If you were asked to provide an example of just how much the multifamily industry has changed over the years, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more powerful one than the emergence of online review sites like Yelp and Google.
As apartment communities across the country have learned, reviews posted by residents and prospects – and the online responses of operators – can make the difference between sinking and swimming. Consider this: according to a Kingsley Associates study conducted on behalf of RentPath, 91.4 percent of apartment shoppers rely on reviews and ratings at least to some extent when looking for their next home.
These days, effective online reputation management (ORM) is absolutely vital to a community's success. But it's also important that operators and their onsite staffs not become intimidated by ORM or view it as a form of drudgery, simply yet another item to be checked off the daily to-do list.
Instead, apartment companies should embrace ORM enthusiastically and look at it not only as a necessary endeavor in today's marketplace but as a great opportunity to improve their operations.
Free Market Research
Forward-thinking operators know that a robust ORM program can produce more than a slew of five-star ratings. They have realized that the honest online feedback can serve as invaluable – and free – market research into how to improve operations at their communities.
That's because when they're motivated to leave an online review, residents are inclined to provide the kind of raw and honest assessments they might not provide when quickly completing expensive surveys they've been hounded into filling out.
It's important to bear in mind, of course, that an angry resident can blow something out of proportion or even misrepresent what is going on at a community, but when there's a steady drumbeat of less-than-positive feedback about the same issue, operators should consider that a call for improvement.
If, for example, numerous residents are complaining about the lack of lights in the parking lot, then it's probably time to install additional lighting. If they're upset about the outdated equipment in the on-site fitness center, then perhaps some new ellipticals and weight machines are in order. Online reviews can be especially in helping communities improve their amenity packages.
Improved Associate Performance
Just as online reviews can help operators bolster their communities' amenities and features, so too can they lead to improved onsite associate performance.
Apartment operators should work to create a culture in which leasing agents and maintenance technicians know that a few negative reviews aren't going to lead to them losing their jobs. Instead, these reviews are opportunities to learn and improve.
Everyone can get better, and everyone makes mistakes. If associates feel like they're in a "one strike and you're out" environment when it comes to online reviews, that doesn't create a healthy culture. Now, obviously, if a team member's performance is the subject of consistent negative online feedback despite discussions about how he or she needs to improve, then it's time to consider more serious measures.
On the flip side, positive reviews of a community in general or an associate in particular should be celebrated because this helps to create and reinforce a positive office culture, one in which team members feel truly appreciated and acknowledged.
In the end, ORM is much more than an obligation in today's apartment marketplace. It's a real chance to grow.