle.

The earliest uses for Guidebook were for more event-based campus happenings, which also corresponded with early-career activities. New student orientations and welcome weeks were the earliest popular uses of campus guides. Recently, Guidebook has extended the mobile touchpoints to be even earlier by introducing a self-led mobile tour app for prospective students.

As campus apps evolved, so did the uses. The second iteration we observed was the use of mobile guides for particular offices and schools that extended to year-round applications. We’ve seen guides for career centers, business schools, counseling centers, and everything in between. For many administrators, mobile apps are solving the issue that most office and school websites are grossly underutilized, underdeveloped, or underused by students. Other mid-career use cases include Greek Life recruitment apps and event-centric guides for Campus Activity Boards.

Finally, apps are allowing universities to reach beyond graduation day. Career fairs, commencements, Homecoming, and alumni relations departments are all finding value in mobile as well. And now that the mobile-first generation is reaching graduation age, these populations are already primed to be seeking information in this format.
 

The central hub you’ve been looking for

When a campus app houses so many different individual guides, institutions are also finding value in cross-pollination between departments. Leslie Dare, IT Director of Student and Academic Affairs at North Carolina State University said of her campus app, “Our hope is that by using one centralized resource to push a lot this important information, we can expose students to a lot of the options, activities, and programs on campus, and that we can have a real impact on their experience here and their growth as a student.”

Mobile has established its dominance in the digital communication space, and universities have had to develop many creative ways to adapt. As a tech company watching from the outside in, however, the most successful institutions we see are ones that are centralizing their mobile communication within apps, and promoting a diverse set of use cases that encourage continuous use throughout the student lifecycle. Students have already made the switch. Will you?

 

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