Higher Education Marketing: Why Chatbots are the Future of Communication

Higher Education Marketing experts are projecting chatbots to be the future of communication between schools and potential students. For many universities, improving communication with students has been a key focus. As any applicant knows, the process of researching university programs can be a complicated one. Whether it’s speaking with various individuals and departments, browsing through program pages or finding out the right information for financial aid, the amount of research required to find the right university can be daunting. But what if, instead of having to spend hours researching, all of the information could be presented to you via instant messages?

With emerging chatbot technology, universities delivering information to potential students could be the future of how universities communicate and market to future students. To help explain this developing trend, below I’ll highlight what chatbots are, why they are projected to be the premier form of communication and how chatbots could provide more effective communication between universities and potential students.

What Are Chatbots?

If you’re active on Facebook, you probably have interacted with early forms of chatbots. For those that haven’t, here is a quick overview.

Chatbots are computer programs designed to provide a service to individuals that interact with it via instant messaging. Typically found in social platforms like Facebook or Slack, chatbots have been used to help with a variety of tasks, ranging from ordering pizza, getting a weather report and even offering therapy.

Communicating with chatbots is no different than messaging with humans. In fact, some have found that services provided by chatbots are often more effective and efficient. Because of this, chatbots are projected to have a major impact on the ways that humans communicate with businesses, universities and other service providers.

Why Chatbots?

Chatbots are a fairly simple concept and forms of communicating with robots have been around as long as 2001 with Smarterchild for MSN and AIM. So why is there sudden hype surrounding chatbots?

There are a number of reasons for this, yet the major factor is that messaging apps now have more active users than social media platforms, with messaging apps attracting just over 3,500 million users while social media barely passes over the 3,000 million users mark. What is most interesting about this increase is that users are not just using messaging apps to communicate with friends, they are also looking to connect with brands, share media and even shop.

Almost all higher education universities have social media accounts, yet few have utilized chatbots to connect with students. This means that chatbots provide higher education marketers with a major opportunity to get ahead of the competition.

How Chatbots Can Provide More Effective Communication Between Universities & Students

A recent Gallup study found that messaging is the preferred method of communication for the younger generations, with 68% of Millennials saying that digital messaging had been their primary source of communication. This shift towards texting has resulted in a major decrease in phone calls amongst the younger generation. In fact, many millennials consider phone calls invasive and uncomfortable, especially when they are speaking with someone unfamiliar.

For many higher education marketing departments, phone calls or emails are the primary source of contact with potential students. By using now antiquated forms of communication, universities are missing out on building quality relationships with potential students and developing insights on what younger generations are looking for in a school.

For instance, consider the ease of messaging back and forth with a chatbot whenever and wherever you choose compared with being stuck on the phone with someone you don’t know, asking you semi-personal questions regarding a major life decision. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable sharing accurate and insightful information when you had time to think and weren’t feeling pressured to answer right away?

Another benefit of chatbots that higher education marketers should consider is the relief of financial and organizational pressure. For example, Georgia State University implemented a chatbot strategy to improve communication with students. Having never tried chatbots before, the university was unsure of how quickly students would adapt to the new technology. Yet after only 4 months, 63% of students had used the chatbot platform on a regular basis, resulting in approximately 200,000 messages. Without chatbots, responding to questions would have required a full-time staff of an estimated 10 members. That’s an annual savings of at least $200,000.

With improved communication and the ability to offer schools major financial savings, chatbots may soon be the future of how universities communicate with students. Keep in mind that, as with most advancements, the most benefit will come from leveraging chatbots before they are standard communication protocol. For higher education marketers looking to improve communication and increase enrollment, testing and utilizing chatbots should be under strong consideration, with potential plans in place for upcoming recruitment drives.

Tyler Putz of Circa Interactive Tyler is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.