As a school marketing consultant, I hear this all the time. “Our primary marketing tool is word of mouth.” Word of mouth marketing is the best (and cheapest) way to get the word out about your school. But unfortunately, most schools adopt a mindset of hoping that parents are saying good things about the school, and don’t structure an effective word of mouth marketing program. Word of mouth marketing, if done correctly does take some work, but if you implement these few easy steps, you will find that this tactic can be even more effective.
Step 1: Understand if your parents (customers) have a positive opinion of your school.
The use of customer satisfaction surveys is beginning to become more widespread in schools. If you are not currently using a customer satisfaction survey, I would encourage you to read this post about the benefits of surveys. One of the critical questions you should always ask in your survey is a Net Promoter Score® (NPS). The NPS score is becoming much more widely used by all types of brands and companies to understand if their customers are truly promoting their brand, or merely just satisfied.
An NPS score is pretty simple, the question is stated, “On a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being “not at all likely” and 10 being “I highly recommend”, how likely are you to recommend your school to a friend or colleague?”
When you are analyzing the results, group the respondents into 3 categories:
- Detractors – These are the people who scored you on a 1 – 6. They represent people who are less than satisfied with your school.
- Passives – These are the people who scored you on a 7 or 8. They generally are satisfied, but not to the point of being enthusiastic cheerleaders and promoters of your school.
- Promoters – The folks who respond with a 9 or 10 are your true promoters. These are the ones that are generally singing your praises to their network.
To arrive at your NPS score, subtract the percentage of the Detractors from the percentage of the Promoters and throw out the Passives. Unfortunately, this is still an emerging concept for schools so there are not a large number of benchmarks for K-12 schools. In my own work running these surveys for schools, I have seen anywhere from -10 to 50 percent. If you are straying into negative territory, that is cause for great alarm.
Your follow-up question should always then be open ended and ask, “Why did you choose that score?” Knowing that will allow you to focus on the key issues that are driving down satisfaction.
Step 2: Examine if parents are truly saying good things about you on online review sites
More and more, schools are being rated by online review sites. I don’t know if the “Yelping” of education is good or bad, but it is a trend that is playing out across the country. Many of these review sites such as Greatschools.org, Niche.com or even Google and Facebook, are becoming one of the first places people go when they are researching your school. A school needs to understand what people are saying online and actively communicate to all your stakeholders; parents, students, teachers, and community leaders the importance of having a positive review on the online review sites. According to a recent survey by Bright Local, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. And another study from Vendasta states that an online review must be within one month of posting for it to be relevant.
Of critical note is to ensure that your reviews on GreatSchool.org are strong. Great Schools provides content to many of the real estate sites like Zillow.com and Realtor.com. If you are trying to get people who are moving into the area, this is a critical place where you need strong reviews.
Step 3: Encourage parents to say the right things in all the right channels
It is not enough to merely hope that parents are talking about all the wonderful aspects of your school. You must tell them. Many parents only have visibility to what their child has experienced in their grade or in the grades before. Help parents understand the totality of the school experience. For example, if you are known for your robotics program and a parent doesn’t have a child in that program, are they really going to be able to highlight what is a key selling point? Some schools that I have worked with have distributed key talking points to parents to use when they are describing the school to friends or families. Not only does this drive consistency, but it also helps start conversations with your existing parent base about what the school is doing. Next, you want to encourage all your parents to regularly post online reviews. This is a free and easy way of getting a positive impression about the school out to prospective parents.
There many additional tactics that you can employ, but these three simple steps can make a big difference in improving your word of mouth marketing.
Nick LeRoy is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides marketing and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve your marketing, visit us at www.brightmindsmarketing.com, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 317-361-5255.