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Higher Education Marketing

Telling Your School’s Story with Student Testimonials

Date posted: July 19, 2013

What is the purpose of your college or university’s website? A good website’s strategy is to develop and nurture relationships with a variety of stakeholders by communicating and supporting a strong, unified institutional image. In other words, it is all about effectively telling your school’s story. While many institutions have become adept at crafting punchy marketing taglines for their web content, the concept of effectively employing multiple narratives in fortifying a school’s story has been chronically under-utilized.

Testimonials can play a powerful role in enhancing integrated marketing communications, particularly for student recruitment content strategy and development, by providing refreshingly varied perspectives to the carefully articulated main message. The “micronarratives” of these alternative voices lend much needed credibility to your overall content that appeals to prospective students interested in the opinions of their peers.

Students inundated from a young age by pushy marketing tactics may be justifiably skeptical about the objectivity of your college’s claims and seek reassurance from others who have had to make the same decision that they are about to. Good testimonials validate key messaging by developing relevant personas that connect with candidates on a deep and personal level. When a prospect feels you are speaking directly to them, they feel understood and their sense of engagement with your higher ed institution will correspondingly increase.

Providing compelling evidence of positive student experiences is a proven method for conveying that all-important sense of authenticity, but putting your students’ voices to work for you isn’t as intuitive as it might seem. Last year we suggested some ways of integrating testimonials into your student recruitment strategy, and here are some tips for emerging best practices:

1. Develop written testimonials for skimmers

One approach is to have current students and recent alumni respond to a series of interview questions about what they like about your program, school and location, including an open-ended section to encourage unexpected insights that might not otherwise be revealed. Testimonials that focus on a student’s individual experience rather than general comments about an institution as a whole tend to be perceived as more credible to prospects. Use the students’ own words but feature only the most relevant and engaging content.

Testimonials can be presented in a consistent format throughout your website – including the home page, relevant program pages and a separate “testimonials” section that more completely presents the student’s story – in addition to active social media channels, email communications and print materials. Continuously strive to develop a bank of feedback condensed to its essential points. Write for skimmers, not readers, and include relevant details about the student, such as program, graduation year and perhaps home country. Pictures, typography, and tasteful colour contrast will make the content more readable and attractive.

Example: Columbia College features large student pictures with clear typography and design on a separate Testimonials page.

Columbia

Example: Brock University provides a summarizing subtitle with each testimonial to emphasize their key selling points.

Brock

Example: Concordia University features a series of student profiles in their Undergraduate Admissions section, with a photo, concise description, and a brief interview answering questions about choosing the school and program, favourite class, tips for new students and future plans.

Concordia

2. Embed videos throughout your site

Video continues to grow in importance in student marketing and is a top application for mobile users. Personal experiences from students and alumni might be better told in brief video vignettes. Since not everybody wants to watch videos, make sure there remain plenty of highly visible written testimonials. When determining the format your videos will take, think about the message you want viewers to take away about both the student experience and your overall brand image. Prospective students want to get a feel for the true experience so unscripted authenticity is essential. High production quality isn’t necessary but videos can be a good opportunity to show student projects and the campus while answering questions about why students chose your school. Keep them under two minutes for maximum impact and feel free to embed them strategically throughout your site.

Example: American College of Technology turns its testimonials into students’ success stories.

American College of Technology

3. Testimonials for international recruitment

Testimonials are particularly effective for international recruitment. Applying to college or university is a huge decision for any student but international recruitment signifies even more excitement and angst. It is a huge leap of faith! These applicants are unlikely to have a chance to visit your school before enrolling and need to know what it’s like to study there. Video and written testimonials are particularly important to answer common concerns and establish the trust that you are who you say you are.

Example: Algonquin College features this video testimonial of an international student in both English and Turkish, keeping it brief while showing a little of the campus and some of the student’s projects.

Algonquin

Remember to periodically update your testimonials and continuously challenge yourself to provide the most engaging user-friendly content possible.

How has your college or university’s website integrated student testimonials?

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    Cheers!