Robotics competitions are a great way for new young learners to discover STEM and for STEM enthusiasts to get deeper into their favourite discipline while having a lot of fun. But transferring robotics competitions to online formats isn't easy - and neither is getting teams to sign up for the new format. Participants don't just transfer from a physical competition to online. But WRO USA had a plan for recruiting teams for their online tournament. Read on to discover how they exceeded their goal.
Convincing existing teams
Back in spring WRO USA was in the middle of planning for local and national events, when the country was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and all physical events had to be canceled. But the national organizer wanted to make sure participants could still pursue their passion for robotics, and so WRO USA started the big project of organizing a national event online. Convincing existing teams to try the new online format was another challenge. There are several reasons why: many coaches and parents are focused on getting their lives back on track while the country recovers from the pandemic. Also, some of the younger kids don't like to do work in front of a camera. Existing teams were contacted through email and ongoing communication helped build on the relationships already in place. In the end, some of them were convinced to participate in the online competition which takes place on September 12th.
Reaching new teams on social media
Next approach was to use Facebook ads targeted fans to reach new teams. For target audience WRO USA chose people interested in robotics, STEM, and FLL participants. They also added a new group: home schoolers. This year WRO USA gained a lot of popularity from that community. They hadn't thought to approach them, but LEGO Education in the US gave them the idea. Facebook, who owns Instagram, suggested that Instagram was the best platform to reach the home schooler community, as it's popular with the mothers.
The ads were a great success and resulted in a return on investment of 400%.
As WRO USA is still a very young organization building their WRO community, the goal they set for themselves was 30 teams. Registration closed on August 31st, and 39 teams have signed up for the online invitational.
The National Invitational Tournament will take place September 12-13th.
1) If you run ads, run them for at least two weeks. Facebook machine learning needs this time to get to know your target audience. WRO USA put the ad up for more than two weeks, which gave better results and more engagement.
2) Be flexible. Because of social distancing, WRO USA had to change the rules so they fit the online format. One example: teams are usually 2-3 students, but for the online event, they allowed that one student represent the whole team.
3) Communicate with local hosts to get their support. For this online tournament in september, there is no prior qualifier event, any US citizen can participate. This means that local partners have no incentive to help out, talk to teams and promote the event. WRO USA had monthly meetings with them to discuss updates, gain their trust and ensure two-way communication. Basically let them understand, that even if they don't get an immediate benefit, it's a great way for them to stay close with local teams and set them up for success for the next season.