I often find myself reminding my colleagues that the path to better student engagement begins with the sharing of information. Simple, right?
It certainly is a simple concept to understand, but I’ve found that this basic fact is overlooked more than you might imagine. But how can a student become engaged in college athletics if they are not aware of the team’s schedules, records, rosters, and results? Perhaps NCAA Division I institutions have it much easier in the sense that SportsCenter, ESPN and local sports radio help inform students on a daily basis of what is happening at Hometown U., but smaller universities like mine must remember that students need to have the critical information about their college athletic program if we ever want them to be better engaged and more involved.
When I first became the Director of Athletics, I spent some time reflecting on priorities that I wanted to accomplish within the first few months. I was looking for a few items that would really help me jumpstart my vision and assist with the culture change that I felt was needed in the program. After much internal debate, I carefully crafted my notes. When I was finished I found the topic of student engagement at the top of my list. Better student engagement was the linchpin that would connect and allow my other initiatives to fall into place. I knew that we needed to do a better job earning supporters on our campus and in our community.
After looking at some of our aspirational peer institutions, it became obvious that we needed to improve our engagement efforts from a technological perspective. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that a better emphasis creatively using technology and mobile communications was going to play a critical role in helping me achieve this goal. With the help of my newly hired Sports Information Director, Stephen Utz, we quickly began working on a plan.
This is where my epiphany occurred. We kept talking about engagement, but instead of using the word engaged, we kept talking about if our students were even aware of opportunities where we could engage with them better. I soon realized that our students and fans needed quick and reliable information. It sounds obvious, but I learned an important lesson that day: it is hard for anyone to be truly engaged if they are not informed.
To this point, I stressed to my team that we had to come up with new and innovative ways to inform our fans and students. Our efforts over the next six months focused on better informing our constituencies.
We began to use several mobile technologies to help us achieve our new goal. Our first initiative was to make our website mobile friendly. This change was non-negotiable. We knew our students were using mobile devices and we needed to get them game schedules and results immediately. After making that change we took it to the next step and began to focus on mobile applications. Being mobile friendly on the web is one thing, but having a mobile app is a different level of increasing engagement. We created apps for both iPhone and Android and instantly saw our engagement numbers improve.
This was just the first step in many mobile-related strategies that followed that year. An overview of these strategies are included here:
Website optimization for mobile
Mobile app creation
Mobile friendly live video streaming service for games
Live in-game stats for mobile devices
Commitment to live updates and breaking news on mobile social media platforms: Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram
Athletics scores and news updates via mobile text service
There is no doubt that engagement is more critical now than ever. College athletics departments need to engage everyone more effectively including students, parents, donors, faculty, alumni, etc.
We live in a digital world that is not slowing down. In small college athletics, we need to adapt to make sure our students are better informed and engaged, but we need to remember that we still have an obligation to make sure our constituencies are informed first. Mobile technology has helped us in this endeavor and we must embrace it and always look for new ways to use the rapidly expanding technology to reach our students and fans in the ways they prefer to consume information. When done effectively, true engagement can begin. Think of sharing information through mobile technology as the “leadoff hit” to starting better student engagement.
This post is part of our #App2Campus series, which aims to share ideas for using mobile to drive student engagement on campus. We will hear from all kinds of #SApros who have used phone technology to foster a sense of community and connection between the students, face to face. For more information, please see Sabina’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.