How we ran Welcome Week events


At the University of Edinburgh we call the week before lectures begin each year Welcome Week. It's designed as a time for new students to meet each other and get settled into university and often a new city. Most societies will run events to try and attract new students to join them and we (EaRS) were no different. After all, a society dies when no-one is interested any more.

I wanted to write down some of our experience running events during Welcome Week because it is different to running events any other time of the year and it may be useful to anyone who is new to running a society in future. If you are not running a society, hopefully it should be an interesting insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

We ran three separate events during Welcome Week 2018. There was a pub quiz, a workshop and an evening of board games. We attempted to make each event as inclusive to various skill levels as possible, because we wanted to attract first year undergraduates and the level of technical knowledge amongst new students varies wildly.

Choosing events to run

It's important to be as inclusive as possible during your first events as you want to encourage people to join whatever their experience level. For this reason, we chose to run two socials alongside our workshop, which everyone could turn up to and didn't reward technical knowledge to level the playing field. The workshop was aimed squarely at beginners as well. This is especially important for technical societies like ours, since we can often seem intimidating to beginners.

Mistake #1 - Wrong level of workshop

The workshop that we ran was aimed at complete programming beginners. We decided to do this since we weren't sure what skill level the freshers coming in would be at. Unfortunately we ended up attracting a lot of experienced people to the workshop and had to split it into two sessions at the same time; one for beginners and one for more advanced people. This made it harder to run the workshop as we could give less attention to each group.

Potential solutions

Advertising events

Our student union is the best place to advertise fresher's events in Edinburgh as they put a lot of money into printing booklets and directing students towards the places to find these events. Because we submitted late we didn't get to make full use of this, but we still got a few sign-ups from the online version of their events brochure.

Mistake #2 - Late submission to the student union

This mistake fell squarely on my shoulders. In April before the last academic year ended, our student union sent us an email with details on how to include our Welcome Week events in their advertising. I didn't pay enough attention to the email to see this and so we missed the deadline for submission by a few months.

Potential solutions

Despite this, the channel that gained us the most sign-ups to the events was without a doubt our Activities Fair, which is an event every year where societies gather in an expo format to advertise to new students. Since we scheduled all our events for after the fair, we were able to direct people to them at the fair and a lot of the people present at the events found out there.

Facebook was also a very useful tool for us due to the network effects. If one person is interested in our events, then there's a good chance that their friends are too, so it acts like improved word of mouth advertising. There's no need to spend money on it if you build your page using off-line methods.

We also used our mailing list from last year, but that generally produces quite low engagement rates.

Make sure to delegate

Having someone responsible for marketing and another person responsible for each individual event helps enormously. The year before, there were only 3 of us and the events wouldn't have run if we didn't draft some friends in. This year having 9 members on the committee in specific roles made things a whole lot easier.

We had great fun during Welcome Week, and despite the mistakes we made it was very successful for the society. The turn-out to events was great and we managed to increase our reach with mailing lists and Facebook dramatically!

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