Let's say you're a property manager or marketing director for one of the oldest, most respected communities in your area. You've been around for ages, you have a generally excellent reputation, and business is basically going well.
If that's you, do you even need to worry about your online reputation or can your (offline) reputation alone sustain you?
A great offline reputation isn't enough.
One of the big challenges facing marketers today is that consumers do a tremendous amount of product and company research online. In the past, a lot of product research was done via asking friends and visiting a store for yourself. But these days we do a great deal of that research from home on a laptop or on the go with our phone.
According to one study, 82% of consumers do research online before making a purchase. That is a lot of people who are probably learning about you online before they start asking around about you and hearing about your great offline reputation. So in those situations, a great offline reputation may not help you because people may never actually hear about that if they are turned off by your online reputation.
You might wonder how much trust people put in online information, such as customer reviews. Surely people trust word-of-mouth references more than they trust online reviews from strangers, right?
Actually, no: Most consumers strongly trust the data they find online. One study found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations from friends.
A few things follow from these facts:
- First, a significant number of people will learn about your online reputation before they learn about your offline reputation.
- Second, people who are aware of your reputation via local recommendation or word of mouth may still stumble over a bad web presence due to the amount of authority we typically give to things like online reviews.
- Third, because online data is so easily accessed and generally trusted by consumers, fewer prospects may rely on word of mouth to find their next apartment than in the past.
Admittedly, some of the thinking here is speculative. But nothing here is implausible given all that we've said so far. And if these ideas are accurate, the lesson is simple: A good offline reputation is great, but is not sufficient to produce consistently excellent leasing results for your community.
What is "online reputation" anyway?
Before we get into defining the work you need to do in order to have a strong online reputation, let's talk about what that term means.
The most obvious example of an online reputation would be online reviews, of course. Getting positive online reviews isn't that complicated, although it isn't necessarily easy: Just ask.
If you have a resident who you know is happy, next time you see them in the office mention that you'd really appreciate it if they took five minutes to post a review of your community on Google. You can also do things like add a note on any paperwork you share with residents asking them for reviews.
One important note: Yelp does not allow companies to solicit reviews but Google has generally been OK with that as long as reviews are not compensated. Both Yelp and Google do not allow companies to compensate people for positive reviews.
That said, online reviews are not the sum total of your online reputation anymore than word-of-mouth references are the sum total of your offline reputation. There is something more basic than online reviews: your overall web presence.
Your web presence is going to tell prospects something about you in the same way that the condition of your property tells people about you. If the lawn is overgrown, you have a faded sign in the front of the property, and the units are not kept clean, that tells people something about your community.
Likewise, if your website is slow, doesn't have relevant information, and is difficult to use... well, that tells prospects something. Specifically it tells them that the community either doesn't care about their web presence or doesn't understand how to have a good web presence. Neither message is something you should be sending to a prospective resident.
So there are two main components to your online reputation:
- Your overall web presence—website quality, accessible information, etc.
- Online reviews
How do you build a strong online reputation to complement a good offline reputation?
The good news is that communities that are doing the things needed to have a strong offline reputation are probably well positioned to succeed online as well. If you have lots of positive word-of-mouth reviews from people in the community, then you simply need to start encouraging happy residents to also post those happy reviews online.
In addition to building a strong set of positive reviews, communities can do other things to boost their reputation online. As we said above, professional-looking websites and photos can go a long way, as can website design that makes things easy for the shopper.
Questions to Ask While Building Your Website
As you are building your apartment community website, ask yourself questions like:
- If a prospect sees this photo will they think that we're a community that is conscientious and takes pride in our work?
- If a prospect is looking for our phone number in order to call the leasing office, can they find it?
- If a prospect is trying to access our website, does the site load quickly so they can find what they need and get on with their day?
- Could a prospect use the site on mobile to do whatever they need to do?
- Is there anything in the copy or in the photos that would suggest we are not trustworthy or responsible? Inaccurate data? Lots of stains on the carpet in one of the photos?
- How easy is it to find basic information prospects need to know when making a purchasing decision, things like rent rate, pet policy, and basic amenity information?
A great offline reputation is obviously essential for your apartment community's long-term success as a business. However, because we do so many things online these days, that alone is probably not going to be sufficient. But as long as you approach online marketing with the same thoughtfullness that earned you a good offline reputation, you should do just fine!