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Beyond Word of Mouth

The best case for for school enrollment is a wait list fueled by word of mouth from parents and alumni. Creating that level of positive word of mouth takes time, and while it is a worthwhile goal, it can be hindered because of previous school history, staff changes, and even online reviews. Sometimes schools remain "best kept secrets" even though they are taking all the right steps for growth. 

Today's always-on digital parents rely more and more on what they discover online as they research and evaluate a school. If you lack a strong digital presence, it can actually work against any positive word of mouth that you hope to develop. If inertia has set in and you have slow growth or are in decline, then the best way to establish new momentum is to add a digital enrollment boost to your other efforts. A digital boost can help spur new word of mouth and move your enrollment growth above just a slow crawl.

Step 1: Start by evaluating your online reputation

Your reputation online has two primary elements:

  1. Can your prospective parents easily find you online,? If they can't find you, it is the same as having no reputation at all.
  2. What is the level of quality that people find when they discover you in an online search?

Even if you already have positive word of mouth, you still need a strong online presence because people who become interested will check your online listings to see if the impression they get from what they see matches what they heard from a friend. If they are searching for a school, it is important that they find you when they search and aren't diverted to another school's information because it is easier to find or more effectively presented. 

The search engines (like Google and Bing) determine which listings to display using a complex algorithm. The factors they rely upon center around which sites are the best fit for what searches are being typed. A number of key factors include location, the ratings, how the information lines up across a large number of locations, and reference sites are all factored to present what the search engine determines are the most valuable listings. You must address both the quality of what searchers find and its accuracy, as well as the technical search engine requirements which are more technical.

People trust online reviews almost as much as reviews from friends and family.

Run the free reputation check tool, and look for these things:

  1. Are you being listed in the top 3 for your name and other key words?
  2. Are you being found in a variety of reference sites?
  3. Are the star ratings 4 or greater?
  4. Is the information correct?
  5. Are there photos and other resources that make a good impression?

The enrollment booster provides a tool that allows you to improve your reputation in both getting found and building positive reviews as a part of the program.

What about the school website?

Since the school website is an important stop on the parent journey to enrollment, the experience that parents have on the website can accelerate or hinder their interest. Parents have been conditioned by their online experiences with streaming media, shopping, banking, and just about everything else to expect an easy to use, easy to navigate and effective website. If this is not what happens when a parent visits your website on a desktop, laptop or mobile device, then your website is working against you.

Don't allow your website to sink your enrollment marketing.  Here are some options:

  • An admissions micro-site is included in the enrollment booster. This means that you can direct people from your ads and audience building to highly effective website pages. Their first impression will be strong, and you don't have to wait for a full website redesign.
  • A launchpad website can be developed in about 30 days to dramatically improve the effectiveness of your website. Website development does not need to be a 6 month process full of pain. A launchpad website is about 8 pages and is highly effective way to present your school. 
  • Both Story Lab micro-sites and launchpad websites include a customer relationship management system (CRM) that allows you to nurture relationships. Story Lab websites include "smart content" that changes the content on pages based upon who is visiting the page. Parents that are interested in athletics see athletics information, and parents with preschoolers are greeted with early childhood information. Launchpad websites can then be expanded with additional pages, but the combination of the CRM and smart content mean that fewer pages are needed in total.


Step 2: Break free from what isn’t working

Facebook has become two completely different entities: 1) a social sharing platform that gathers individual data and restricts your reach to just 2%, and 2) a powerful advertising platform that is built from all of that data. Simply using the Boost feature in Facebook or only sharing posts won’t create new momentum; but it’s a great way to foster a healthy internal community. And, it's the most expensive way to use social ads. Local print advertising has lost much of its effectiveness and is very costly, while guerrilla marketing and personal outreach is only effective if done well and frequently. Some schools are still using just a single open house event, which is demonstrating less and less value for growing enrollment.

For some schools, what is working is really nothing at all - because they haven't been marketing.  

If you want to break out of the enrollment doldrums, you may have to let go of some legacy marketing approaches.

Step 3: Build an audience of interested parents

The alternative to slow growth through word of mouth is a data-driven, highly targeted set of ad campaigns that uses multiple digital ad types to help many more people to become aware of you, while identifying an audience of interested parents. This audience is your key to attracting more parents more quickly and to being able to afford the level of ads that are required.

The alternative to audience building is old school mass marketing. While you can target on most digital ads, you are still focusing on a group of people that haven't told you they are interested. When you advertise to them, it is essentially interruption - you know, like the ads that stop you from watching the free movie streaming channel.

Without a well-developed audience, you will be forced to pay the highest digital ad rates, and get the lowest percentage of return.

Step 4: Get Visit and Tour Ready

Getting your school ready for increased tours and visits means making multiple visit times available and giving parents clear opportunities to engage. Most schools have moved away from a single open house date, and instead, make multiple opportunities available for parents.

If the parents you want to reach have multiple school options, then making a visit easy to arrange and schedule is a big priority. Parents already have school and work obligations so convenience is important. For many schools this is a weekly or bi-weekly opportunity for small group tours. Some make personal tours available as well. 

Step 5: Launch Accelerated Visitor Marketing

With an audience developed, the key action that effective ads deliver is parents who are registered for visits, tours, or events. You know that when people visit your campus, experience the school and its community, they are the most likely to move toward enrollment. Accelerated visitor marketing reaches into the pool of interested parents to share the differentiators and opportunities your school provides.

Now use automation for personal follow-up

Parents expect communications that are personalized and tailored to their needs and interests. When you answering admissions or enrollment questions, that usually needs to be a personalized email. But during the follow-up process, automation can deliver the same kind of personalization, with much less effort. And, automation can allow you to answer the repeat questions in a way that still feels personal, but doesn't require that you rewrite the same emails about forms, and dates and payments over and over again.

Automation increases the personal touch with more parents

Every interested parent needs to experience a personal touch that engages them in the school community. Since each family has their own unique interests (sports, fine arts, science, character, and more) as well as communication preferences (social media, email, messaging, telephone, print), it can be very difficult to reach them all on their own terms.  But this is possible when you use marketing automation software that allows you to multiply the number of effective touches with each prospect. 

The enrollment booster includes access to marketing automation that will allow for personal follow-up.

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