The stakes are higher than ever for academic institutions.

Schools are faced with scrutiny over the value of higher education. At the same time, they must keep up with the evolving needs of students while supplying qualified professionals for today’s workforce.

Through it all, brand reputation is one of the most critical components impacting a school’s success. Learn more about why this is such a crucial factor in higher education and get some expert advice on how you can strengthen your school’s brand reputation online.

What is brand reputation?

Brand reputation is the way an organization’s brand is perceived. This includes how the brand is viewed by customers, competitors, stakeholders and the market in general.

There are several factors that contribute to a brand’s reputation. It may be associated with customer service. It could be based off the quality of the goods or services provided. It could be influenced by the sales experience, or after-sales experiences. Brand reputation can be shaped both by in-person and digital interactions.

“Reputation is a reflection of every moving part of a college or university.”

“Reputation is a reflection of every moving part of a college or university,” explains Katie Willems, social media and brand engagement strategist at Collegis Education.

In the past, a school’s reputation was mostly enforced through in-person experiences, such as when a student visited a college campus or had a phone conversation with an admissions representative. But in today’s digital world, much of a brand’s reputation manifests online.

This introduces new obstacles and opportunities for schools. But it all starts with understanding the significance of your school’s brand reputation.

Why is your school’s brand reputation so important?

Social media platforms and online forums create countless opportunities for users to share the praise or critique of a brand. And once it’s shared, it has the potential to spread like wildfire. Depending on the nature of the message, this could have very positive or very negative implications for a university’s brand reputation.

But why does your brand reputation matter so much? There are a few reasons in particular:

1. The scrutinized state of higher education

You’re well aware that the climate of higher education is increasingly tumultuous. Prospective students, politicians and the media are all asking important questions.

“Speculation around the value of a college degree is at an all-time high,” says Hannah Burn, senior communications and brand engagement specialist at Collegis Education. “It’s critical for colleges and universities to protect and foster their brand reputation and root themselves in their missions to withstand the intense public scrutiny of today.”

“If you don’t tell your story, you risk someone else telling it for you.”

She goes on to emphasize the importance of higher ed institutions being proactive in telling their brand story and leading their own narrative. “If you don’t tell your story, you risk someone else telling it for you,” Burn cautions.

2. The increasing impact of purchasing power

Consumers have grown more empowered with their purchasing power. With higher education being one of the biggest investments an individual will make in their lifetime, brand reputation can have a significant impact on their college decision.

“Modern consumers are using their purchasing power to back the brands they believe in,” Burn explains. “They’re choosing to invest their money to support the mission and vision of the organizations they are aligning themselves with.”

We see it often with restaurants and retailers, but it absolutely affects higher ed institutions as well. For this reason, building and maintaining a positive brand reputation can play a huge role in attracting new students.

3. The desire for transparency

“Consumers today are demanding transparency from all their favorite brands, including the colleges and universities they are considering attending,” Burn says.

In fact, 86 percent of Americans believe transparency from businesses is more important than ever before, according to a 2018 study from Sprout Social. Being transparent about your school’s mission, tuition numbers and graduate outcomes helps build trust from prospective students. These aspects all play a role in your brand reputation.

The role of social media in brand reputation

As mentioned earlier, the online landscape – social media in particular – has drastically altered the composition of a brand’s reputation. And it’s not just about celebrity news and fashion trends – these platforms have started playing a major role in the college decision process.

“[Social media] is often the first place they go to learn more about an institution, and it is potentially their first interaction with the brand.”

“Social media is widely used as a research tool for today’s prospective students,” Willems explains. “It is often the first place they go to learn more about an institution, and it is potentially their first interaction with the brand.”

Social media is often the first encounter a prospective student has with a school, making it a critical tool in helping establish and uphold a strong brand reputation.

As the old adage goes, first impressions matter. And if another institution offers a more favorable brand reputation through their social presence, it could end up costing you potential students.

Additionally, social media can be considered an extension of a brand’s customer service processes. Institutions should be investing in these platforms as communication tools to build brand loyalty, maintain an engaging presence, and provide an inviting first impression for prospective students.

Expert tips for monitoring your school’s brand reputation

The impact of brand reputation is clear. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to control all of the variables that go into creating it. But there are ways you can help safeguard your school’s brand reputation.

It’s important to have processes in place to monitor and react to any mentions of your brand, both online and in the media. Consider the following advice from Willems and Burn.

Best practices for social monitoring

  1. Streamline accounts with strategic tools: For brands with multiple social media accounts, investing in a social media management tool – such as Meltwater or Hootsuite – can greatly increase efficiency and organization for social media specialists.
  2. Establish and maintain a consistent brand voice: Take cues from the tone of your audience as a benchmark and try to adapt your responses to connect with your followers. Just make sure you’re staying within the boundaries of your brand’s voice. Consistency is key.
  3. Be responsive and timely: Today’s users expect a response to questions posed on social media – and a quick one. Whether you’re resolving an issue (big or small), answering a question, or simply engaging with a student to foster loyalty, time is of the essence. A quick response time shows that you’re available and that you care.
  4. Establish authenticity: Transparency and honesty are key factors in building an authentic brand reputation. And don’t be afraid to be conversational – a more genuine dialogue can have positive effects on brand loyalty.
  5. Be calm and controlled in messaging: Unpleasant situations are inevitable on social media. When you encounter these scenarios, remember to listen to the feedback you’re receiving and always remain professional. Correct misinformation in a calm manner, and offer to take those conversations offline. This will allow you to better control the message.

Best practices for media monitoring

  1. Invest in a media monitoring tool: It’s imperative for colleges and universities to have a media monitoring tool, according to Burn. These platforms will capture all brand mentions across online, print and broadcast media. Just as critical are the resources dedicated to using the tool. It’s crucial to have personnel in place to actively use these tools, responding to, promoting and escalating brand mentions as needed.
  2. Listen to conversations near and far: You’d be wise to expand your monitoring efforts beyond the conversations that are directly mentioning your brand. It’s beneficial to also pay attention to conversations happening around the industry and with your competitors.
  3. Consider seasonality: It’s helpful to understand what the media landscape looks like at different times of the year in order to understand the best times to pitch stories that might help craft your brand reputation. For instance, the holiday season is typically noisier and much more difficult to cut through the media clutter.

Take control of your brand reputation

Your school’s brand reputation cannot be overlooked. It’s more important than ever to establish authenticity, transparency and brand loyalty in higher education.

Use these tactics to help keep tabs on what people are saying about your institution. And take advantage of every opportunity to share your brand story and build visibility for your school.

One tried-and-true tactic for increasing awareness and bolstering your brand reputation is by cultivating a lively blog. Find out how you can get more out of this platform in our article, “How to Transform Your College Blog into a Lead-Generating Tool.”