Originally published on Multifamily Insiders, Jan. 18, 2019
I’m often asked for tips and tricks on how to improve a community’s online reputation. Over the last year or so these requests have become more frequent, as companies are realizing a positive online presence can directly impact leasing and renewal decisions. I think it’s great we have an expanded awareness throughout our industry and I’m happy to offer any insight and support as needed.
“Reputation Management” is now a commonplace term within our industry, so much so that it is in jeopardy of becoming “white noise”; falling into the same lane as topics such as Fair Housing. While teams know it’s important, they also feel as though they’ve learned all there is to know. One Community Manager once told me “Unless something ground breaking happens, or it’s mandatory, I really don’t want to go to another reputation management class.”
Wow, harsh words, but I get it – I live and breathe this stuff daily so I’m not surprised that once standing room only crowds have dwindled to half-empty rooms. Such was the case a few months ago when I presented at a conference. My first question to the audience was “Okay, let’s be honest…how many of you drew the short stick?” While many chuckled, many more nodded.
For our industry, reputation management tends to center around percentages and ratings. Fixation over scores is a slippery slope because in reality, scores are low on the totem pole for renters. We surveyed visitors to ApartmentRatings, hoping to determine which components of a community’s page was most valuable. The results were surprising, and eye opening:
When we asked, “What is the minimum ‘would recommend’ score a community should have for you to consider renting?” the #1 most selected answer was “I don’t pay attention to the recommend score”. While the majority of respondents are not influenced by the recommend score, they are influenced by the actual reviews. 66% wanted to see at least 4 positive reviews in the last 6 months and 68% said they would not rent at a community with zero reviews. When it comes down to it, renters want to know what life is like at the community and a score can’t tell them that.
Scores aren’t the story…people are. The skillful Service Tech who managed to repair a heater for a family at 3 am in the morning, the resident surprised with a “welcome home” card signed by the entire team, the newlywed couple finding their perfect first home; every community is made up of hundreds of positive stories about apartment life.
Online ratings and reviews have evolved beyond the scores themselves, in fact, in a 2017 study conducted by Fan and Fuel, 73% of respondents said they valued the written review over the star rating. The resident story can’t be told with fluctuating percentages dependent upon stringent algorithms; the construction of which is often shrouded in mystery. Using a score to base the worthiness of any community or management company can create a barrier from seeing the broader picture. It’s not about how great a community looks on paper – it’s about how great a resident says the community is in real life, through their stories and experiences.
Throughout the week, I examine, dissect and analyze resident feedback in hopes of identifying the key detractors to resident satisfaction. What I’ve found to be true is due to the innumerable channels available to rate and review, along with little means to ensure the credibility of the source, a community cannot simply manage its reputation; it must protect its brand. A Deloitte study was able to determine a brand’s reputation makes up 25% of its market value. Which isn’t surprising considering that one of the first things a management company will do upon assuming ownership of a community is to change its name. The name change signals a new day; it also serves as a connection to the company’s brand, vision and culture.
Protecting your brand goes beyond reputation management, giving power back to the communities. It allows them to control the narrative; meaning they’re driving the car and not holding on for dear life in the passenger seat! Here are 5 ways communities can embrace brand protection to become more than a score:
1. Determine the detractors – listen for echoes. In reading online reviews, be on the lookout for repeated concerns. 51% of respondents to our 2018 ApartmentRatings Visitors Study admitted it was difficult to spot a fake review. Readers are relying on the “wisdom of the crowd”; if the general consensus points to issues such as “slow maintenance” or “noisy neighbors”, readers will pick up on it and infer if everyone is talking about the same thing it must be true.
2. Set the scene – reap what you sow. Plant seeds of positivity through consistent and extraordinary service. Residents who are over the moon happy and full of gratitude are fertile ground to tell their stories online. Great customer service is now a basic expectation. Teams have to be greater than great.
3. Empower the ecstatic – capitalize on satisfaction. As I mentioned, there are loads of positive stories ready to be told by residents. Those with a complaint need little to no help in finding a community’s and even management company’s social media profiles or review sites. 66% of residents in our 2017 Online Renter Study said they’d be willing to post a positive review. Sadly, of those residents, 82% had never been asked to do so. Providing a reason for soliciting the review may help to incite action. “Because you’re a 5-year resident…who better to talk about what it’s like to live here?”
4. Promote the positive – the new marketing window. Did you know out of the millions of unique visitors to ApartmentRatings in 2018, only 1.04% of them were there to write a review? Which means close to 99% of these visitors are actually readers! And not only are these visitors reading about life at a particular community, they’re making note of the responses, and lack thereof. Responding to reviews offers an enormous opportunity to demonstrate quality customer service. 70% of consumers according to Brightlocal in 2017 said their opinion of a company’s brand was positively changed after the company responded to a review. Responses offer a glimpse into how teams perform and treat their residents.
5. Connect the culture – better than advertised. Generous resources are allocated each year to the design, look and feel of websites and other marketing collateral in hopes of giving a community a unique voice to attract renters. Companies also invest time and money recruiting the right personnel; knowing s/he will serve as a brand ambassador with a direct influence on their bottom line and reputation.
Scores, ratings and rankings have had their moment in the spotlight, but we shouldn’t forget all of these are rooted in the resident experience. As a company, we recognize renters are now in search of stories that corroborate who and what a brand claims to be. Protecting a community and company’s brand presents a unique opportunity to move away from the reactive nature of reputation management. A satisfied resident acting as your “wing man” is invaluable as the stories told will make an indelible impact on readers for years to come.