A study published in 2012 found that 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. A similar study done in 2017 found that the number had jumped even higher: 84% of consumers now trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends. And 91% of consumers read online reviews!
Think about what that could mean for your online apartment marketing. Remember the last time you asked a friend for a restaurant recommendation? What'd you do with that information? Most likely, you followed it and went to wherever they suggested.
Now think about the online reviews that some communities have online and realize that four in every five prospects are going to take that bad review (provided it looks legitimate and isn't just someone obviously trolling) as seriously as you took your friend's recommendation.
What can be done to counter bad online apartment reviews?
Before answering the question directly, we should address the legal dimensions to this issue. On the one hand, the law protects consumers: If a business tries to penalize customers for bad reviews, they won't get very far.
That said, the law also protects businesses from fake reviews: Libelous online reviews can now be subject to legal action. Businesses that host online reviews are also taking legal steps to make sure their reviews are legitimate.
Now we're ready to address the question. If you think about reputation management before the internet, what you're really thinking about is just doing business the right way—offering a good product, charging reasonable prices, treating customers well, and so on. If you did those things, people would have good experiences and spread the word organically. So you built trust by simply having a good product and making customers happy.
But now that businesses can live a kind of second life on the web, they need a way of building trust remotely. This is because people can now discover your business online without having any personal experience with your community or hearing about it organically from a friend. So when you remove the personal, relational component to reputation management, how do you build trust? Answer: online reviews. If a business has strong online reviews, we tend to view it more favorably than if its reviews are poor.
That said, online reviews are not the only way you can build trust online. Does your website look professional? How nice are the photos? How about your marketing comments? Do they sound human or like something written to manipulate Google? (That won't work, by the way.) Are the comments written with correct grammar and spelling? Is the website easy to use? Does it load quickly? All of these things are ways that you deliver a good experience online and build your reputation in the same way you build it by providing a great experience to someone who actually visits your location.
Let's face it: Most communities will get bad reviews at one point or another. It's inevitable. A maintenance person calls in sick and something that normally gets fixed promptly takes a couple days to address. A property manager was stressed at the end of a long day during peak leasing season and was rude to a resident. It happens. Certainly, you don't want it to happen often, but it will happen.
The community that has an otherwise strong web presence is better positioned to handle those occasional bad reviews than a community with no presence or a bad web presence. A good website and professional content can in itself be the best rebuttal to a bad review. So don't skimp on your website, photography, or video.
Of course, getting good reviews is ideal. So now let's talk about what you can do to help with that.
How do you proactively get good online apartment reviews?
So the first thing we have to say on this question is "don't offer compensation for them." Google and Yelp will both get very cranky with you if you start doing that. In Yelp's case, they don't even want you to ask for reviews. Google, thankfully, isn't that strict.
First Tip: Ask the right people for reviews.
This can be a bit tricky, admittedly. Yelp doesn't want you asking for reviews at all, but since most communities aren't that reliant on Yelp this isn't really a big deal.
Hopefully your property manager has a good idea of who is happy amongst your residents. So assuming they do and you trust their judgment on that, you can ask those happy residents when you see them if they would mind writing a short review of the community on your Google My Business page.
This is simple, of course, but that's one of the funny things about this issue. In some ways it seems so difficult but in an important way it isn't—good reviews come from giving good service to your residents. If you're doing that, then you should have no shortage of people to ask for reviews.
Second Tip: Make it easy for people to write reviews.
Because Google cares so much about reviews, they make it pretty easy for users to write them. If your community's Google My Business is correctly set up, then this process is very simple.
First, Google your community's name. NOTE: If you have a more common name, you may need to search by name and location. Provided your business listing is correctly set up, you'll see a page that looks like this:
If you click the link indicated by the red box and arrow in the image above, it will pull up a pop-up listing that looks like this:
As you can see from the red markup above, there is a button to click in this pop-up menu that allows you to write your own review. So all you need to tell happy residents is google your community, click the reviews link, and write a review.
There is another option as well that may be even easier: If you scroll down a bit on the search result page, you'll see that further down in the listing is an option to write a review:
Here is the important thing about this option: When you click "Write a review" it pulls up another pop-up box where you can write the review. It also slightly modfies the URL in the search bar, though you probably won't be able to see it since the URL is so long. But if you copy and paste that URL into a new browser window, it will pull up the pop-up box allowing you to write a review.
So if you wanted to have an email template that you send to happy residents asking for a review, you can include a line in the email that says "click here to write a review," link that text to that URL, and when the resident clicks it will automatically take them to that pop-up box.
Third Tip: Have your apartment SEO work in order.
One key thing to keep in mind: If your community's presence on search engines is already poor or inconsistent, then you should correct that problem first. If your community's business listing is not showing up on the right side of the page, as in the example above, then you can't tell people to just search your name on Google to write a review.
What this means is that the work of marketing, SEO, and reputation management are all integrated. Good marketing and SEO work helps build a good reputation for you organically by simply giving people a good experience online and makes it easier for happy residents to leave positive reviews of your community on Google.
In the era of digital marketing, it is very hard to slice and dice this work into separate componenets that can be trusted to separate vendors. Successful online marketing is above all about having a coherent, all-in-one strategy. If your marketing vendors aren't thinking in these terms, then that is the first problem you need to address.