People are talking about your college. Here's how you can influence what they say.

Students are talking about what it's like to go to your college, and it's in your best interest to join the conversation, writes Michele Kersten-Hart for Community College Daily.

According to Kersten-Hart, president of the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, student opinions are "one of the most influential forces at work." Student opinions can sway whether prospects attend your college and if current students stay, she explains.

When sharing their experiences on social media, students are more likely to post if the takeaway was a negative one, writes Kersten-Hart. According to Stella Services, a dissatisfying experience will be shared between 9 and 15 people.

But if used correctly, this chatter can actually improve your college's reputation, argues Kersten-Hart. The low-cost-tactic called "word-of-mouth-marketing" (WOMM) requires that colleges commit to giving students "an experience worth sharing," she notes.

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Students are most likely to share their college opinions if they have a particular experience that sparks an emotional reaction, like excitement or disappointment, or if they want to feel like they belong to the college family, she writes.

But it's not just students who are talking about your college. If you thoughtfully engage with "parents, community members, business partners, alumni, and employees," they, too, can be your greatest advertisers, she notes.

To engage these stakeholders and guide the conversation around positive college experiences, Kersten-Hart offers five tactics:

1. Ask a local partner to share your event on their social media channel

2. Invite students or alumni to share their college experience with high schoolers

3. Feature a community member on your college blog

4. Tap in a business owner to write a guest blog about their experience with your college

5. Share positive student testimonials on your social media channels

The final piece of the WOMM puzzle is training your faculty and staff to provide outstanding customer service to all stakeholders. If you consistently recognize employees for "going the extra mile for students," ask faculty to highlight student achievements, and provide customer service training, you can strengthen your college brand, she argues.

According to Kersten-Hart, WOMM "happens whether you like it or not," so participating in the conversation is key to cultivating a "college reputation worth talking about" (Kersten-Hart, Community College Daily, 8/7). 

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