"A good reputation is more valuable than money."
- Publilius Syrus
Some true words there.
Your school’s reputation - no matter how much money you’ve got to toss around - can make or break your school...and your enrollment. And, much to many a marketer’s chagrin, there’s only so much you can do to curate a favorable reputation in your community. That’s because so much of a person’s, company’s, or school’s reputation rides not on what you say about yourself, but on what others are saying about you.
Journalist and author Chris Anderson has said that “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what Google says it is.” Your brand is what your school is all about. It’s who you are, and what you offer to families. And if your online reputation doesn’t match who you say you are, your school marketing efforts will largely fall flat.
One way you can proactively help to finesse your school’s reputation to help the world see what a positive difference you are making in families’ lives? Get satisfied parents to review your school online!
Here are three reasons why online reviews are crucial to private school enrollment marketing:
1. Major purchase decision influencer
The parents who are searching out education options in your area care deeply about personal reviews and references. They are likely to put more stock in what reviewers say over what you say about your school, no matter how snazzy your website verbiage is. Just like a personal recommendation from a friend (hello Word of Mouth Marketing) goes a long way in persuading a purchase decision, an online review is like a friend in the ear (or eye) of those parents scoping out schools. When they see those stars next to your school name, they automatically form an opinion - favorable or not - of who you are and whether you’re worth looking into any further.
2. Search engine result booster
Organizations that have lots of positive reviews are more likely to show up near the top of related google searches. Not only that, but your Google review aggregate star rating will show up right under your name in search results. Picture the screen of a prospective parent who just searched “best christian schools in XYZ County,” and the listing coinciding with your school’s map pinpoint shows 5 stars with 50+ reviews. Compared with the school across town with 3 stars and 2 reviews (or no reviews at all), yours looks a lot more promising, don’t you think? Anything that boosts your local search results
These stars and ratings show up on mobile searches, too, connecting you with more interested parents right where they are and piquing interest in what all the buzz is about regarding your school.
3. Stacking up to the competition
Many web searches for private schools in your area will direct searchers to review websites like greatschools.org and privateschoolreview.com, where visitors can see and compare several local schools in one place. It makes sense for Google to do this; after all, it’s a great way for the search engine to give viewers what they’re looking for: advice on what schools are like in their area. You - along with your competition - are there in the mix. If you have dozens of positive reviews on those sites, your school will not only show up, but it will show up in stars and lights.
So, as you think through your school marketing strategy for the 2018-2019 year, be sure you consider how you will pepper it with positive online reviews throughout the coming months. Want some tips on how to make that happen?
Here are 5 best practices for getting parents to leave online reviews:
1. Just ask!
Sure, this may sound obvious, but seriously, you won’t get many (good) reviews unless you ask! In fact, most people who go online to leave a review for a product completely unprompted are doing so because they are unsatisfied and want to let the world know with a poor review. It’s true that some disgruntled parents may occasionally drop an unfavorable review of your school online, and you can expect that. If you haven’t proactively gathered ample positive reviews to balance it out, you could have a tough PR challenge on your hands.
So, this summer, send an email to your parents asking them to leave a review. You can even start small - with your Word of Mouth Marketing team, or just a few dozen of your biggest “cheerleaders.” The point is, to gather online reviews, the first thing you need to do is ask!
2. Make it easy
In your email, give them links to popular sites where internet users tend to find reviews. Include:
- Google Maps
The links should take parents directly to your school’s page or listing on the site, where someone can leave a review.
In addition to the links, consider giving a bit of guidance on what they could say in the review. Ask them to think of the specific things they have appreciated about your school - the excellent faculty, challenging curriculum, Bible-centered approach, strong community - and call those out. If they have any specific stories of a good experience, this is a great place to share them!
3. Keep the ask simple
When CRM and inbound marketing leader Hubspot did a test to determine the best methods for gathering customer reviews, they sent their customer email “ask” in two different formats: one was a snazzy html design with catchy graphics (a typical “marketing” email) and the other was just a plain text note asking for a review with links.
Guess which one got more responses? Hubspot says: “Despite our best efforts at copywriting and design, nothing worked as well as a plain and simple email without cheesy copy or attractive design. It was the plain text email (left) without design or extravagant copy that won the hearts of our customers.”
Similarly, many of our schools have found that sometimes, just a simple, brief, plain-jane but sincere email can be more effective than an impeccably designed one. Maybe it’s because sometimes people just automatically “tune out” something that looks like a sell, or maybe it’s because a plain text email seems more personal.
The point is, don’t overthink or overproduce it. A genuine and simple ask is all it will probably take.
4. Offer a small incentive for those who leave a review
Now, we’re not telling you to bribe your parents for a review, but since they are doing your school a huge favor by submitting their review, rewarding them with a little treat would be greatly appreciated.
In the same Hubspot exercise mentioned above, they divided their customers into two groups - one group was offered a chance at a $10 Amazon gift voucher if they left a review, and the other was offered nothing (though the rest of the ask remained the same). The results were indisputable: the reward group’s response rate was an incredible 733% higher than the group that was not offered a reward.
Offering your parents something like a $5 Starbucks gift voucher (to every reviewer or perhaps just the first ten) or another small (but valuable) token of your appreciation is often just the boost that people need to take the time for such as task as leaving a review. Give parents a deadline (one week perhaps) so that it’s not forgotten or left hanging.
You may want to consider breaking up your email list and asking parents in waves (maybe once a month asking a new group) so that review sites don’t have a massive onslaught of reviews for a certain one-week period, followed by a 6 month drought. That can look suspicious to readers, who will probably catch on to the fact that you ran some sort of campaign to solicit reviews.
5. Use your school events
If you’ve got some highly attended, popular events coming up, consider setting up some iPads or laptops in an easily accessible place to encourage users to leave a review. Pick a specific site (like Google or Greatschools.org.) and put up a sign suggesting parents take a moment to leave a review. You can offer them a special reward (even just a school branded pen, mug, or again a $5 gift card) for anyone who leaves a review.
Your private school marketing can get a massive boost from your very own community of parents, who - whether they know it or not - comprise your greatest sales force. These parents want your school to thrive just as much as you do, so let them be a part of the process by telling the online world why you're the best school around!