Amy Downes explores the challenges of incentivising business school ambassadors and successful strategies to keep them engaging with prospects.
Student Ambassadors are the face and the heart of your brand. They communicate the real-life experience of what it’s like to study at your institution, provide a network for future students and create a sense of affinity with prospects.
So what motivates students to join an ambassador scheme? If you manage a scheme or have experience of working with student ambassadors, you’ll know there’s no simple answer to this question and you’ll recognise the following reasons.
More often than not, it’s a combination of the above, paired with a genuine passion for the student experience at your business school.
Finding ambassadors is the first (and arguably easiest) step in establishing an institutional ambassador scheme. There are enthusiastic students on every campus, lots of whom are looking for opportunities to build their skills and experience. The challenging part is working out how to reward your ambassadors and keep them engaged. This is particularly true at business schools, where ambassadors are postgraduates, and are working on a voluntary basis.
At Unibuddy, our mission is to make human connections between future students and current students, and we do this by taking ambassadors online, available to message directly and securely. As Student Engagement Manager for Unibuddy, I consider myself pretty lucky to work with institutions and ambassadors from around the world. When I meet with partners, we discuss many different aspects of ambassador recruitment and engagement, but there’s one topic that always comes up - ambassador incentivisation and remuneration. Specifically, how do other institutions and particularly business schools reward their Unibuddy ambassadors? And is there a ‘best’ way to get the highest levels of engagement?
When I was a student ambassador manager, I longed for a simple, clear-cut solution to this problem. It’s easy to assume that because ambassadors are passionate about their school, they will be naturally motivated and committed to their role. The reality, however, is that many will have other responsibilities outside of their studies, although like any employee, they benefit from encouragement and recognition in their work.
Institutions generally don’t have lots of spare cash and time in this area though - requiring them to be somewhat more creative in their approach. The key though is knowing what really motivates students - because once you understand this, it’s a great deal easier to keep them passionate and energised in their role.
I wish that I could provide a one-size-fits-all answer, but the truth is that ambassador schemes come in all shapes and sizes, and each operates within a unique set of circumstances. At Unibuddy, we’re acutely aware of these challenges and have experience of working with over 70 universities around the world.
Whilst we may not have a magic solution, we do have a good understanding of what works. Whatever the shape, size and budget, there’s a method to suit every ambassador scheme. Here are some of the most popular, tried and tested approaches to reward and incentivise:
Stipends provide a convenient alternative to an hourly rate and can be useful for departments operating on a lower budget. They generally equate to a set number of hours per semester or term, and are paid as a lump sum when this total is reached. Stipends are generally seen as a contribution, rather than a full salary, and are often combined with other incentives. For example, some institutions supplement stipend schemes with professional development opportunities, social events and prizes for excellent work.
Scholarship students are often keen to give back to their business school, and Unibuddy is a great way for them to do this. As part of their scholarship agreement, these ambassadors are expected to answer a reasonable number of questions each week, and to upload social content about their university experiences.
Voluntary schemes tend to attract students who are genuinely passionate about their institution and keen to give back. Recognition and praise are invaluable to these programmes. After all, these students have joined Unibuddy to support prospective applicants, and it can be gratifying to know that their work is making a difference. Producing a clear job description will ensure that voluntary students sign up for the right reasons, are fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, and encourage professionalism.
Gamification is one of the easiest ways to motivate Unibuddy ambassadors and it doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. Through your staff dashboard, you can individually track the time your ambassadors spend on Unibuddy, the number of blogs they post, how many conversations they are having and how fast they respond to prospects. Why not use this information to award monthly or termly prizes for excellent work? E.g. the best blogger, the fastest replier or the most engaged ambassador. These prizes don’t have to break the bank -- think restaurant vouchers, cinema tickets or chocolate -- but they are a fun, easy way to bring some friendly competition and increase engagement.
Our research shows that ambassadors are keen to monitor their progress on Unibuddy. They want to track how many conversations they are having, and how their fellow ambassadors are getting on. Badges and awards are an easy way to acknowledge good work and to celebrate certain ambassador milestones on Unibuddy, e.g. when an ambassador has published 10 social posts, or participated in 50 conversations, or sent 100 messages.
Ambassadors build tons of professional skills on Unibuddy that can enhance their graduate prospects and help them stand out from the crowd. Digital communication, research, writing, time management - all of these can strengthen job applications and help students build their personal brand. If delivered in the right way, professional workshops and talks can be of huge benefit to Unibuddy ambassadors and can keep them engaged with the platform.
With many postgraduate students being international, they’re not always aware of all the cultural opportunities available to them. Tickets to gigs, plays and events can have two major benefits: they can be used as a reward for good work on Unibuddy, whilst also providing great material for student blogs, vlogs and social posts.
Being visible and supportive can have a huge impact on Unibuddy ambassadors. It can be reassuring to know that their work is being recognised and that they are doing a good job. An easy way to do this is through termly catch-up sessions with all of your ambassadors together. These sessions don’t need to be formal, but they provide a nice opportunity for ambassadors to feedback on their experiences and to share ideas about their work on Unibuddy. Another benefit is that your ambassadors get to network with each other - something which can be very difficult to do on many courses. Catch-ups like this also give you an opportunity to highlight and praise good work, and give credit to hardworking ambassadors. Pizza and chocolate helps too….
Students love a party, and everyone deserves to let off steam at the end of a busy semester. Awards ceremonies and end of semester celebrations have long been a fixture of undergraduate life, so why not organise a Unibuddy awards ceremony with prizes and celebrations for your postgrads? An end of term social needn’t cost a fortune - think picnic in the park or afternoon tea in a lovely space on campus.
Throughout all of this though, it’s really important to communicate to your ambassadors just how valuable they are to you. Be honest with them - they play a pivotal role in your institution, and with that comes responsibility. Even if the position is voluntary, in my experience I’ve found that students embrace this sense of duty - they feel proud to be part of something that’s valued by their seniors and can make a difference.
When I worked in HE, the ambassador scheme we ran had a code of conduct that all ambassadors signed up to, and we communicated to them in a welcome and training session just what an impact they have on the business side of the institution as well as on the lives of others.
The result was a set of employees who felt a sense of purpose, and therefore a sense of belonging, as well as reinforcing pride in their institution. And let’s face it - as employees, isn’t that when we perform at our best too?
Unibuddy is working with over 70 institutions around the world with some impressive results - but don't just take our word for it. Have a look at www.unibuddy.com and find out what some of our partners say.
If you’d like to know more about Unibuddy’s peer-to-peer platform get in touch on email@example.com or book a demo.
Amy has worked in education for over 6 years, most recently as a Student Recruitment Officer at Queen Mary, University of London. There, she managed a team of 75 ambassadors for the institution. She joined Unibuddy as Student Engagement Officer in 2018, bringing her expertise to optimising student engagement on the platform.
Amy has a passion for women’s history and is a big fan of NYC - visiting the Big Apple whenever she can.
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