Part of our Summer Series: Jewish Early Childhood Marketing Tips
Shariee Calderone and Susan Remick Topek
After reading Tips #1-8 you are probably beginning to see that marketing your Jewish early childhood center isn’t all that different from any small business marketing themselves in a highly competitive very connected world.
- Like successful mom and pop shops you are realizing how important it is to be found on the map. and having an updated website that reflects your unique offering.
- Like competitive charter and private schools you want your website to reflect your unique offering and school culture.
- Like a successful salesmen you are empowering satisfied customers (parents) to pay-it-forward by spreading the word about your school whenever possible (even when they are saying good bye).
BUT, like any small business your school is also vulnerable to some occasional bad press. Like parents chatting in person – this negativity may end up online. A quip about your school hours, the outdated playground, or the somewhat unhealthy snacks provided once in a while. So what do you do? The short answer is: you need to respond. But first you need to know it’s happening, even if it’s only once in a while.
In our highly connected world parents turn to the internet to find new resources and recommendations. List servs and FB pages are two places you might find that your school or program gets mentioned by parents looking for information – and other parents willing to provide it! Random comments by parents may also happen happen via twitter and mommy blogging. Here’s an example of positive mommy blogging about a preschool. But don’t be alarmed by the bad press. According to Mark Harrell of MemberHub, “This is a good thing. If these people are discussing your program offline then you can’t listen to the feedback and you don’t get to join the conversation.” Being aware of conversations or postings taking place about you, your school, and your program is an important first step in managing your online reputation. In this case, you’ve got to be in to win it.
So how do you do that? There are several ways to hear chatter about your school:
- Look to see if your community has a FB group or page for residents. I live in the Eastport South Manor school district on Long Island and I’m part of a Facebook page called ESM Community. Everything gets discussed there from pot holes to lost puppies. See if your community has a page and join it if you can. If you are not local see if someone on your staff is or maybe this is a good way to get a current parent involved. Their role would be to share relevant news for you AND if they hear something say something – to you that is.
- The same goes for local parent listservs. Chatter about local daycare and preschools happens most often on these types of sites because they are specific to the needs and interest of parents. In NY you can take a look at nymetroparents.com/parentgroups . This publication lists groups by different regions and possibly your region will be included. But other areas do the same thing. I did a quick search in the DC area and I found DCtots which is maintained by a frustrated dad of a toddler. His list of parent listservs can be found here for another example: http://dctots.com/parent-groups-in-the-district/
- You can also set yourself up with Google Alerts. It’s a bit more technical but IT can be there when you can’t. You simply set up Google Alerts (which is free) to monitor certain keywords such as your school name and your name, and you will receive an e-mail any time they find those keywords in their search. Mark Harrell recommends adding keywords with every configuration of your school’s name that a parent might use. Google Alert will notify you when and where any content was placed on any social media platform. This approach can also help you keep track of your competition and topics relevant to your business and work.
Bad press is inevitable for any business. You can’t stop it but what you CAN do is respond politely. “Confess and be sincere”, says Smart Insights in their article How to Respond to Positive and Negative Online Conversations. “If someone complains about something and you know they are right i.e. something isn’t working as it should, or they have genuinely had bad service, then own up, apologize and offer some form of compensation if applicable.” This doesn’t mean you have to grovel but do take responsibility and show that you care about your families’ concerns. Be prompt and stay on topic. Offer an explanation and share if you know things are going to change. Here’s an example:
Parent Post: After three phone calls to my daughter’s preschool today I still couldn’t get in touch with the director. XYZ school just doesn’t get it.
Potential Response: I’m sorry your calls and concerns went unanswered. Looking back at our records I see that Ms. H was at an early childhood conference all day and there was a miscommunication on our end as to who was going to respond to parent questions. You’ll be happy to know that we have now put Ms P in charge whenever Ms H is unable to take a call.
In this example the respondent is professional, takes ownership and offers a very specific response. Having this kind of dialog live in the social media stratosphere isn’t all that bad. It shows that your school can communicate effectively even when things go wrong. Depending on the topic, type of comment and the situation you can also respond by asking for suggestions, share ideas that you and your staff may have been playing around with, or simply giving the reason the challenge may exist in the first place.
My daughter recently shared with me that she read a negative comment online about really poor signage for a particular business. The person trying to locate the business was frustrated and said so. The business owner got wind of the comment and responded by sharing that they were having difficulty working with the town obtaining the permits for their sign. Two weeks later the business posted a picture of a costumed character on the street holding a sign that said “ABC Business This Way” with a big arrow on it! Responses by lurkers to that post were numerable and completely favorable. In this case the business turned a negative comment into a positive by being prompt and using some humor. Here’s another example of how important it is to be IN these types of conversations if they are going to take place.
No one expects perfection. But they do expect to be listened to. In order for you to listen to your customers (your parents) you have to have a plan in action to manage your online reputation. Having a social media plan or policy in place will enable you (or someone who is designated) to communicate effectively and promptly. Even if you only hear something negative once in a blue moon, being responsive and providing updated information is all part of an overall strategy to market your Jewish early childhood program.
*We gratefully acknowledge the permission we’ve received by Matt Harrell, CEO & Co-founder of MemberHub, to reference Childcare Marketing Tips: 10 Must-Do Marketing Tips to Grow the Enrollment of Your Early Childhood Program (July 2012). The e-book was coauthored by Matt Harrell and Kris Murray, President and Founder of Child Care Marketing Solutions.