The Internet presents both an opportunity and a challenge for property owners. The avenues to discover, reach, and even interact with potential tenants are numerous. Which ones should you choose, and how should your property management company use them? This post will cover how and why your property management business should capitalize on online reviews, and the best way to deal with negative ones.
An increasingly beneficial online tool for property managers is the opportunity for word-of-mouth advertising via positive reviews from satisfied tenants. Social endorsements, either in the form of reviews or shout-outs on social media platforms, are quickly becoming one of searchers’ and search engines’ most dependable signals that a business is trustworthy.
Issue an Invitation
Let your current and past tenants know that you are soliciting their views. Most people relish the chance to make their voices heard, especially about something as important as the place they call home.
You can invite tenants in several ways. Social Media posts, email blasts, and even good old-fashioned adverts in tenant mailboxes are all valid methods of prompting tenants to leave reviews. Depending on the demographics of your property and its surrounding area, Facebook and Yelp are likely the most widely used mediums for consumers to find out more about a brand. Industry/niche websites like ForRent.com also present opportunities for you to increase your property’s online scope to a targeted audience. If you have not already done so, be sure to adopt an active presence across all of your business’ owned social media platforms and advertise them directly on your website’s home page.
Realize that you may need to solicit tenant reviews more than once. Unless they have a very strong opinion about a certain matter, leaving a comment on a website is not a priority for most tenants – not even those who are chained to their tablets and smartphones. Send a gentle, judiciously timed reminder every so often, keeping in mind that asking for positive tenant reviews right after a rent increase will not likely work in your favor!
However you choose to solicit reviews, do not offer any form of compensation for them. The major review websites frown upon this, for reasons that are easily apparent: Reviews are designed to give an unbiased, honest depiction of a company, and compensation presents a conflict of interest. At the very least, these sites could flag your company as dishonest — obviously, this is completely counterproductive. But it could also cost you in more tangible ways. In September 2013, 19 companies paid a collective $350,000 in fines for posting fraudulent reviews on Google, Yelp, Citysearch, and Yahoo, proving that fake reviews “are a legitimate target of law enforcement.” Learn from their mistake: Don’t bribe or otherwise pay tenants, agencies, or anyone else to write reviews for your property.
The Challenge: Negative Reviews
As hard as you work to be a knowledgeable and responsive property manager, you simply cannot please everybody. No matter how friendly your staff and innovative your services, there will be dissenters. Just one negative account posted online about your property can have consequences for your online reputation.
And that’s okay.
In fact, you can use a snarky review to highlight your professionalism, responsiveness, and continuous effort to improve client services. In this way, a negative comment can be a gift – though, admittedly, a poorly wrapped one.
Emotions have no place in business – especially not when they can be forever memorialized on the Internet for prospective tenants in the future.
It is imperative that you maintain a positive, professional tone in every single interaction with your tenants, online or offline. Even the most negative comment can be turned around in your favor, but if you fly off the handle when you see criticism, you can create a PR disaster for yourself. Perhaps one of the most notable catastrophes in recent history was cataloged in detail by Buzzfeed and other online news outlets. It involved a restaurant called Amy’s Bakery. After being briefly featured on Kitchen Nightmares, the owners of the restaurant turned a reputation molehill into a serious mountain by responding to online criticism with insults, attacks, and curse words. The story of Amy’s Bakery is a cautionary tale: Think before you type.
When responding to negative online reviews, use the following template:
- Thank them for their feedback and let them know that you will be using it to improve future services.
- Address their concern. If their concern is valid, apologize and correct the situation immediately. Once you have taken care of the issue, respond to their comment and let them (and the rest of the world) know that they have been heard and you have done something about their concern. The more quickly and effectively you address the issue, the more likely they are to revise their opinion, both online and offline.
- If the review is invalid, tactfully point that out. The key here is to absolve yourself of blame while still appealing to their sense of justice. Perhaps the tenants’ five oversized dogs absolutely destroyed the carpets and left a huge mess for you to clean when they broke lease and moved out. But in their minds, you “stole” their security deposit – and perception is reality.
- Reaffirm your commitment to customer satisfaction. Continuing the example above, resist the temptation to vent your frustration or make accusations (no matter how sound they are). Apologize for the confusion and gently remind them that it is important for your business to maintain a clean, safe, and sanitary environment for all tenants, and that their security deposit went toward cleaning and refurbishing the property for a future client.
If you can resolve the issue as stated above, do so. Otherwise, the best way to handle a pesky post that simply has no real-world solution is to drown it in positive reviews. There’s nothing much you can do about posts that read: “I think the ceiling in the laundry room is too low,” or “I find the elevators too small.” However, by continuing to encourage client feedback, the effects of negative reviews will eventually either be diluted or dissolved completely.
Monitor Your Online Image
Remain vigilant about monitoring your online reputation. With billions of people posting, venting, commenting, and voicing their opinion about practically everything, you want to make sure the online persona of your business is an accurate portrayal. Reputation management is not a set-it-and-forget-it event. It requires perennial attention.
If monitoring your own online reputation presents too much of a time challenge for you, you can always hire it out. Several firms, such as Reputation.com, will keep track of or even clean up your business’ online reputation. However, as stated above, use caution when hiring companies to address online reviews. Do your homework to insure that the firm uses only white hat strategies to maintain your website’s online reputation.
You can, of course, keep an eye on it yourself and save money. Google offers a free service called Google Alerts. Google servers search the Internet for specific words and phrases that correspond to your business or online identity. The results are then sent to you automatically via email. You can narrow your focus to the name of your property, the service that you provide, the area where you are located, etc. By being alerted as soon as anything is posted online about you, you can respond quickly.
Make the Internet Your Ally
For business owners and property managers, the Internet can be a powerful tool to increase leads and sales. Nick Shif is the owner of Choice Plumbing, which offers residential plumbing repairs in Orlando. Shif uses the power of positive reviews to market his company in one of the most effective ways possible: social endorsements. “We work hard to make each interaction with clients a positive one…whether that’s through prompt response time or explaining everything about the services they receive.” According to Shif, “That pays off. Word of mouth is the best kind of advertising we could ask for.”
The moral of the story: Use your common sense when it comes to online reviews. Avoid fraudulent review posting services, solicit reviews from tenants regularly, and use them as an opportunity to engage with your customers and protect your image.Read more on Marketing