No one believes your brochures or billboards. Well, at least most people are somewhat skeptical.
Marketing materials will always be met with some level of suspicion from your target audience. Families exploring school options will peruse brochures, viewbooks, websites and social media channels looking for confirmation that your school is best for their child. Since they know YOU wrote the copy, their human inclination is to doubt it. It’s like the politicians who hire their own law firms to exonerate themselves from wrongdoing. The declaration may be true, but we need others to validate its authenticity.
The most underutilized and yet possibly the most powerful tool in marketing is the customer review. Whether we are buying a gadget on Amazon, dining at a new restaurant or staying at a hotel on vacation, we love to verify other people’s experiences before investing our own money. But schools are often weak in actively and intentionally obtaining reviews to showcase this powerful trust-building evidence. A 9×16 presentation folder filled with slick promotional sheets will never turn the heads of a jury of Moms. But the star witnesses we all pay attention to are those who have experienced your school first-hand.
There are 3 significant places to capture 5-star reviews from your proud school ambassadors:
- GreatSchools.org – a few years ago, the Today show reminded new home buyers that this site provides a wealth of information about area schools. Offering star ratings as well as text, parents can testify to their experience. Dads can write powerful testimonies that other Dads want to see. Moms most likely trust other Moms more than the Admissions director at your school.
- Google – update your school’s information page and direct some people to leave a review. Obviously being a major factor in local search, Google’s reviews hold a lot of weight for online investigators. Reviews from GreatSchools.org do get picked up here, but they are not as prominent (see “Reviews from around the web” at the bottom of the Google+ page).
- Facebook – there is an often overlooked area of Facebook where parents/students/alumni can recommend your school. They can leave comments and give a star rating. This is not my favorite place because it is not as visible but it remains a valid venue.
Here are 5 key realities in making reviews an effective part of your marketing strategy:
- BALANCE: Get a balanced number of reviews on each of the three sites listed above. Spread the evidence around so searching families can see these reviews in many different places.
- SOLICIT: You must be intentional about asking for reviews (from specific people at various grade levels). Do not ask for everyone to review your school at the same time (creates suspicion). Rather, make a systematic calendar and ask families/students/alumni to select the month they will write. As a rule, for every 10 people you ask to write a review, only 20% actually do it, so ask and have backup reviewers. Parents, students and alumni make up a large pool of voices from which to solicit great reviews. Do not hesitate to allow vendors, strategic community partners and feeder school administrators to also speak about your school’s strengths (maybe not so much on GreatSchools.org but certainly such validation is important on other sites, too).
- TROUBLESHOOT: While hard to hear, negative reviews do offer an authentic voice. Rather than obsess over responding to each bad review, “bury” the negatives with positives. It might take 3-5 positive reviews to undo a single negative one, so keep some of your reviewers “on call” when you need them to review in order to push down the naysayers. Counsel your reviewers not to attack the complainer but to project positively about their own experience. If a negative theme occurs multiple places, pay attention to the issue because it offers you legitimate client feedback you need to address.
- REUSE: in an ongoing effort, families should be seeing (and re-seeing) reviews from around the web on your website, inside printed materials, in email marketing messages to prospective families and repurposed on social media channels. Taking screenshots of reviews offers authentic evidence (for example, some families may never check GreatSchools’ site but the reviews there cannot be hidden from their sight). Share a snapshot of each and every review to your Facebook page. When you struggle with what to promote on social media, going to the testimonials of your “customers” is a sure-fire way to sharing evidence that builds trust.
- MULTI-SENSORY: while I discussed written reviews, certainly consider adding audio testimonials as mp3 files posted on SoundCloud and embedded on your Facebook page or website. In addition, video interviews alway provide a visual success story, but audio may expand your ability to get your parents to speak about your school in their own words. People seem to shy away from the camera because they don’t like the way they look. They are often less critical of the sound of their voice so capturing audio reviews opens up a world of possibilities.
Finally, when you have the opportunity, “coach” your reviewers to follow this classic testimonial formula (never write the script for them but suggest this outline):
- What was the great need/problem/pain/frustration/fear you were having BEFORE coming to our school?
- What action was taken? What did you do? Who/what impacted you the most at our school?
- What are the results now? Academic, emotional, spiritual, maturity, etc….
As you seek to showcase your school’s greatest strengths, promoting your school is never “easier” than when you get to share the words/experiences of your “customers” in their own words.