College Recruiting 2.0: The Virtual Campus Experience

October 7, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Heidi SeraKorea)

Source: flickr (User: Heidi SeraKorea)

I read an interesting article in the New York Times this week – titled “M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree“, the article describes how M.I.T. (and other colleges and universities) is leveraging student blogs as a recruiting tool.  The idea is that the blogs allow prospective students to get a glimpse into life on campus – and help them determine whether they’d like to apply for admission.

The dean of admissions at Haverford College was quoted in the article: “High school students read the blogs, and they come in and say ‘I can’t believe Haverford students get to do such interesting things with their summers.  There’s no better way for students to learn about a college than from other students.”

While I’m certainly a big fan of blogs, it occurred to me that virtual world and virtual event technologies could extend this concept to a whole new level.

3D Virtual Worlds

Hundreds of colleges and universities have a presence in Second Life (and other 3D virtual worlds).  Professors have been using 3D virtual worlds to complement their real-world classes – and in some cases, classes have moved entirely into a virtual world.  Universities who created 3D replicas of their campus (in Second Life, for example) could leverage the existing island(s) as a recruiting tool.  One could provide links from the student blogs, inviting high school students (who are so inclined) to enter the virtual campus for a real-time and interactive experience.

Recruitment activities you could facilitate in a 3D virtual world:

  1. Student-led virtual campus tour – the same exact concept as the real-world – prospective students meet the student guide at a designated place and time and the guide takes visitors (and their parents!) on a tour of the campus.  Of course, in a 3D virtual world, visitors would be required to download the client (if needed) and familiarize themselves with the user interface – they’d also need to teleport to the tour site and learn the basics of navigation / walking.  For colleges who built extensive campus replicas, however, the virtual tour gives prospective students a great feel for the real-world campus.  Later, prospective students can return at their own leisure to explore the campus at their own pace – and have random encounters with enrolled students or other prospective students.
  2. Student blogs -> 3D virtual dorm rooms – existing student bloggers can create “in-world content” to complement their blogs.  How about an in-world replica of your real-world dorm room?  It would come complete with in-world residents (you and your roomates), along with renderings of your wall posters, unwashed clothes (strewn across the floor), collection of beer cans, etc.  What better way to give a taste of campus life than taking prospective students into some 3D virtual dorms?

Virtual Event Platform

While the 3D virtual worlds facilitate outreach from enrolled students to prospective students, virtual event technologies could be leveraged by admissions and administration (of the university).  Instead of an immersive 3D environment, admissions and administration could utilize a 2.5D rendering of the campus in a virtual tradeshow fashion:

  1. University Departments as “booths” – Admissions, Administration, Law, Chemistry, Mathematics, etc. – each department could have a “booth” in the virtual environment, where they provide information on the department – and, representatives can staff the booth to greet and interact with prospective students via text or webcam chat.
  2. University Resource Center – a convenient one-stop-shop for all content placed in the department booths, allowing students to find the documents, web pages, videos, podcasts, etc. that interest them.
  3. Auditorium – allows your administration and departments to put a face and voice to your university – by way of live (or on-demand) video, podcasts, etc.  How about a monthly live videocast from your University president, provost or dean of admissions?  Prospective students would get a lot of value from that.
  4. “Lead” and engagement tracking – by requiring prospective students to provide a minimum amount of demographic information, you can use activity reports (provided by the virtual event platform) as a gauge of applicants’ interest level in your university.  This type of data may be quite relevant to the admissions department.

I don’t think that virtual worlds and virtual events will be adopted by all prospective students – there will still be quite a few who prefer the simplicity and low-overhead of browsing blogs.  That being said, those who are so inclined to participate virtually may signify the more “engaged” of the prospective student base – and next Fall, they’ll be the ones leading the virtual campus tour.

How To Create A Vibrant (And Virtual) Business Community

September 25, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Samuele Storari)

Source: flickr (User: Samuele Storari)

The virtual events industry got its start in replications of a physical trade show or conference – the very first virtual events were virtual tradeshows, whereby platform providers re-created the look and feel of a physical trade show within a web-based environment.  These sorts of virtual events continue to gain traction and I expect to see continued growth as additional corporations (and entire industries) enter the mix this year and into 2010.

Due to the flexible nature of virtual event platforms, however, we’re seeing parallel growth occurring via many other virtual applications that ride atop the same shared infrastructure and platform.  As I wrote in a blog posting titled “Virtual Events: Available In Many Flavors“, we’re seeing virtual job fairs, virtual sales kickoffs and virtual partner summits running on vendors’ virtual event platforms.

Another application/venue that’s gained traction in 2009 is the virtual business community.  Rather than a discrete and fixed event that occurs over a live date (or a series of live dates), the virtual business community is a 365 day/year service that users leverage for explicit business benefits.  In my opinion, the Intranet of 2001-2008 will be moving towards virtual business communities, powered by the same platforms that service virtual tradeshows.

For me, the concept of intranet does not inspire much excitement or enthusiasm.  I’ve used intranets to find information (specifications, pricing, a phone number, etc.), but have never yearned to log into the intranet while bringing up my morning email.  “It’s just there” was the mentality I used to have.  I believe that virtual event platforms can create a vibrant and virtual business community, significantly moving the intranet concept up the value chain.  In fact, the business community becomes a virtual office, tearing down physical walls (and cubicles) to turn a globally distributed workforce into a close-knit and collaborative team.

Here are key tactics in building a vibrant business community:

Get users to keep coming back

You want your user base to login to the business community each morning before they even fire up their email client.  In fact, a truly successful business community may support email-like communications within the platform, making users less dependent on email.  To get your users to return over and over, you need:

  1. Content – it needs to be timely, relevant and useful.  Business-critical content should be housed here – the type of information that users need to get their job done – pricing sheets, internal contact information, customer contact information, product documentation, competitive analysis, etc.  Don’t lose sight of the timely angle – have your executives post company updates/news and make them available via videocasts or video webcam.
  2. Network effect – a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here – but, you need to get a critical mass of engaged and sought-after employees interacting in the business community.  Once you have that critical mass, you’ll see the community grow, as the “draw” will be access to and interactions with key colleagues.  This is the same network effect that AOL Instant Messenger, Facebook and Twitter enjoyed – users sign up because their friends, family or colleagues were already there.
  3. Enable social and interactive tools – today’s intranet needs to be empowered with the capabilities of AIM, Skype, Twitter and Facebook.  This way, I not only find documents to download, but I interact with key people who have the answers I need.  If I’m a product manager and need an answer from a lead software developer, he might not answer my phone call or return my email right away, but if I connect with him via text or video chat, perhaps he will.  After all, I’m finding him in an (online) environment that he’s most comfortable operating in.

Enterprise-enable your Business Community

Today’s most successful social networking sites/services are used in a consumer setting (i.e. friends and family) – ask yourself what makes them successful and determine how those features can be adopted in a 100% (internal) business social network.  I could see parallels of the following services made available internally within the business community platform:

  1. flickr
  2. Yahoo Answers
  3. Skype
  4. Facebook
  5. Twitter
  6. StumbleUpon
  8. Google
  9. digg

The key, I believe, is not just to enable social tools for the sake of being social – it’s to enable social tools while simultaneously connecting those tools to your business applications and business processes.  Possible ideas:

  1. Integration with your HR / Human Capital Database – if you have a rich profile on each employee (birth date, interests, job function, etc.), expose shareable information within your social tools and auto-fill that information to make it convenient for all users.  So if I’m sending out an internal tweet, my user ID is hyperlinked to a rich profile that describes all shareable information about me and my job role.
  2. Integration with CRM Database – are users posting links to industry news and analysis?  How about doing a keyword search by company and matching those up to sales opportunities in your CRM database?  If an article was posted about Acme Corporation’s latest product launch, let Acme’s sales rep know, so that she can contact them about applicable services that you offer.
  3. Integration with ERP systems – perhaps a crazy idea, but what if you could tweet about your latest business trip and have the expense management system parse your (internal) tweet and auto-generate a row in your online expense report?

All told, the possibilities are endless and quite exciting.  I foresee the virtual business community (powered by a virtual event platform) to be a significant trend in the coming year.  I believe this to be the future of the intranet for 2010 and beyond.

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