Skip To Main Content
How to Measure Your School’s Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Connor Gleason

What do parents, students, and the community say about your school, and how do you know?

Performance numbers and site data can help analyze a school’s marketing efforts, but another, more elusive metric keeps school administrators awake at night: reputation.

Word-of-mouth (WOM) stands as one of the most powerful forms of marketing for schools because reputation is everything. The public's sentiment about the quality of your teachers and academic programs, how your school handles diversity, bullying, or even what it teaches—it's all challenging to measure. There’s some irony, too—attaching an actual value to the most valuable form of marketing is tricky.

By combining multiple approaches, you can get a more comprehensive understanding of how word-of-mouth marketing is affecting your school and what the public is really saying (or not saying) behind your back.

Why is Word-of-Mouth Marketing Important?

Word-of-mouth is closely tied to the quality of the experience your schools provide, so naturally, striving for excellence is the best way to improve WOM marketing. And while "excellence" is subjective, it's represented in every interaction your school has online and in person, every day. (No pressure, right?)

Trust and Credibility

Unlike other forms of advertising, word-of-mouth recommendations from current or past students and parents come with a built-in layer of trust and credibility —something other marketing methods lack. Consider this: 88% of people said they trusted recommendations from people they know over all other forms of marketing.

Community Impact

When positive conversations about your school spread through the community, the benefits can go beyond increased enrollment. Partnerships, sponsorships, and general community support often follow, and that benefits the experience for students and staff.

Cost-Effectiveness and Longevity

Traditional advertising campaigns are costly and have a limited shelf life. But when happy parents, students, and alumni naturally become ambassadors for your school, the effects of positive WOM marketing are long-lasting (as long as you continue your efforts to sustain it!) Reports suggest WOM is 2-10x more effective than paid ads and earns 5x more sales than paid media impressions.

a frustrated woman with a laptop

Why is Measuring Word-of-Mouth so Difficult?

It’s Hard to Attribute

While you can measure visits and clicks on your website, conversations between parents at a soccer game or recommendations made at a family barbeque are much harder to quantify. Even when parents enroll their child based on a recommendation, they might not explicitly acknowledge it.

Time Lag

Choosing a school is a big decision, and the complexity makes it challenging to pinpoint the exact role of word-of-mouth. The impact of a recommendation may not be immediate, either. For example, a parent may hear people talking about a school and only consider it years later when their child can apply.


The definition of a "positive" or "negative" recommendation can be highly subjective: “It’s expensive, but totally worth it.” What’s considered “expensive,” and what is actually worth it?

SEO & Digital Advertising Fundamentals for Schools

How to Measure Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Net Promoter Score (NPS) for Schools

Send a survey to measure your school's net promoter score (NPS). It can be a helpful tool for gauging word-of-mouth marketing, although it's not a direct measure. NPS is based on a customer, or in this case, a parent's responses to just one question: "On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our school to a friend or colleague?”

You can gauge their word-of-mouth potential by grouping respondents into promoters, passives, and detractors.
Respondents are then categorized based on their score:

  • Promoters (9-10) are likely to contribute to positive word-of-mouth and may also be more likely to join volunteering opportunities or make donations.
  • Passives (7-8) represent an opportunity for improvement. While they're not actively harming your reputation, converting them to promoters can have a significant positive impact.
  • Detractors (0-6) may be a sign that issues need to be addressed, as they could be damaging your school's reputation through negative word-of-mouth.

Keep Reading: Net Promoter Score 101: What Your School Needs to Know about NPS

How to Calculate NPS:

calculate nps

High NPS scores can be a good indicator to invest more in referral programs or community-building efforts, but NPS is considered an indirect measure of word-of-mouth marketing. If you have many promoters, it implies that these customers are more likely to recommend your school to others.

Share of Voice (SOV)

Share of voice is essentially the percentage of all the conversations or mentions that are about your school compared to the total number of conversations or mentions about schools in your market. In other words (no pun intended), it measures brand awareness and how prominently your school is being discussed or mentioned relative to competitors.

Understanding your share of voice can provide details about your brand's health, reveal opportunities for growth, and even offer the first sign of potential problems to address. In the context of word-of-mouth marketing, this could look like:

Social Media Monitoring

You can calculate your school's share of voice on social media by using monitoring tools to track mentions of your school and compare that to mentions of other schools. Several tools exist, like Meltwater and SEMRush, but this gives you an idea of how much of the "conversation" is about your school.

Keep Reading: Social Listening for Schools

Online Reviews

Likewise, you can compare the quantity and quality of reviews your school gets to the total number of reviews for schools in your area or category.


Whether or not it’s an NPS survey or any surveys you distribute to parents, students, or alumni, you can ask how often they discuss your school compared to others or even ask which schools they consider to be your main competitors.

screenshot of an inquiry form

With a question on its inquiry form, Aspen Academy uses Finalsite’s enrollment management system to track how families learn about the school.

“A big part of it is seeing where families are coming from, especially in PreK and Kindergarten,” said Kate Shaw, Aspen Academy’s enrollment manager. “Strategically, we look at the ‘How did you hear about us?’ response every year to make sure we’re touching on new trends and schools we haven't heard of. We can pull in their pre-schools and then go out and start relationships with those schools to make sure that they know our program and refer their families to us.”

Local Media and Community Events

How often is your school mentioned in local media, and how does that compare to mentions of other schools? You can set up a Google Alert for free to help monitor when news media mention your school.

Application and Enrollment Rates

While this isn’t a direct measure of conversation, a significantly higher rate of applications or enrollments compared to other schools or your previous enrollment numbers could point to a more substantial share of voice. High retention rates often signal strong satisfaction levels, naturally creating positive recommendations.

Key Takeaway

Although it’s difficult to measure precisely, the importance of word-of-mouth marketing for schools is undeniable. Various methods like NPS, the share of voice, and comprehensive surveys can offer valuable insights, but at its core, excellence is the best marketing strategy because effective word-of-mouth marketing is built on the quality of education and community experience a school provides.

Digital marketing and consulting services for schools. Click here to request a consultation!

Connor Gleason Headshot


Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

Explore More Recent Blogs

Subscribe to the Finalsite Blog

Love what you're reading? Join the 10k school marketers who get the newest best practices delivered to their inbox each week.

Request a FREE
website report card

Want feedback on your school or district's site? Get a free website report card, generated by an in-house website expert, sent right to your inbox.