Because of COVID-19, we are living through a bizarre, unexpected experience. The virus has moved incredibly rapidly, forcing schools, students, and administrators to quickly move solutions online. Moving operations online can cause a sense of loss for the university community. Our partners and colleagues are asking for help, and we are thankful to be in a unique position to offer support.
PeopleGrove is committed to our mission and stepping up in every way we can. That is why our product team shifted our roadmap work to prioritize new or enhanced product solutions that can help our partners today. We call this: Project Solidarity.
Jumping in feet first to understand how we can help
When we realized that COVID-19 was causing university closures, our hearts went out to our university partners. We got into overdrive in an effort to understand their needs. We created customer groups and jumped on calls where we discussed everyone’s different experiences related to COVID-19. We shared ideas and prioritized features that the PeopleGrove product team can build quickly.
There were common themes among many universities and colleges but the most universal concept that everyone agreed on was the immediate need to reinforce and mobilize online communities. “We are looking for anything to create more community online…people need authentic connections right now,” as Amie Hammond, Associate Director, Career Services at CalPoly expressed.
Here are a few more themes and priorities we captured:
- Take the isolation out of moving classes and community online
- Help students solve their many, urgent needs
- Give prospective students the ability to meet with potential ambassadors
- Test options for hosting, running, and measuring live events
Working with these larger themes, and the goal of joining in solidarity to help our partners, the product team put our heads together. We shifted all of our product development resources to build features that have the most impact for our partners right now. In just two weeks, this is what we built.
Feature #1: Virtual Events—Meeting virtually to maintain community continuity
When campuses shut down, students were abruptly removed from their day-to-day routines — forced to adjust to a new online reality. We wanted to make sure students still had access to both the community they left behind and their larger network of alumni who might be able to provide help and direction for them.
We acted quickly, and developed custom integration options with two market-leading online events solutions, providing two avenues for maintaining community in a time of social distancing.
We’re pleased to announce a new integration option with Zoom Webinars. This integration enhances the PeopleGrove Events module. Once integrated, event creators can set their event to be a Zoom webinar, at which point the webinar is immediately added to their pre-existing Zoom account. Registrations are expedited as users sign-up through the PeopleGrove system, and after the event, attendance tracking information is automatically integrated back into the PeopleGrove system for analysis and reporting.
We are also very excited about a new partnership and integration with Brazen, a leading provider of online live events. With this integration, partners can now simulate in-person speed networking events, group mentoring events, and open houses virtually online. As with the Zoom Webinars integration, by virtue of being integrated with PeopleGrove’s Events module, registration is significantly simplified and attendance tracking is fully automated. Even further, conversations that begin during a live Brazen event (which is a one-off engagement) can continue on in PeopleGrove (which is a platform for ongoing engagement).
Both of these integrations reflect our product development philosophy of being an enterprise platform. We build what we are best at and integrate with other best-in-class providers for the rest. You will see us continue to do this in the future, positioning PeopleGrove to be much more than a just point solution to the unique needs of only one or even two departments across campus. Even as we write this, exciting integrations with other core systems used by Enrollment and Advancement departments are currently being developed. More to come on this front later, but for today, we are very excited to be able to have provided these prompt solutions to address our partners’ immediate pressing needs for virtual events.
Feature #2: Helping Hands—Offering alumni the chance to support students in need
As a result of the quarantine, many students have been left without community, employment, and even housing as campuses close and in-person academics are postponed.
In response to survey requests, we have created a way to address those very real and individual needs. We call it Helping Hands.
With this new feature, students are empowered to raise their hands for help by expressing the difficulties they’re facing. Alumni will then find a queue of student requests, prioritized by students who haven’t yet received help. From there, alumni can reach out to offer support to students who most need it.
And we have made it very easy for this connection to occur. First, we add a solidarity banner across all pages, and send out emails to students which include a link to the page we have created for students to furnish information about what kind of help they need. Then, we provide similar messaging to alumni, encouraging them to reach out to the students in need. Connections start via this Helping Hands approach, and then live on in the standard inbox.
We are excited to offer a way for students to ask their connected community of eager-to-help alumni for help. We also empower alumni themselves to take the proactive steps to reach out to those they can help.
Feature #3: Student Financial Relief Fund
Advice and connections can help with relational needs. Sometimes what’s needed most is financial help. We want to help, and we know that many alumni do, too.
PeopleGrove administrators can now, build a customizable Giving Form right within their community platform to enable alumni giving. We integrated our Giving Form with Stripe, the secure online payment processor, and developed a powerful and easy-to-configure. Partners create a fund of their choosing (perhaps a COVID-19 relief fund, or a student financial aid fund), tie that to their Stripe account, and then turn on the Giving Form for alumni to see.
Developing such a form was not in our immediate roadmap plans, but the pandemic raised it to the forefront. In addition to the immediate relief this feature provides, further good news is that it will continue to live on as a useful aspect of our platform going forward. We are confident that our Giving Form evolution will support Advancement Office interests in cultivating donors.
Three Other Fast Product Improvements
One of the more vivid consequences of COVID-19 is restrictions on potential student on-campus visits. Campus visits are typically the most important and impactful experiences for students choosing a college.
Luckily, PeopleGrove has a Digital Ambassador Program that Enrollment offices are using to allow students to meet online with college campus ambassadors. While it’s existed for many months, this product is attracting a sharp increase in demand from many universities as a result of campus closures, and so in turn our team has prioritized several product enhancements designed to make it even better.
1) Active Status
Prospective students expect answers immediately. That’s what they would enjoy if they were actually on campus attending a campus visit day. By driving users to connect with others who are online right now we facilitate real-time connections reminiscent of those made on campus. A green status symbol now appears on each user’s card stating whether they are online now, have been on recently (within the last 48 hours), or are neither. Users who are currently online are also conveniently collected into a new section at the top of the community module.
Active Status can support:
- Prospective students looking for a quick answer about a university club, major, or living situation
- Students who want to recapture the feeling of a campus community
- Alumni who are adjusting to new challenges and want to reconnect with their community in similar situations
- Faculty who would like to make themselves available to their students as if with office hours
The benefits of having a live community are endless. By giving users a more immediate sense of community when they arrive at the platform, we hope to help folks make quick connections, not only during the pandemic, but beyond.
2) Warm Welcome
We recognize not every new community member is immediately ready to reach out proactively to make a connection. But, users typically expect to find value in a new app of any sort within the first few days of its use. So with Project Solidarity, PeopleGrove can be set to welcome knowledge-seekers (be those prospective students or current students) with a pre-prepared message from a like-minded knowledge-sharer within 48 hours of the time they sign up.
These like-minded pairings are made based on common characteristics, and achieved by PeopleGrove’s advanced matching algorithm. Admins set default greeting messages which send out to new users, and each individual knowledge-sharer can customize their personal message as desired. Now, users who are new to the system will be able to more easily get their questions answered and will be more likely to remain engaged on the platform.
3) Message Monitoring
Lastly, in direct response to requests made by partners using the Digital Ambassador Program product, we have created a simple way for those who manage a team of volunteer student ambassadors to ensure that messages sent by those volunteers are on-brand. In the user interactions backend, power admins can filter and find messages sent between users by predetermined keywords. With this tool, admins have an additional way of tracking the success and health of their program, in addition to the existing suite of analytics reporting already provided.
While developed with enrollment in mind, all three of these releases are available to all PeopleGrove partners.
Our work is not done
In closing, we share this quote from Amanda Sophinos, Technology and Data Optimization Director, at University of New Hampshire who said it best:
“We are working to identify ways students can connect…it’s a balance between addressing what needs to be addressed today, while also thinking about the future.”
To all of our current customers, we say, thank you for allowing us to offer support for you and your community right now. In the coming days and weeks, we will launch more Project Solidarity features and products for you, your students, and your alumni. Together, we will all get through this.
If you are a current PeopleGrove customer and want to enable any of these features, contact your PeopleGrove Strategic Partner Manager. And, if you have specific feature requests that will help you better support your community, please reach out today.