“Word of Mouth” Impact on Schools by Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.
Ashton Gustafson, noted Realtor guru, argues that the impact of “word of mouth” advertising (i.e. what people say to other people about your company) is “the diesel to the engine of your business.” Research reported in The Edelman Trust Barometer backs that statement, as it reveals the following benefits and losses when people trust a company:
- 42% shared positive experiences online.
And the following when people distrust a company:
- 34% shared negative company experiences online.
Consider how this applies to the success of an independent school.
The financial survival of the vast majority of private schools is based on their enrollment numbers and subsequent tuition collections. For that same majority, their main and most significant form of advertising and public relations is the “word of mouth” publicity, which they receive from former and current school families.
School leaders need to understand that this form of advertising is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, and it is completely founded on trust. If that trust is damaged or low, the word of mouth “advertising” becomes negative and potentially destructive to the school’s enrollment numbers; and the only way to address negative word of mouth advertising is to focus on rebuilding trust.
Research has shown that attempts to invest in traditional forms of positive advertising (e.g. print advertising, web ads, broadcasting outlets, etc.) to counter negative word of mouth has very limited effect. It’s like the old illustration about gossip. Gossip is like a man who while flying an airplane at 10,000 feet opened a feather pillow and released its contents into the air, and then tried to get all the feathers back. It is a near impossible task.
However, trust can be restored – but it takes intentionality, time, and consistency.
Research also shows that a lack of trust is the biggest expense for schools. When trust is lacking between administrators and teachers, faculty and staff retention rates go down, school improvement initiatives do not move forward, and workplace morale is low. When trust is lacking between teachers/administrators and parents/students, engagement in learning is minimized and student achievement is negatively impacted.
However, when trust levels are high – schools excel in every area! Retention rates go up. Programs are financially efficient. Parent satisfaction is high and most importantly – student achievement levels out-perform those schools with low trust levels in every discipline (i.e. academics, athletics, and extracurricular). When schools are trusted then “word of mouth” is the diesel to the engine of your school!
©2016 Toby A. Travis
 Feng, J., and Papatla, P. (2011). Advertising: Stimulant or Suppressant of Online Word of Mouth? Journal of Interactive Marketing 25, 75-84.