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What reviews are you focusing on?

blurredYes, I’m still alive (although this blog has seen better days).  One of the challenges with blogging, or using social media in general, is that you have to actually do it.  Whether I’m doing a video or banging something out on the keyboard it does take some thought and effort.  With the number of topics I’ve chimed in over the years it sometimes can be difficult to come up with something original.  Maybe I just need to embrace the fact that every post isn’t going to be a spankin’ new topic, but I can just put a spin on something current.  We’ll see…maybe I’ll get going again. Anyway, one of the reasons I blog is because I’m inspired by someone else.  Vaynerchuck, Godin, Trosien, Alney, Whaling (just to name a few) inspire me on a regular basis.  Today I was inspired by Seth Godin’s post, Unreasonable clients. During the past few years I feel the topic of “Customer Reviews” has been an important one in the Multifamily space.  In general, I believe that customer satisfaction in our industry has become so much more important.  Lots of competition, new developments popping up around the corner, and a shadow market of homes for rent make service even more important. So what do we do about those customers that we just can’t make happy?  We all have them, and some of them have even left scathing reviews on ApartmentRatings.com.  Just three years ago I remember a conversation during an association event where companies were brainstorming on an idea ......
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ApartmentRatings.com: Critical for Marketing?

ApartmentRatingsChart1 resized 600There are many different opinions about the value of social media in multi-family housing. Readers of this blog should be pretty aware of mine. But the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that ratings sites are important. There’s a lot of debate about what to do with ratings sites, but everyone seems to agree there’s some “there” there. So I thought it would be a good idea to get a sense of exactly how important ratings sites are. The first step I took was to dig up some research I had done for a client back in February. In it I wanted to identify whether there was a clear “category killer” or whether multiple ratings sites were important. In an admittedly un-scientific way, I just looked at 10 communities in the Washington, DC market. Although this is a limited dataset, I think it makes it pretty clear that apartmentratings.com is the “category killer.” We can talk about Yelp, and we can opine whether Google+ will grow, but at least for right now, it’s clear that we really only have to focus on one rating site. So the next step was to dig into ApartmentRatings.com. Given that I don’t have access to their database, I had to limit my search to the amount of time and energy to manually collect data. So I collected 147 markets over a broad range—small vs large, core vs non-core, sub-market vs SMSA, etc. For this analysis, I focused entirely on counts and penetrations; the notion being that......
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Reputation Management – Taking Conversations Offline

If you search on ApartmentRatings.com enough, you will see several attempts to “take the conversation offline”, a strategy which was echoed at this year’s NMHC OpTech.  I can understand the desire to take a potentially uncomfortable conversation into private, as nobody wants to show their dirty laundry in public, but I want to throw out two reasons that potentially make this a bad idea, or at least presents challenges that you should understand: 1) Your dirty laundry is already in public. The moment that negative review gets posted on the site, it has become a public discussion.  So even if you are able to move the conversation offline, that will likely not remove the original post.  So from a prospect’s point of view, they saw an angry tirade, they saw the response to try to talk about it behind closed doors, but they didn’t see any resolution.  Even if you made things all great with the original person, that doesn’t mean you have rectified the situation with all the on-lookers.  It actually reminds me of when a couple who breaks up gets back together.  They may have resolved things between themselves, but all the friends and family who heard the horrible stories of the breakup have had no resolution themselves, so they continue to feel mistrust about the relationship. Not only do the prospects not often get closure with the dispute, but it oftentimes looks extremely shady in their point of view.  The original angry resident was more than transparent, but to the pros......
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How to Reduce Negative ApartmentRatings.Com Reviews

How to Reduce Negative ApartmentRatings.Com ReviewsNegative reviews on ApartmentRatings.Com, Yelp and Google Reviews can ruin more than just your ego. The last thing you want a prospective resident to see is the first line of a negative Google review when they click on your location on a Google Map. Especially when it’s something really awesome like: “DoN’t ReNt hErE!!!! It sUX.” Although you can’t do much about former residents who think they should receive their entire deposit back, even though their cat peed on every available surface in the apartment, you can make a difference for reasonable residents by simply giving them more information so they have healthy expectations about the resident experience and the move-out experience. I have found that the most common complaints on apartment ratings sites are issues that really boil down to a resident’s expectations. If you (or your leasing agents) take the time to train and educate your residents about how things work at your property when they sign the lease, it can change everything. Some key topics that need to be discussed during the move-in lease signing include: How your after-hours emergency maintenance reporting system works. How you will communicate with a resident in case of a building-wide (or unit-specific emergency.) How and where to submit maintenance requests and what kind of response to expect (phone call, maintenance man just shows up, etc.) How to submit a 30 day notice when they are ready to move out and what kind of confirmation they can expect in order to be certain their notice was pr......
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Driving Positive Reviews For Your Apartment Community

Driving Positive Reviews on ApartmentRatings.comWhat type of person is most likely going to seek out a review site to leave your apartment community a review?  An angry one, of course!  It’s not all Apartment Ratings fault, as you may think.  The way people use Apartment Ratings, versus a site like Yelp, is fundamentally different, which means that reviews often only come from those that take the time to go to the site and give their 2 cents.  And to make that much effort, that often means they are on one side of the emotional spectrum or the other. So I often look for proactive strategies to drive more residents who might be inclined to write a positive review.  To be clear, I do not advocate paying for reviews, faking reviews, or any other way of artificially skewing reviews.  Instead, I simply want to find the most passionate customers and make it easy for them to voice their thoughts.  And although it may surprise some of you, 62.5% of renters would post a positive comment about their community on ApartmentRatings.com if their community simply asked.  But only 8.8% of residents were asked to do so!*  And today, Amazon.com shared a strategy that could easily be adapted for that purpose.  After a call with customer service, I received the following email:   First of all, that was an incredibly effective way to get me to start giving feedback about my experience.  All it was asking me to do was simply click one link for yes or another l......
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Apartment Ratings, SatisFacts, and How This News Could Change the Multifamily Industry

For a long time, our industry has been in need of a reputational face lift.  From fighting the illusion of the “American Dream” to crime reporting that unfairly compares apartment living relative to single family housing, our industry has been constantly placed in a negative light relative to home ownership.  Adding to that reputational stigma was the always-frustrating Apartment Ratings that historically seemed more than content to let negative reviews flourish and fester, showing not just one community as a bad place to live, but casting a shadow over our entire industry in the process. For a long time, Apartment Ratings has been the dominant force when it comes to reviews of apartment communities, so when the site is overwhelmingly negative, it serves as a giant anti-marketing campaign for multifamily.  Essentially, the largest unbiased source of reviews is telling America that apartment living isn’t all that great.  Even if apartment prospects mentally adjust the reviews in anticipation of it being negatively biased, which I believe they do, it still affects their anticipated satisfaction level with apartment living as a whole.  No matter how much adjusting one does to account for the negative bias, an average score stuck on the south side of 50% harms the industry as a whole. But that was then, and this is now.  Apartment Ratings has recently made some very positive moves to engage with the industry and present a more balanced view within their ratings database.  Within that strategy, the parent company of Apartment Ratings, Internet......
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After 1.3 Million Pages of (Mostly) Negative Reviews, ApartmentsRatings.com Turns Over a New Leaf

If you haven’t made your rounds in the PR circuit the last couple weeks, you may have missed the announced partnership between ApartmentRatings.com [AR] and RentAdvisor [RA]. Unfortunately, the details surrounding the new found friendship are a bit lacking. Based on the [search result-dominating] press release issued by the pair, AR and RA are teaming up in an effort to improve our communities’ online image by soliciting positive online reviews from our residents. Their respective roles are succinctly outlined by Wade Hewitt, VP of ApartmentRatings.com: “Our new partnership with RentAdvisor works in conjunction with our Verified Resident Program and offers properties multiple solutions to solicit solid ratings and reviews, which in turn will be displayed on ApartmentRatings.com.” I was a bit taken back by how a single sentence could pack my mind with so many questions and red flags. Let’s start with the most obvious, shall we? Either the copy writer needs a copy writer or I just read a published work with the words “Verified Resident” and “ApartmentRatings.com” working together to complete a sentence. Can we be honest for a second? AR doesn't care about validity. It cares about exploiting free content. This is the site that takes any mixture of letters, numbers, and punctuation, as long as it means it can create another page to shove a dozen text ads into. I mean, can I get a little website with my AdSense? Geez. More on that in a bit. The second and, maybe most audacious of my observations surrounding this pitbull-in-a-chihuahua’s-body of a......
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Multifamily in transition: The future of the ILS

Multifamily's changeAsk Rent.com, Callsource, Lead Tracking Solutions, Vaultware, RentWiki, and MyNewPlace what the past year has been like. Mergers, acquisitions, and rebranding have been the theme. The top of the sales funnel has never seen such turmoil before. Change. It's a sign of evolution within the industry. RentWiki represents a good case study. Back in 2009, their mission was to try to get residents to engage with each other and share their experiences. It's a good concept. The problem? Residents and prospects aren't passionate about apartments. Apartments are boring. RentWiki has noticed the shift to ratings and reviews and are rebranding themselves as RentAdvisor soon. So what do people want then? When shopping around, they want to read comments from other people who have lived at a community. They want to hear their experiences, and get crucial decision making feedback. The evidence for this is compelling. According to the "Getting Inside the Head of the Online Renter" survey from 30 lines and Satisfacts conducted late in 2011, the #2 source used during an apartment search isn't Rent.com, your website, Craigslist, Apartments.com, MyNewPlace, or BSitko.com but word of mouth. Where does Facebook rank for sourcing? It's used only 1% of the time - that's down by the way from 2010. Even in that sweet 18-24 age bracket, Facebook is not a place people go to find an apartment. 79% of all respondents in the survey used an ILS to find information about an apartment, 13% used a social media networking site. The key......
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5 Multifamily Marketing/Tech Models in Trouble

5 Multifamily Marketing/Tech Models in TroubleLast week Blackberry/RIM and Best Buy were two businesses that went on a list of dying companies.  It's often hard to predict what the future holds, and we have a tendency to get tunnel vision when it comes to our own businesses.  It's unfortunate these companies have found themselves to be in dire straights, but for me I look at situations like this as an opportunity to reflect on my own business and industry. What may look like a solid model today, may not be tomorrow.  With that, I'd like to share my list of five multifamily marketing/tech models that may be in trouble. 1. The ILS - I've actually been known to say that the ILS is an absurd marketing idea.  While I may have been trying to generate some controversy with that statement nearly 3 years ago, it's interesting to think today I actually believe the ILS model is in trouble a bit.  At least the way the big players look today.  If you look at Apartments.com, ApartmentGuide.com, ForRent.com, Rent.com, Move.com, etc., you'll find their models really haven't changed much since they started.  However, the way people search online is changing.  We may see a few fall off over the next 5 years if they don't evolve in an aggressive way. 2. Pay Per Lease Marketing Model - As tracking becomes more sophisticated we're finding (and concluding) renters are using more than one source to find an apartment.  Is it fair to give all the credit to a single source and pay them a......
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A Resident's Expectations

By Steven Van Zile, Total Management, New York, NY Within the past 24 hours, here are the maintenance issues I’ve experienced at the property where I reside: the maintenance person, loyal to this building for 33 years, responds to a clogged toilet by advising us to pour bleach down the toilet. Concurrently, the intercom buzzer is stuck and won’t shut off. And, of course, the elevator renovation that started out as a one week project actually turned into a three week project, providing 6th floor tenants the opportunity to save money by cancelling their gym memberships. It’s always seemed simple to me; as residents, we pay rent, maintenance fees, or mortgage payments and the property management staff provide services for the resident. Building and trust owners hire those property managers based on their abilities to keep churn rates low, vacancy at zero, and tenants happy all at or below a budget designed to re-invest in the property. So what happens when we tenants aren’t happy? Well, in today’s age of instant knowledge and access, a lot of renters turn to rating sites like Yelp or apartmentratings.com to spitefully pen scathing reviews in an attempt warn others. These sites might be seen as a threat, but if you’re really good at your job, more transparency can only help you, and reviews will actually help your business grow. Let’s get back to the problems at hand. In the three examples I highlighted earlier, the correct response would have been to snake the toilet, send......
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