We’re starting a new monthly blog series highlighting schools that are doing great things in their app and on campus. For our first blog of the series, Modo Labs sat down with Erick Beck and Michael Green from Texas A&M to learn about their new mobile app, which just launched in April 2016.
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About Texas A&M
Texas A&M opened its doors in 1876 as the state’s first public institution of higher learning. Today, the school is a research-intensive flagship university dedicated to sending Aggie leaders out into the world prepared to take on the challenges of tomorrow.
College Station, Texas
64,000+ students on the main campus
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Modo Labs: Can you please introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about your role on campus and your involvement with mobile?
Erick Beck: I’m the Director of Web Development for Marketing and Communications, and therefore the manager for the webmasters office at the university. I manage 20-30 websites across campus, and apps are another project on that to-do list. I actually inherited app leadership from our previous Director of Marketing who had worked with another vendor – back when we were one of the first three universities in the country with a campus app. We decided make a change in app vendors, and that’s how we started working with Modo.
Michael Green: My title is Senior Graphic Designer but lately my role has been more of a brand experience manager, covering campus maps and signage, and the app has been a fun project under that umbrella.
Modo: Your new app just launched recently, what type of feedback are you getting so far?
Michael: The students just returned to campus last week. We introduced a Move-In module in the app, and it was very extremely well received by students, as well as the Residential Life staff.
Modo: Did you work with the Residential Life staff to create the Move-In portion of the app?
Erick: For Move-In Day we coordinated the content with the Res Life staff but Michael [Green] was the one who actually created the module.
Modo: What about other features are in the app? Do you work with other departments to coordinate app assembly or do they create modules on their own?
Erick: We serve as the central point of contact for the app. .As the app team, we have a lot of other projects on our plates, so we coordinate with other departments who are subject matter experts in their area and we work with them to assemble and add their module to the app. However, there are also some groups, such as the Library team, who have delegated admin privileges, and they go into the app admin and create and update their own modules.
Modo: Do you reach out to different departments around campus to determine modules for the app, or are they coming to you asking to be included?
Erick: It’s a combination. We have a strategic direction planned for the app, with ideas about what should go into it. So in that sense we’ll reach out. We’ve also had a lot of traction with the app since launch, and therefore are getting lots of requests from other departments to be included.
Modo: Who determines the strategic direction for the app?
Erick: We have a cross-campus governance team set up, so they could veto new ideas or inclusions in the app, but it tends to be an ad-hoc process.
Modo: How are you getting your app into the hands of students?
Michael: We are mostly pushing the app through various MarComm channels. For instance, right now we have nine large signs around campus promoting the app. Each sign features a giant screenshot of the app, and is placed in an area on campus associated with the screen shot. In front of the Library is a sign featuring the Library module in the app. Another creative promo that’s been done by the Social Team was through their highly watched SnapChat account. During Move-In they posted a SnapChat video story about the move-in portion of app which received 11,000 views!
Erick: In addition, various departments with a presence in the app aid in promoting it.
For example, the library promotes their portion and transportation advertises on shuttle buses.
One of our biggest partners has been the new student orientation conferences that took place over the summer. IT, Dining, and Campus Police all did a pitch for their portion of the app in front of the entire freshman class, so now they definitely know about it.
One other promotional channel is football season, which is getting started. People want to know “what time is the game” or “what channel can I watch it on.” We’re training them to use the app as a primary way of getting that info.
Modo: What are the most popular features in your app?
Erick: The most student usage, by far, is the bus routes, which includes schedules for both on and off campus routes. Maps are also super popular.
Michael: Analytics on the first day of class showed 27,000 hits to the map, which is accessible via web or the app. 90% of those hits were from the app.
Erick: A&M has three campuses across the street from one another and on the first day you used to see everyone walking around with their paper maps to find class. Now everyone is carrying their phone around and looking there for the map.
Modo: Are there any mobile or internet trends driving your current strategy or future plans?
Michael: Yes! I’ve been talking with our Admissions Team and Visitor Center about virtual reality and 360º photos and videos, and how we can incorporate videos that Admissions is making into the mobile app. In January we have plans to drop 360* views into our Campus Bird map in the app. There’s also an idea to send prospective students Google Cardboard viewers along with instructions to download our app. They could put the viewer on and put themselves right into the middle of campus for an immersive experience. In the future we’d like this experience to be front and center within the app.
Erick: It may sound like old news, but leveraging mobile websites is still important to us. There’s been a big push over the last 3-4 years for mobile-friendly websites across the university, but we’re a decentralized campus so it’s still not entirely there yet. However, we’ve taken a stance in our app that we’re only going to link to mobile-friendly sites. When it makes sense, we link the app to university web pages, so it’s critical that what we’re linking to is optimized for mobile.
Modo: What else is on your roadmap for the future?
Michael: I’m very excited about changes to our Personas, especially the possibility to give former students a way to stay connected with the university, with an easy way to share links to Giving, and other alumni-specific content. It keeps A&M top-of-mind for former students.
Erick: Many of our new module and Persona ideas have come from other schools. We got the idea for a Move-In module from your UMass webinar!
Michael: As a designer, I don’t know how to code, so I was nervous about making an app. But it has been easy to learn the Kurogo Admin interface, and pushing updates live without having to resubmit to the app stores has opened up a lot of possibilities for us—like creating the Move-In module that was only live for one week.
Erick: We’re also excited about Beacons. We’re not using them currently, but in the future we’re hoping to get more buy-in across campus.
Michael: Our link to the Bookstore from the app homepage has been great for our Business Development team to tell Barnes & Noble that they’re on there. Now the Mac Store on campus also wants to be in the app.
Erick: And this is why we created the governance committee!
Modo: And now, to end things on a personal note: what are your own favorite apps (besides A&M’s, of course)?
Michael: There are so many. I’m a marketer and designer so that definitely drives these picks:
- Starbucks: it’s a really interesting alternative to in store point-of-sale, and it’s a great example of using rewards to encourage app downloads.
- Reddit’s new app
- Google Maps: I love maps!
Erick: Google Drive: I can access info wherever I am whether it’s for work or personal. And an MP3 player for public domain audio books.
Modo: iOS, Android or Other?
Michael: I’m all Apple: watch, TV….
Erick: I’m all open source: Android, Google, Linux. So we’re basically a classic designer and developer.
Thanks very much to Erick and Michael for sharing their insights and experiences with us. Stay tuned for next month’s Mobile Leader.
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