For higher education institutions, an online reputation can influence leads, enrollments, retention, as well as alumni relations.

As such, it’s important to actively manage your online reputation by implementing both a proactive and reactive reputation management strategy. Here’s how our Tampa digital marketing agency does it.

Address issues before – and as – they arrive: implementing a reactive reputation management strategy

First, let’s state the obvious: no school or university is immune to negative press or attention. With the advent of the internet, people are emboldened to air their grievances to the world, no matter how valid (or not) these complaints are.

It’s inevitable that your institution will come across issues or complaints that need to be addressed. That’s why it’s important to develop a response strategy which allows you to respond quickly as challenges arise.

Certain complaints and problems require specific responses, which is why the best strategies offer several standard responses.

Not sure where to start? Ask your admissions and alumni departments for guidance. You can be sure that they’ve heard a vast majority of the types of complaints and questions out there. Compile a list of the types of complaints your school typically fields, then craft a series of templated responses to these complaints. This response library will help you respond timely and appropriately, regardless of the negative press or attention your school receives.

Finding the “bad press”

Many complaints are made directly to your school – for example, an angry parent might call the admissions office. In this instance, it’s fairly easy to respond to the complainant.

However, that’s not always the case. Often times, your school’s reputation is tarnished somewhere across the digital landscape. And, even if you don’t find it yourself, you can be certain prospective students, alumni, and others will.

As part of your reactive reputation management strategy, you need to be able to monitor all mentions of your school. There are a number of applications out there to help you monitor mentions of your school, but a free – and rather effective – tool is Google Alerts:

School website reputation management

With Google Alerts, you can set up an alert to notify you of any mentions of specific key terms. When it comes to monitoring your school’s brand online reputation, make sure to add alerts for every single brand term associated with your school, including your mascot name, the names of schools within your university, and more.

You may want to add alerts for each of your professors as well.

Of course, with this many alerts, sifting through the mentions would be a job all on its own. To make it more manageable, you could spread some of this responsibility to each department head to monitor the branded terms specific to their field.

You should also monitor well-known ratings and reputation sites. Facebook and Google come to mind, as do Yelp, and more. Setting up Alerts on Google should notify you of mentions on any of these directories, but it’s best to monitor them individually as well … just in case.

Knowing when to respond, and when to ignore

Protecting the online reputation of your law firm or school means knowing when to respond to complaints, and when to let the complaint go.

You should respond when:

  • The mention is likely to receive a good amount of traffic (usually because the author or publication are influential)
  • The mention could impact someone’s perception of your school
  • You know you can provide a helpful answer to a question
  • The mention is positive

You should not respond, however, when:

  • The mention comes from a troll. Any response you provide will only result in further negative press.
  • There is an incredible amount of emotion behind the comment (meaning the comment is fueled with rage)
  • You fear a response might open up legal issues

Understanding when negative reviews speak the truth

There’ll certainly be times when negative reviews hold little weight – these mentions were made in anger.

However, there’ll be times when negative reviews expose a truth about your organization. This is particularly true if you find a series of negative comments that are all similar in scope.

For example, let’s say your school’s negative reviews tend to focus on poor experiences with your admissions staff. It’s possible that your admissions staff isn’t handling calls and visits in the way you expect, and these negative complaints help bring attention to the issue.

Negative reviews provide your team an opportunity to determine how best to improve existing processes and protocol.

Taking a proactive approach to your school’s reputation management

Within reason, you can’t control the reviews and mentions made by others. So long as you address complaints appropriately, and make changes as needed within your organization, you’re doing all you can to protect your school’s reputation.

However, another effective way to combat negative mentions is to develop a positive reputation; this is known as proactive online reputation management.

It’s a simple game of numbers: if you have 10x more positive reviews or mentions than negative ones, your prospective students are far more likely to see your school favorably.

One of your ongoing missions should be to create a large body of positive press and content that can – and will – outweigh negative mentions.

While other types of businesses often do this by soliciting reviews and ratings, that type of approach isn’t ideal for higher education institutions.

Rather, you should focus your efforts on promoting the accomplishments of your institution. Each department should be encouraged to promote the latest news and developments worth sharing:

  • Ground-breaking research
  • Published articles
  • Unique classroom lessons or projects
  • Student and faculty spotlights

Take a look at this Facebook post by UMass Amherst:

School social media marketing

Your overall higher education marketing strategy will be a key protector of your reputation. The more positive content you share on your website and across social media, the stronger your reputation will become.

But don’t just stop there. Encourage your departments to share their news with publications outside your school. Getting local and national press to mention your university not only increases your ability to dictate your own narrative, but it also helps boost your online ranking – each of these 3rd-party mentions tells Google that your school is well-respected.

The never-ending game of reputation management

Protecting the reputation of your school – and faculty – is never ending. There’s always an opportunity for you to right a wrong and promote your brand on your terms.

By implementing both a reactive –and proactive – approach to reputation management, you can do your part to protect the integrity of your school and control what prospective students, current students, and alumni come across online.