Using Online Presence to Bring Patrons Back Safely and Successfully

online presence

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July 28, 2020 – the night before the Purdue University Recreation and Wellness’ (RecWell) long awaited reopening day, post COVID-19 closure. Excitement was in the air while we opened an email from our interim senior associate director of programs, Michelle Whipple, reminding us it had been 135 days, or 19 weeks and two days, since we had last been open to the campus community. While the physical building was closed, we never stopped creating experiences for Purdue students. We found through connecting on social media, launching a microsite for programming called Virtual RecWell, sending out weekly newsletters and creating a YouTube channel, our members were willing and excited to keep engaging with us. From March to July, we had 228,436 virtual engagements.

Once reopening plans were finalized, our team worked together to create a list of things people needed to know before returning to RecWell. What would the impact be on our users? How would we communicate every change that goes along with Purdue’s response to COVID-19? It all came down to our reopening communication plan and taking specific steps to show our users what was changing and what to expect.

It’s All in the Details

Together, we came up with an extensive reopening guidelines document turned into a webpage covering everything that would affect members. Things like hours, reservations, masks, what’s available and what’s not, how we are protecting the Purdue community, etc. We knew we needed a one-stop shop for all things reopening so we would have a quick point of reference for all staff and members. Our student life marketing team helped us create a page on our website called “Protect Purdue” that would house all information related to RecWell and our response to COVID-19.

Know Your Audience

We know our primary demographic is Gen Z students and research has shown the best mode of communication is video content, so we quickly collaborated with the Hall of Music production team on campus to create our Six Things to Know before Returning to RecWell video. Through sharing on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and on our website, we reached roughly 23,800 unique users with our video.

Get Campus Involved

Our partners in Student Life marketing and Purdue Marketing and Media offered support every step of the way. From getting professional photos of facility spaces, to writing press releases and sharing posts on social, etc. our campus partners were able to help us get the message across a large soundboard for what reopening would look like. We created a newsletter using a software supported by campus called Delivra to promote our reopening teaser video, which had roughly 600,000 views thanks to shares from our students and members.

Meet Your Members Where They Are

One thing our director, Mike Warren, believes as a core value is to meet students where they are. In this case and especially during this pandemic, they are all online and constantly checking social media. On Instagram, we used the question story feature right before reopening and were able to answer many student and member questions, which helped with the transition. We have received countless messages thanking us for reopening our facilities, such as, “RecWell is my favorite place on campus to destress.”

We’re so grateful for every tagged selfie, story and post. The squares on social media may be tiny, but they sure are mighty. As a bonus, Purdue archives will be sharing our reopening communication for years to come and this is a moment in history that will not be forgotten. My advice to everyone planning a reopening is to over communicate, encourage people to ask questions, do walkthroughs multiple times, and give yourself grace and room for error. We cannot wait to have our students back on campus and wish everyone the best of luck and a healthy semester.

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Jenny Strickland is the former interim senior assistant director for integrated communications, student development and fitness at Purdue University.

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