In the recent InspiRED Private School Marcom Report, participants listed word-of-mouth and parent referrals as the top two most effective strategies for their school's enrollment marketing. Word-of-mouth and referrals beat out tactics like having a great school website, social media marketing, and even admissions tours as the best place for marketing teams to be investing their time and money.

In our experience, word-of-mouth and referrals are one of the most undervalued tools in your marketing toolkit — particularly if you're implementing a digital strategy (and, spoiler alert: we think you should be). That's because word-of-mouth is hard to measure and even harder to control. It happens at family barbecues, after-school playdates, and over coffee with friends. Within one conversation, your school could land themselves a brand new enrollment application, without you having to lift a finger.

However, there are steps that you can take to enhance and leverage word-of-mouth by incorporating it into your next digital strategy. Read on to find out how you do it!

Find out where your referrals are coming from

It's a simple thing to do, but many schools neglect this crucial step: when a new parent enters your enrollment pipeline, follow up and ask them, 'How did you hear about us?' You could even include it on the enrollments form on your school website.

By gathering and recording this data, you can collate analyze it, and then make crucial marketing decisions based on the results. If you are using a CRM like Digistorm Funnel to record lead information, 'lead source' is a field that you can use to track where all of your enrollment leads are coming from. We recommend you create processes that inform all users within your team to fill this field out when they are first interacting with a new lead. 

Once you have analyzed this data, you will hopefully be able to see trends, such as 'evangelists' within your community — certain families who love your school and recommend it far and wide, or contributors to online forums or community Facebook groups that might have sparked a discussion about your school. You can then send a thank you gift to them to acknowledge their efforts and encourage them to do it again.

Encourage user-generated content

User-generated content, or UCG, is any words, images, videos, or other media that is created by a member of your school and shared publicly. It can be a powerful form of social proof as it is usually unsolicited by your school and gives an honest (and hopefully positive) behind-the-scenes look at their own experience as a part of your community.

You can support your community UCG efforts by:

  • Sharing a short and memorable school hashtag that they can use when they post on social media
  • Creating unique activations that are primed for social media at school events
  • Running contests or giveaways that encourage families to share about your school.

Ask your community to write reviews

You might not believe it, but customer reviews (even from strangers!) are incredibly powerful. They can be the difference between a parent choosing to enroll their child in your school, and deciding to go elsewhere. As Kristen McCormick writes for Wordstream, "A few sentences in a review can have more influence on consumers than an entire website." Still not convinced? Recent research suggests that 84% of customers trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation! 

Unfortunately, asking for reviews can be awkward, and there is also a risk that you won't like what the family you're asking has to say before it's too late and the review is published. There are a few tips and tricks that can help you get the desired result while still maintaining a great relationship with your parents.

1. Link your review strategy to your customer satisfaction survey

If you are implementing a customer satisfaction survey, like the NPS, you have a golden opportunity to pre-vet parents' happiness with your school before you ask them to write you a review. This means, no more asking secretly disgruntled parents to tell you (and the world!) how they really feel, all over your social media or Google business listing. 

To do this, you will need to set up an automated email trigger when a client gives you a positive rating on the customer satisfaction survey that asks them to follow up their score with a public review. Simply set up the email and let it run and wait for the reviews to pour in!

2. Create a reviews strategy

There are likely strategic times that you can ask families for a review. One of the best times is when they go out of their way to express their appreciation for something that your school has done. By putting a reviews strategy in place, your team will know that it's a great idea to turn around and ask them to write a public testimonial.

3. Turn the negatives into positives

The more reviews you request, the more likely it is that you will receive unexpected negative feedback — no matter how hard you try to mitigate this experience! The best you can do is to be prepared for the inevitable and to have a clear idea of how your school should respond to negativity online. In many cases, if you handle the situation well, you will be able to turn the situation around and the reviewer will amend their poor review.

Wrapping up

In summary, word-of-mouth is such a powerful tool, it would be a shame if you were missing the opportunities to leverage it in your marketing strategy!

Published January 29 2021