“Katie, have you tried that café on Main and Greenfield?”
“Oh yeah, my husband and I ate there last week. They have the best sandwiches and the cutest cupcakes. It’s owned by a family in the area, and the service was amazing!”
“Awesome! I’ve been wanting to try it; I think I’ll go this weekend.”
Can you imagine how that conversation would have gone if I had said, “Oh yeah, my husband and I ate there last week. It was nothing special; they have sandwiches and desserts. The service was awful, though. I wouldn’t recommend it.” The chances of my friend trying out that café would have plummeted.
According to the research*, 84% of consumers trust recommendations they receive from friends and family regarding product choices, which makes word-of-mouth the most trusted source of information. This doesn’t just apply to products or restaurants; it applies to your schools too.
Naturally occurring word-of-mouth, like what happened between me and my friend regarding the café, is not something you can force to take place. However, you can influence these kinds of interactions through “word-of-mouth marketing.” But before we talk about how you can influence word-of-mouth, let’s first talk about why people would talk about you and your school.
- Talking makes people feel connected as a group—especially when that group has something in common about which they love to talk. For example, a group of coworkers get together. What do they talk about? Work.
Students? They will talk about class.
Parents? Their kids.
Without a doubt, when a group gathers and your school is a connecting factor, people will be talking about you.
- Having something to contribute to a conversation makes us feel good. No one likes to be the odd-man-out in a conversation. Everyone likes to feel knowledgeable, included, and validated. It’s even typical in group conversations for someone to be thinking more of what they can add to the conversation than actively listening to what other people are saying.
If a group is talking about kids and school, be sure people will chime in about their kids and your school.
- Finally, people talk because they like you, and they like what you’re doing. When people are excited about something, they want to tell others about it. In fact, they will look for opportunities to talk and initiate conversations about things they love, positive experiences they’ve had, above-and-beyond service they’ve received, and organizations they believe in.
Take, for example, rock bands and their fans. Some fans just really like the music. Other fans go out of their way to support and promote bands they love. In fact, they often pay to do it through music, concerts, t-shirts, posters, etc. Either way, the fans talk about and share the band they love.
Keep in mind, on the other hand, the opposite is also true. People who have had a bad experience or feel passionately about their dislike for a company or product are keen to express their dissatisfaction. But let’s keep the talk positive, for this blog post anyway, and talk about how you can influence positive word-of-mouth experiences.
Here are four simple rules to follow to make your school the best loved “rock band” of all schools:
RULE #1: Make people happy.
The easiest way to influence word-of-mouth, and especially the tone in which that word-of-mouth takes place, is to simply make people happy.
I went to a rock concert once where, after the show, fans gathered outside by the band’s bus. When the band came out, rather than running on to their bus with a wave to the crowd, the band stopped and took time to talk to all the fans, pose for pictures, and sign autographs. The effort they made to make their fans feel valued and appreciated went above and beyond. Do the same for your customers.
Be friendly. Be thankful. Be available and easy to approach. This goes for both your physical presence and your online presence. Make it easy for people to reach you. Do your part to keep your customers informed. Include them in functions and decisions when possible. Build a sense of community around your school. Show them they are valued. Delight your customers. Yes, your focus is education, but remember—you are also in the customer service industry.
RULE #2: Earn the trust and respect of your key stakeholders (students, parents, and staff).
Make ethics a part of who you are and what you do. The best practices that earn the trust and respect of your key audiences are:
- Be honest. This is especially true in crisis situations. You want your school to have the reputation for being a school of integrity. Prove yourself through your actions.
- Be transparent. Make sure stakeholders have access to information about activities at the school in addition to public records and budget information. If your audience can’t find the information they are looking for, they’ll think you have something to hide; don’t have something to hide.
- Listen. It’s important to ask for and listen to feedback provided by students, parents, and staff members. Sometimes we focus so much on the messages we’re sending out, that we forget to listen to what others are saying. Listening and responding to feedback is a key factor in building trust and respect.
The best feature of this rule is that when you have the trust and respect of your stakeholders, they will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and provide support when needed.
RULE #3: Standout!
No one is going to talk about a run-of-the-mill school when there’s nothing special to talk about. Would anyone listen to a rock band if they sound like every other rock band on the market? Of course not! You have to find your own, unique sound! What makes your school special? Why should your school be the school of choice in the community? Give people something to talk about by keeping your website updated with current events. Highlight your programs, teachers, and staff. Be present on social media and engage your audiences.
RULE #4: Make it easy for people to talk about you.
Keep your mission and message short and memorable. Think about what you want people to say when they start talking, and work that message into your communication strategy. For example:
- ABC School is committed to keeping parents informed.
Parents will say, “I love ABC School! I always know what’s going on with my kids.”
- ABC School offers a friendly, caring environment.
“My kid loves going to ABC school—everyone there is so friendly!”
- ABC School offers specialized programs designed to enhance student learning.
“ABC school has special classes for my kids to help them learn better. We’ll never go anyplace else.”
A long, complicated message isn’t going to be repeated in word-of-mouth instances, and the majority of what gets said is going to be based on experience. Keep things positive and simple.
By understanding the reasons people talk and following these four simple rules to influence word-of-mouth marketing, you are well on your way to being the hot topic of conversation in your community. Remember—make ethics a part of who you are, and go the extra mile to make your stakeholders happy. Then start putting your message out there. If you need some assistance getting out your message, download our eBook “How Successful Schools Market Themselves.”
Finally, give people something positive to talk about, and the next time a group is talking about great schools, you can be sure they will be talking about you.
*Mixon, Imani. “40+ Word-of-Mouth Marketing Statistics That You Should Know. ” The Ambassador Blog. Ambassador, 30 Dec. 2015. Web.