Chances are your marketing efforts include creating profiles across a variety of social media to interact with residents and prospects, but even if you haven’t, your property is increasingly susceptible to online reviews. Not only are there more channels than ever for online reviews, the number of people using those channels to publish their opinions is growing. These days nearly 30 percent of occasional online users (twice as many as in 2014) report leaving up to five online reviews every year.
So what do you do when you pull up a profile to see that a former resident has left a one-star review on Google, or get a notification that someone has left an extensive rant on Yelp? You may be tempted to shut it all down. Here at Entrata, we’ve actually had customers contact us asking for help deleting Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Yelp, and any other profile they can think of, hoping that if they don’t offer a place for people to talk, then nothing bad can be said.
We don’t recommend such a drastic course of action, and here’s why: online reviews are a powerful marketing tool, and highly influential. A recent survey revealed that 90% of the respondents said User Generated Content (UGC) influenced their online purchase, and over half of respondents found such content “extremely influential”. Compared with search engines, promotional emails, display ads, and mobile messaging, UGC (online reviews) has the highest rate of influence.
“Well of course,” you say, “Those negative reviews have the power to negatively influence my business. Why wouldn’t I want to get rid of them once and for all?” The truth is, this kind of thinking can do more harm than good for your business. Online reviews are an important component of our everyday purchase decisions not because of the content of any single review, but because of the patterns they disclose. A few 1-star reviews is perfectly okay –and even expected in the multifamily space– but a high percentage of detailed rants with similar complaints repeated across multiple reviewers is much more serious, especially if you fail to respond.
Google has compiled a list of best practices for business owners who want to effectively respond to online reviews. Following these steps can go a long way toward neutralizing a reader’s negative impressions of your property. Even if you’re not able to resolve the complaint addressed in the review (e.g., issues involving property location or the age or construction of the units, etc.) a demonstrated concern for residents welfare and willingness to engage will shine a light on your community’s responsiveness, creating a positive impact that balances out the negative.
Remember, the goal is not to please everyone and avoid bad reviews altogether…that’s not possible. Instead, the goal is to hear what customers are saying, engage with the online audience, and positively influence the patterns of discussion on review platforms. Users naturally perceive online reviews as a microcosm of what they might experience at the actual community. The way you interact with your residents online can build trust and make prospects feel more comfortable with signing a lease. Welcome to the world of Reputation Management.
Recently, our SEO team fielded an urgent request from a client to delete the property’s Facebook profile and deactivate all social media. Why? They had received a single one-star review on Facebook. That negative feedback was enough to convince them that their best solution was to sacrifice a six-year profile with a 3.4 star rating, hundreds of likes and a respectable reach built by consistent weekly posting. All of these metrics had been achieved organically, without post boosting or credit card injections for Facebook ads. Yet the property felt they had to abandon it all of this due to a single bad review.
This was not the first time we’ve received such a request, and so Entrata’s associate director of digital marketing consulting, Diogo Ordacowski, has developed a three-step action plan to help property managers retain perspective when they’re hit with a dreaded poor review.
Keep calm and breathe. Remember — deleting accounts doesn’t stop people from talking about your business online; it just makes it harder for you to participate in the discussion. A poor review is not the end of the world. You’ll get them and your competitors will get them; they’re a fact of life in the world today.
Collect the facts. Once your heart has stopped pounding, take a moment to conduct a brief investigation. Is this a common complaint? Is it valid? Has it already been addressed? Now is not the time to play the blame game. Your priority is setting positive patterns on review sites, not escalating a little online adversity to an internal firestorm. Rather than looking for someone to throw under the bus, focus on working collaboratively with your teams on your response strategy. Work together to identify changes and behaviors to preempt common complaints. Then invite positive online feedback after positive interactions. Some properties have their maintenance crews drop off a little card asking for a review after a successful service call. Others offer residents a direct link to a Google Review for the property and shorten the URL to facilitate the review. The key: Address valid concerns and make positive feedback easy.
Prepare a reply. Try to post a response within 24 hours. Keep things simple, neutral, and genuine. Readers can quickly sniff out an aggressive or insincere post. It may help to use a simple template; just be sure to address the actual concerns raised by the review. For example: “Thanks for your feedback [user name]. I’m sorry about your recent experience with [user complaint]. I’m happy to inform you that we’ve done [action addressing complaint] to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We’d love to get in touch with you to see how we can improve any other aspects of our community.”
These steps not only offer protection against the negative impacts of a poor review. You can actually create value for your property. Avoiding panic and responding positively will help you maintain activity on your social media accounts, identify and address the real resident issues, and repair relationships with unhappy residents. Most importantly, you’ll create a positive pattern on your reviews platform promoting a good impression of your business for future customers. This, and not the perfect five-star rating, is what customers are looking for. Go ahead! Embrace your vulnerability and interact with customers online. It’s worth it!