Page 14 - Independent Schools Magazine
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 ‘Word of mouth’ marketing
It’s common knowledge that parents value both academic achievement and reputation when it comes to selecting a new school for their child and that they are keen to converse via social media, debate over chat forums and share their views and opinions to others via many other digital channels. Traditionally, word of mouth discussions happened at the school gates or over the garden fence, people have always shared their views. However, the rise of digital communications means that independent schools can now be at the centre of a debate or conversation between any number of parents online and often without even being aware it is happening. As such, word of mouth marketing has arguably become one of the most powerful and effective digital marketing tools for schools today. A report by Fay Mingo...
According to research from AdWeek, 92% of consumers say they trust recommendations from other consumers over advertisements
or content coming directly from the brand itself, especially when those recommendations come from those they identify with, respect or admire.
You can’t stop
people from talking
Of course word of mouth means opening yourself up to an element of scrutiny because people will talk and voice their opinions whether good or bad and that can feel a little scary for schools at first. The fact is, you cannot stop people from talking, they will do it anyway so getting involved and helping
to steer discussions via your own content can be a very positive and empowering step.
Word of mouth comments are often deeply personal and linked to an individual’s own experience, yet their authenticity has the ability to drive impact because they are unbiased and not fuelled by commercial gain. As a nation the British public are often viewed as being a little more reserved in culture so when feedback is shared about a school, it is often deemed weighty and extremely influential.
Having strong and stable word
of mouth activity can benefit independent schools in many ways from driving retention of existing students, to boosting enquiries and referrals from other parents. Students, parents, teachers and bursars are all key influencers in helping to shape a school’s brand desirability and identity.
In the ongoing quest to boost admissions, develop healthy
and reputable waiting lists and continually build on brand and reputation, word of mouth marketing is becoming more and more important for schools today. Positive experiences encourage
people to share (just as negative experiences do) but they also encourage others to recommend and give praise whether that is face to face or via social media. People listen to other people that they can relate to, especially those that give unbiased advice.
Connecting on an
emotional level
Reputation is everything when it comes to selecting a school for your child and a school that holds strong academic results and a high reputational standing will be more desirable amongst parents. Word of mouth marketing is a great place to start and there are a number of steps that schools can take to get the wheels in motion. Facilitating open communication with parents is vital as is encouraging a two-way dialogue. Try to share information across channels that parents have opted to engage with, whether printed newsletter, email, social media etc. the user will always be more engaged if you respond via a channel they most interact with.
When selecting what information
to share externally, schools might include content such as Ofsted results, academic achievements, extra-curricular activities, fundraising events, scholarship news, school initiatives and more. Anything that will get parents talking about the school will help. Having a wider programme of content and activity implies that this is a ‘school that cares what others think’; it also helps the school to connect with parents on a more emotional level. Probably the most important part of inspiring word of mouth is that you have to give your audience reasons to talk about your school in a positive way.
Be mindful to strike
the right chord
Even though the news you share is positive from your perspective, with the best will in the world, today’s
digital landscape has ensured that you cannot control how other people react in response to that information nor can you control how a parent or member of the community speaks about the school. But you can be mindful of how
you articulate your communications and try to tailor it to your target audience so that it strikes the right chord on a more emotive level and beyond just communicating the raw facts. Don’t be afraid to inject some colour into your communications and let the personality and culture of the school shine through, because this is the kind of thing that encourages a more engaged response.
Communicating well with parents is vital for independent schools (and not just at the ‘expected’ times
such as school reports, sports events etc.). It is also becoming more important for independent schools to demonstrate their role in the wider community and how they link and collaborate with other schools in the area, local businesses, charities, members of the community and more. Sharing content related to local community involvement can also do wonders for boosting word of mouth marketing.
Creating an authentic voice
Creating a real and authentic voice matters. Anything that represents real life in school, raw ‘un-staged’ imagery – however, always be mindful of privacy regulations, along with the Data Protection Act and obtaining parental consent to ensure legitimate use of images. Giving prospective parents an insight into what life is like at your school on a daily basis will demonstrate transparency and create a strong driver for getting people to engage on a more meaningful level. As a marketing channel we know that video performs well and is the future, in fact 80% of internet content is expected to be video
by 2019 so schools that can share
insights via video will also generate a more engaging response from parents and influencers.
Building up your word of mouth marketing has to start somewhere, but there are a number of do’s and don’ts that are helpful to follow:
• Build a strong relationship with all key stakeholders including students, teachers, parents and local community and obtain an understanding of their needs and wants. Identify what is important to them and why, so that you can tailor your communications accordingly, for instance, what is important to a student may not be a priority for a teacher.
• Ask for feedback and identify your brand advocates e.g. through NPS (Net Promoter Score), ranking 0-10 how likely are you to recommend? Those who score 9-10 are deemed influential and the target audience that you want to encourage engagement with as these are the people who will be speaking about your school in a positive manner and going out of their way to shout about it. Think of the Jamie Oliver ‘pass it on’ scenario.
• Survey your audience – running surveys and polls related to the things that you want to change in school means that you engage with parents much earlier in the process and the insight gained will help shape future activity.
• Relevancy and focus – ensure your marketing communications are targeted and relevant to
the audience. A student may
like to receive updates through social media on sports fixture timetables, however his/her parents may like to receive updates via monthly emails. Make sure you give your audience
what they want and tap into the channels they are comfortable with as this encourages greater
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