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The X-Factor: How and Why Testimonials Work for School Marketing and PR

Microphone pointed at audience, asking for a testimonial

One month before my college graduation, I received a phone call from my school. They asked if I’d share my college experience with them on graduation day to include as part of their school marketing. As a mother of five, I was graduating alongside students who were in kindergarten when I began college. They told me our family pictures, interviews, and graduation video clips would be used for tv commercials, magazines, and their website. The unique opportunity was a bit intimidating, but I said yes. When family and friends started seeing us on tv and in magazines, they’d tell us. Our kids loved it. It was a great experience, and I think it was a great way to support my alma mater.   

Whether you are a private or public school, odds are you want to increase enrollment. Positive, uplifting, inspiring stories and testimonials are the “x-factor” for your school. An “x-factor” can be a noteworthy talent or quality, or it can be a variable in any given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome. There is powerful potential in content marketing for your school when you incorporate your school stories from the perspective of your students and their families; we’d like to help you learn to recognize that.

No doubt, student and school successes, large and small, occur every week on campus. You can spin your wheels talking about your school and what it has to offer your community, but it won’t be as powerful as a student or community member sharing their personal, positive experience involving your school. These experiences bring your school to the community, adding, in typical x-factor fashion, something nothing else can—meaningful connections. 

The following are three reasons you should let the stories from your community do your school marketing for you: 

1. Research supports the use of testimonials. 

The research is clear—these days, practically everyone reads reviews. Just think about it; when was the last time you read a review? In a fast-paced, easy-access, information world, we can jump online and find out about any business, product, or even school. Using positive experiences to strengthen your school brand just makes sense. 

Parents are doing their homework online before they visit your campus. What do they find?

It is clear parents and guardians are doing their homework online long before they visit your campus. What do they find? What information does the Internet give them? Do they find a welcoming and up-to-date school website? Do you have a presence on social media? What does your community say about your school? Are families happy in your school community? How much of the content out there on the Internet is coming from the school community versus the administration? How does your school rate on greatschools.org

Studies indicate that testimonials are incredibly effective. In business-related surveys, positive reviews about a product make 73% of consumers more likely to trust a local business. Reason tells us this also applies to school reviews. Consumers consistently trust one another over a company or school. This means that testimonials have a significant impact on the final decisions of where to send children to school. Testimonials are used in practically every customer decision, making them powerful x-factors for your school marketing.   

2. Testimonials are economical. 

School funding is always an adventure no matter where you live. Challenges to balance the budget are everywhere. Finding ways to market your school without breaking the bank means money can be used elsewhere where it is desperately needed. 

Testimonials take effort to gather, but as an x-factor, the potential is priceless! Testimonials are trusted endorsements for your school and even better—they’re free! My college gave me the chance to be what’s known in the marketing world as a “brand advocate.” I was a highly-satisfied customer, who passionately recommended my experiences at school, without receiving any payment. According to Zuberance, brand advocates are extremely influential; in fact, they are considered two to three times more influential and trusted than ads. Magnified by social media, brand advocates can collectively reach countless potential clients.

3. You need to talk about your school, but it’s better to let others do it for you.

There is an interesting balance between confidence and vanity. If you don’t share your school’s great successes and strengths, you’re missing out. But if you push too much of the we-are-awesome vibe, people may get the impression you’re trying too hard. However, exuberant reviews from fellow consumers simply doesn’t feel like an over-the-top sales job.

Parents are curious to hear what your students and their families have to say about your school. This type of feedback is extremely valuable. Prospective families are interested in hearing about experiences from their peers. Consider including their opinions and experiences along with the comments from you and your staff. 

Need more evidence that testimonials are great x-factors in efforts to market your school? Testimonials are a great way to demonstrate your positive, nurturing school climate using firsthand account endorsements for your teachers, your curriculum, and your leadership abilities. Trust is a large component of successful marketing. The common theme of a testimonial? “Let me tell you about my experience...” This feedback matters so much more than what we say about ourselves. 

Make submitting testimonials easy. 

Everyone is busy. Waiting for people to take time to leave a comment in a box may not be the most effective approach. Go to them! Find them in the moments when students and parents are considering their experiences at your school—while on your school website or at your school supporting their children at various events. In order to enlist your school’s biggest supporters, remember to respect their time by making the process simple. 

Here are some simple ways you and your staff can gather testimonials:

  • Personal Invitation: This may be the most daunting but perhaps the most effective. Approach individual students and families. Invite them to share their thoughts about specific aspects and experiences involving the school. It can be a quick two-to three-sentence paragraph or more. You could include their comments on your school website or in your school newsletter. You may even record these interviews; video clips on your school website are something to consider.
  • Parent Teacher Conferences: Collaborate with your teachers. Ask them for their help gathering positive comments. Consider providing forms at parent-teacher conferences where parents and students can share their thoughts about the school and their individual experiences. 
  • Front Desk Encounters: Ask the front office to have forms available for parents to complete, including a signature line permitting use of their comments on the website or in a brochure. My daughter’s orthodontist has a different question to answer each time we go in. Every entry gets put in drawing to win a prize. Consider asking for comments in a fresh way! Maybe one month, students could submit the name of someone who inspires them at school, or you could ask parents, “What is your favorite memory at our school?” or even, “Describe [your school name] in one to three words.”
  • School Website: While parents are on your school website, provide an attractive, fun way for them to share their thoughts. Consider including a feedback form on the website to collect parent, community member, or alumni testimonials. It could include the option to upload a photo to go with their testimonial, adding a personal touch and a sense of legitimacy. 
  • School Events: While families are on campus, during or following an event or program, invite them to share their thoughts about the experience. You could start with a simple greeting and conversation, then ask them in the moment or reach out at a later time with, “Thank you for entrusting your child to us for a large part of their education. I enjoyed talking to you about [topic of conversation]. I can tell you are passionate about [student’s name] involvement in [program we offer]. Would you and [student’s name] be willing to email me a few thoughts that we could share with the school community?” You could include their comments in an article about the event or program on the News page of your website.
  • Alumni Opportunities: Seek out testimonials from your alumni. It is inspiring and powerful to hear from your school’s former students who went on to accomplish their goals, crediting a teacher or the school with a role in their journey. 
  • PTA/PTO network: Ask the PTA/PTO to collect testimonials for use on your website. You can turn them into graphic elements and use them as part of the overall theme of the design. At School Webmasters, we do this for our clients, adding a professional touch to the website along with trust and credibility for the rest of your site content.
  • Gather Photos: Find unique ways to share pictures from your school community in the candid as well as the busy moments on campus. Faces smiling as they walk the school, students focusing on a group project at a table, enjoying the sociality of your school— these images promote your school brand and even without words give testimonials of their own. These images send messages like: 
  • "Students at our school have fun."
  • "This is a positive learning environment."
  • "We are interested in the well-being of every student."

Quick Tip: When sharing comments online, always factor in the option of including a photograph of the individuals involved. Testimonials can be one to two lines of their own words or longer. Perhaps longer testimonials could have an entire page of their own on your website. Your school’s super fans will be happy and honored to contribute their feedback about their experiences, especially if they sense the benefit and support they give, helping your school succeed. 

When my school reached out to me, I felt honored. I felt recognized as an individual for my place in the school community. Allow individuals at your school to be an x-factor by sharing their positive experiences. As you give them a platform, watch as this testimonial tool, in x-factor fashion, helps you market your school, strengthen your school brand, and allow opportunities for many to feel an increased unity within your school community. 

Public Relations for Schools