Finally! Research on Word of Mouth’s Impact


For every school, word of mouth (WOM) referrals consistently yield the best prospective students, more than any other source such as purchased lists or search engine referrals.

All admissions officers know this.  It’s not rocket science.

Students and alumni talk to their friends and family, who, by no freak accident, have similar tastes, preferences, propensity toward education and most importantly eagerness to listen to a trusted opinion.

So when Joe, class of ’11, says to Cousin Nancy, the high school junior, “You have to check out XYZ College. I loved it,” Nancy becomes a WOM referral worthy of attention — if only you could identify her as such!

Or when Isabelle posts on Facebook, “I just got into LMNOP University, my first choice,” her friends — and friends of friends — take notice.

But how do you justify investing in WOM when it is so difficult to track and its impact so difficult to measure?

New Research Sheds Some Light

According to new research by MarketShare, a marketing analytics firm, word of mouth (offline and online) plays a significant and measurable role in marketing and sales in the major industry categories — beverages, auto, investments, and brokerage — the firm analyzed.

MarketShare made two important discoveries:

  1. WOM amplifies the effectiveness of existing marketing efforts by up to 54%.
  2. WOM can drive nearly as much Internet search activity (a school’s largest source of inquiries) as traditional marketing activities when the marketing activities are also present. Interestingly, offline WOM drove more Internet search for a brand than did online WOM.

Now granted, MarketShare did not specifically test the education space. However, these results should not be dismissed! Education is not as unique as we often think!

Implications for Colleges and Universities

WOM is a critical force that ushers a prospect through the college selection path by amplifying existing communications (assuming they’re effective) from awareness to interest, to consideration, to an application, deposit and finally yield.

And your institution can act on this insight right now!

One relatively easy way a school can influence WOM online is by producing highly SHARABLE content.

It doesn’t have to be hugely burdensome. In fact, quick facts posted more frequently work because they’re easy to upload and share.

In a recent focus group, high school students told us that they want quick, easily digestible facts. No paragraphs of text.

For example, “At Colgate University, almost two-thirds of students participate in faculty-led off-campus study programs.” Post it. Get it out there. Look for facts that support your core positioning and start sharing.

To request an executive summary of their report, click here.

NOTE: EdwardsCo has no affiliation with MarketShare.

Posted on February 13, 2013 in Higher Education, Ideas and insights, Recruiting

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