It’s no secret that having an effective ambassador program can benefit your school, the parents and students involved, and your prospective families. And during a time when many families can’t make it to your campus, it’s important to find another avenue to help them build the connections typically made during a campus visit, tour, or open house.
We spoke with Brennan Stark, co-founder of PeerPal, to get his insight on the value of using an ambassador program at your school to help your families build deeper relationships and connections.
Meet Brennan Stark at Peer Pal
Brennan Stark is the co-founder of PeerPal, a company that helps connect your prospective families with current families. Over the past year, they’ve worked with over 150 independent schools to help them build platforms so that they can more effectively connect their community ambassadors with their prospective families during the admissions process.
What is an Ambassador Program & Why Are They So Valuable?
Q: What is an ambassador program?
Brennan: Ambassador programs are a way for schools to take their natural advocates, or natural promoters- the people who already are talking about your school and spreading positive word of mouth- and give them tools and processes that make them even more effective at sharing more about your school.
Q: Why are ambassador programs so important for schools?
Brennan: The number one reason they’re so important is that, for most schools, word of mouth is the number one way that new families at the top of the funnel find out and inquire about a school. As a marketing and communications professional, creating an ambassador program is an opportunity for you to leverage and acknowledge that word of mouth. It’s a tremendous marketing asset that can be a boon for your school.
The other reason they’re really effective is that your ambassadors are pros at authentically communicating the unique value proposition behind your school. They know it because they’ve lived it. When you’re thinking of lead nurturing, you’re thinking of yield. You’re thinking about how to get someone from an inquiry to an applicant. And how to get them from an applicant family to an enrolled family. Creating an ambassador program and ambassador network, and creating a way for those ambassadors to be effective voices and effective communicators can increase your conversion rates at every stage of the admission funnel.
Q: Who should ideally be involved in an ambassador program?
Brennan: There are roughly four groups that should be involved. Parent and student ambassadors (which are probably the most popular form of ambassador groups), faculty and staff ambassadors (which are essential for helping families get an inside look at your school when not on campus), and alumni.
Out of all of these groups, alumni ambassadors are often the most underutilized. But they can bring a lot of value to your program. They can speak to the outcomes they’ve had as a result of attending your school. And they can answer a question that a lot of prospective families have, which is “what’s in it for me?” Parents want to know where their son or daughter will end up four or five years down the line, and with alumni ambassadors on your team, you can show them.
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Ambassador Programs in a Virtual World
Q: How do you keep the momentum of your ambassador program going in a virtual world if you’re not allowed on campus?
Brennan: A lot of schools are rethinking what their ambassador program looks like in a virtual context. That’s a lot of what we do at PeerPal. We build platforms that help schools be more effective at building virtual ambassador programs.
The reason schools say “if we can just get someone on campus, we’ve got a good chance at closing them” is because being on campus provides more opportunities for prospective families to talk to members of your community. They can connect with faculty and staff, see the students in the classroom, and talk to other parents who are there. You need to think through how you can simulate that connection virtually and make sure ambassadors are still present in your communications.
Q: What are some specific ways schools can provide more opportunities for families to connect with ambassadors virtually?
Brennan: It could be things as simple as having panels on your zoom webinars, or open house events, that include ambassadors. It could be utilizing your ambassadors at other stages you traditionally haven’t used them at. A lot of the schools we work with have their post-tour or event follow-ups come from a parent or faculty ambassador instead of from the admissions office.
Think through any additional spots in the admissions process that you may have had an in-person connection in the past. Then try to incorporate your ambassadors at those points. Create more touchpoints for your prospective families and more opportunities for them to hear from someone who will authentically share their experience with your school. Even if it doesn’t move families to apply right away, it will subtly change their perception of your school so that when they get to that point and need to make the decision of whether to apply or enroll, there’s less friction.
Plus, when families are talking to your admission office, they can refer back to a conversation they had with your ambassadors. They don’t have to ask you what a specific experience is really like because they’ve already talked to two parents who told them firsthand. It makes your job as an admission professional easier- especially when running a virtual admissions process.
Q: How can schools reach you and learn more about Peer Pal or how to grow their ambassador program?
Brennan: You can email me. I’m Brennan@peerpalschools.com. I love talking with folks, whether you’re interested in working with PeerPal or not. You can also visit our website to find out more information about us.
Huge thanks to Brennan for taking the time to talk with us and share his insight on virtual ambassador programs. If you want to learn more about creating or running an impactful ambassador program at your private school, check out ch.7 of our Admissions Refresh Ebook.
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