Students, especially adult learners, are more discerning than ever before. They won’t just take your word for it that your school is the right one for them. They’re chatting with friends, performing online searches, and looking at review sites. Much of this research is happening before students ever make contact with your school. If you have a poor or even just mediocre reputation online, you might be losing enrollments.
While you can’t control everything that’s said about you, you should know what’s out there. The only thing worse than having a poor reputation is not knowing it. A school reputation audit can help you see what people are saying about you online. Perform a reputation audit so you know where you stand and what you need to work on. Plus, you might unearth some good things about your school that can serve as new selling points for your marketing.
Where to get your data
To gain true insight into your school’s online reputation, you can’t rely on a single source for information. Instead your school reputation audit should look at a mix of website, social media, and search engine sources to paint a comprehensive picture of how your school measures up. Here are some places to start looking:
IPEDS – Start your school reputation audit on the official channels by looking at IPEDS data. You’re probably already well aware of IPEDS data for your school, but look at it with the eye of a student. How does your school compare to others that are similarly priced? How does it compare to others in the same region? With the same majors?
Ranking Sites – Dozens of college ranking sites aim to help students choose the right college by sharing information and reviews. Some of these are written by website staff, others by the students themselves. Consider usnews.com, niche.com, or unigo.com. You could spend days looking at reviews, but that’s not necessary. Instead, skim through the first few pages of reviews at each site and look for trends. How do students praise your school? What do they complain about?
Social Media – Students spend a lot of time on social media, which makes it a great place to learn about your online reputation. Reviews and comments on your school’s profile only tell part of the story. Search by hashtag and school name to see what students are saying about you off your profile. Don’t forget to search for any nicknames or abbreviations that students might use to talk about your school.
Google Search – A quick search can reveal a surprising amount of information about how the public thinks about your school. See what pops up when you search the name of your school. Then try coupling the name of your school with words like, review, worth it, or even “is _ a good school?”
Keyword Search – you might find some unexpected information by using a keyword search engine like Answer the Public. Type the name of your school in the search box and the grumpy man in the background will deliver results based on what students are searching for when they search for your school. Many of these queries will be neutral, but some may not be.
Remember, a single negative review is nothing to panic about, just as a single positive review is not cause for celebration. You’re looking for patterns here. What complaints come up again and again? What programs or services do students routinely praise? What words are they using to talk about your school?
What to do if you unearth something negative
If you find something negative or off-brand, you’ll want to take steps to minimize the damage. First, understand the reason for the negative. Is it inside your control? If it’s not in your control is there something you can do to mitigate it? For example, some reviews of a college in Maine talked about the cold weather and long winters. Obviously, you can’t control the weather, but you can publicize events and activities that make winter less uncomfortable for students.
You may also uncover some elements that are beyond the scope of marketing. For example, consistent complaints about the quality of dining hall food. These can be passed on to relevant departments. While they’re working on it, you may want to remove mentions of your college cuisine from marketing materials.
Ways to deal with negative feedback:
Move your focus away from this topic. Like the food example above, if it’s not the best feature of your school and you can’t change it right now, you might simply choose not to talk about it.
Present a solution. Like the weather example above, you can provide resources, tools, information or advice to solve the problem students are having.
Acknowledge a trade-off. In some cases a negative, like inadequate parking on campus, can be offset by a positive, like beautiful, well-maintained walking trails. Make sure that the trade-offs are clear for students.
Capitalize on the good stuff
When you learn what students like most about your school, you’ll know what to highlight in your marketing. Build marketing campaigns around those things that students routinely praise. If several sites mention your amazing student support services, create blogs, social media posts, and videos that support that message. That way, when students are researching your school, they’ll see that your marketing is backed up by positive reviews from real students.
Do it again
You don’t have to do an exhaustive audit of your school’s reputation every week, but regular check-ins will help you avoid surprises. Schedule a quick audit every semester, or at very least every year. The more you know, the better able you will be do successfully market to students.
After you have completed your audit and tailored your messaging to highlight the positive aspects of your school, it is time to get the word out and engage with prospective students. The digital marketing experts at EducationDynamics specialize in social media marketing campaigns that will boost your brand awareness, enhance your school’s reputation, and increase your enrollments. Speak with a member of our team to learn more.