Remember that teacher who used to revel in the power she had? Pass or fail. Stop or go. Control over your imminent future.

No one likes scrutiny. It makes you nervous. Especially when the balance of power is not in your favour.

The emerging use by government of websites that share performance data on publicly funded organisations represents both risk and opportunities. My School is a current example of an information portal that allows comparison of 10,000 Australian schools by pupil and financial performance. The Government’s recent release of the Living Longer Living Better Aged Care Reform Package 2012 includes a My Aged Care website (anticipated launch early next year) with a ratings system deployed in four to five years.

A poor score on these websites will have a material impact on an organisation’s reputation but it need not be the only source of information. You can limit the damage.

 

How do consumers research and access information about education or health services? The same way they find out about where to go for dinner or which hotel to stay in – online.

Online word-of-mouth (WOM) is now the second most influential form of recommendation (after good old fashioned face-to-face WOM).

The process: people conduct an online search for information and then also look for comments in forums, blogs or via personal social networks such as Facebook.

It’s the personal stories that greatly influence consumer decision-making, even if there aren’t that many to read. That shouldn’t be a surprise as advertisers have long known we post-rationalise purchases. That’s why a hand cream can be ‘proven’ even when the test involved 12 women in one afternoon (oh yes, I felt so much younger!)

If you are a school or health administrator, take heart; the government website is not the only source of information at the point of decision, and often not the most important. Certainly not more important than a neighbour who swears by a great personal experience.

The key to using the online space is to understand that it has flipped traditional ‘one-way’ marketing on its head. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs empower the individual, and enabling a collective voice when individuals share an interest. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the fundamental shift in the way we now communicate with one another; and has resulted in a consumer-driven marketplace where individuals gather together online, share opinions and seek referrals on the path to purchase.

Publicly visible opinions, referrals and ratings highlight the importance of being part of the conversation, directly or by empowering advocates in your organisation or community. You need to monitor what communities are saying online so that poor feedback can be addressed appropriately. Organisations can mitigate risk by building scenarios of potential crises and negative feedback situations and develop a process for dealing with them.

This will mean not only looking at innovative ways to use the online space, mobile devices and social media channels to deliver information about services and engage with target audiences better; but also having the forethought and business savvy to prepare for any negative backlash now.

So, what would an online strategy look like in this new era of public scrutiny?

  • a well crafted description on the government site (you have the luxury of this input!)
  • an effective website hosting regularly updated news (text, images and video) about your achievements
  • distribution of that news along channels and on social media platforms where your market (parents, seniors etc) gather and converse
  • ongoing monitoring to ensure you always have the opportunity to state your side of a story, if not on the government portal.

Consider the websites Getprice, Tripadvisor and Urbanspoon. Each compares products and services but sources a range of opinions. Despite the often angry reaction of businesses, the sites and the businesses continue to succeed, each realising they rely on one another for survival. The consumer doesn’t always go for the top recommendation or the lowest price. Why? Because we consider a range of factors in making our decisions.

As you have discovered, you control your future not the teacher.

Contact Amy. Ellis Jones’ new Online & Social Media Account Manager. She knows her stuff.