Reasons why managing ApartmentRatings.com is no longer optional

Mention ApartmentRatings.com to a crowded room of multifamily people and you’ll clear it faster than I can while presenting a Powerpoint. We despise this site, loath it. The anonymous posts, the drunken rants, the vile tongue lashings, the terrible misspellings and sentence structure, and the truth. Hey wait, did I say truth? Yes.. but I’ll get to that part later.

People are crazy. Embrace it.

People are crazy
When people mouth off online they do it for a reason. Some people have stopped taking their medications and others do it because your business has affected them in some way. It’s the second part that’s worth talking about. First, let’s debunk this statement:

Only unhappy people post reviews.

According to a survey commissioned by Forrester on behalf of TripAdvisor “The number one reason travelers cite for writing a hotel review is to “share a good experience with other travelers.” People want to tell others about the fun they’ve had or the good experiences they’ve shared. It’s like the east coast earthquake from this week. Did you notice how many Tweets or Facebook posts sounded like this:

“Hey did you feel that?”

“Yeah I felt that!”

“So did I!”

People feel validated when they’ve all shared the same experiences.

High percentage of reviews on Apartmentratings.com are bad.

We all know of course that not every review is good. In fact, just perusing around ApartmentRatings.com presents a ton of bad review examples. So what can we do about it? In the same survey I mentioned above, this compelling point was made: “…71% said that seeing a management response to reviews by an official hotel representative is important to them.” How many of you respond to reviews as the management company? Here’s the final point to drive home: “Sixty-eight percent of travelers said that if they were considering two comparable properties, the presence of management responses on one would sway them in its favor.” That’s the holy grail.

I found some more data that I want to share. In The Retail Consumer Report survey that was done over the holidays in 2010, they found that 68% of the people who posted a complaint on a social network or ratings site, got a response from the retailer about it. Because the business responded, they were able to get 18% of those people to buy from them again! Out of those people who received a response 33% turned around and posted a positive review and 34% deleted their original negative review. Folks that is compelling data. You can see that staying silent and pretending this conversation isn’t taking place out there is not the right strategy today.

Let’s focus in on the bigger picture here.

Start listening to your customers
Are you a Company A or a Company B? Company A wants to hear what their residents have to say. Company B doesn’t. Company A listens to social media channels and has a corporate culture which empowers employees to solve problems, respond appropriately to their residents, and listen for pain points. Company B is afraid. I blogged about this very phenomenon recently.

If you’re having problems with your ApartmentRatings.com ratings, then there’s something wrong with your product. Behind the vicious rants are some underlying themes that represent problems you can fix:

“People often speed through the property.”

“People are always hanging around outside drinking.”

“The office staff is mean.”

These are the things companies find it hard to face. The truth. The truth isn’t always pleasant but you’ll never know if customers are unhappy if you don’t ask or listen. If someone posts anything whether it’s good or bad, you must thank them. Why? They cared enough to tell you; now do something with it. At the end of the day, people want to feel that the management company is concerned about their needs. They pay a large portion of their monthly salary to you. Fix your product, show empathy when things don’t go right, give them great customer service and your bad reviews on ApartmentRatings will go down.

“People will post, Ray”

When people have positive experiences they will tell others. Of those people surveyed over the holiday season who had a positive experience: “21% recommended the retailer to friends. 13% posted a positive online review about the retailer.” I don’t want to hear “Bill, these surveys you found aren’t for our industry.” That’s a Company B thought. Stop that.

I’m hoping this evidence is compelling enough to make you realize that you need to respond and engage your current customers. Turning them from a brand detractor to a brand advocate is your goal here. Next post, I’ll give you some customer service and response tips to help you do just that.

Updated! Here’s that new post.

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  • Nicely done. I was thinking about asking you to present at our 2012 user conference, but your PowerPoint remark is giving me doubts.

    One thing bothering me lately is burden of proof that is lacking in most of these posts. Anybody can go to a site, create an anonymous account, and proceed to trash somebody despite having zero proof or credibility (because of anonymous posting in this example. Using a real name is different).

    How do you deal with that? Is there a though process that goes into some of these reviews to determine the legitimacy? Or do you recommend responding to all with an outreach inviting the person to provide additional information?

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Don’t let that comment scare you Michael… I clean up well and cover any insecurities I have with lots of hand gesturing and fart jokes.

      There isn’t anything you can do about those individuals who are ranting because they can except for replying in a courteous and NON corporate manner and asking for additional information. Often times taking the conversation offline is another way to ease the situation for those that have gone off the deep end. But posting NOTHING in the face of those who are ranting, is definitely not the answer.

      Thanks for commenting and can keep the fart jokes out of RWC 2012 if you need them to be. :).

    • Michael,

      Your response is the reason that ApartmentGrade.com was started and why I am helping them grow their portfolio. At ApartmentGrade.com we only allow the current residents to “rate” the community. After all, they are the only reliable and legitimate people that should be able to do this. Thus when a prospective resident see a rating on a community on ApartmentGrade.com, they can trust that the rating is accurate and fair, and not some anonymous trashing.

      As Bill and I also point out in our Blogs is that you can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to anonymous apartment review sites. You need to monitor them for posts, reply when they are inaccurate or contain disparaging remarks that aren’t true and encourage your residents to posts reviews to them.

      If you want to read my Blog post on Mark Juleen’s web site, click here:
      http://bit.ly/o8p5S9

      BTW, read a great article in the NY Times that mentions a software that can detect fake reviews 90% of the time. Perhaps that can eventually be part of the solution as well. A fascinating read: 

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/technology/finding-fake-reviews-online.html?_r=2

    • Michael,

      Your response is the reason that ApartmentGrade.com was started and why I am helping them grow their portfolio. At ApartmentGrade.com we only allow the current residents to “rate” the community. After all, they are the only reliable and legitimate people that should be able to do this. Thus when a prospective resident see a rating on a community on ApartmentGrade.com, they can trust that the rating is accurate and fair, and not some anonymous trashing.

      As Bill and I also point out in our Blogs is that you can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to anonymous apartment review sites. You need to monitor them for posts, reply when they are inaccurate or contain disparaging remarks that aren’t true and encourage your residents to posts reviews to them.

      If you want to read my Blog post on Mark Juleen’s web site, click here:
      http://bit.ly/o8p5S9

      BTW, read a great article in the NY Times that mentions a software that can detect fake reviews 90% of the time. Perhaps that can eventually be part of the solution as well. A fascinating read: 

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/technology/finding-fake-reviews-online.html?_r=2

    • Oh and in fine style Amber Naslund comes up with a post today which outlines your very concerns Michael. Here she is… http://www.brasstackthinking.com/2011/08/when-even-social-customer-service-isnt-enough/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheBrandBox+%28Brass+Tack+Thinking%29

    • I think the community recognizes the lunatic fringe on either side. That is to suggest that people read right through the amazing and over the top advocating reviews; read: written by the management team and the down-trodden character assassinating reviews written by the emotionally unstable accountability offsetting group. 

      I’m not convinced you respond to either or – 

      In my head the absence of the management team remarking on this site is neither here nor there. In part; I think dignifying the adverse comments with a response is worse than not responding and thanking people for the kudos has little value in the way of selling an apartment. I recognize that you might miss a one off legit review here and there; that’s okay to me. 

      Frankly – I think people find entertainment value in reviews. And, there overall influence in the decision making process in marginal at best. 

      Hope the week is a compelling one. 

      M

      • Anonymous

        Mike, Your comment is Spot on Target, If we all just “Fix Problems” and manage apartments well, Rating and Review Sites matter little, 

        • People will find those sites Eric and I believe there’s power in prospects seeing you respond. You talk about using the other social media sites and although we could argue probably all day about AptRatings NOT being social, people still use it as an outlet. Might as well solve their problems there as well.

        • I concur

        • Oh yeah to your “Fix Problems” and manage apartments well comment… ABSOLUTELY.

      • Thanks for jumping on here and adding to the dialogue Mike. I was intrigued by the survey data that said that people were more apt to decide on the business that HAD responded versus ones that didn’t. People use aptratings due to it’s crazy good SEO but I would even advocate putting the ratings on your website. Why be “afraid” of it?

        I think not responding does hurt your brand. I’m sure you’ll disagree but by saying nothing you’re actually giving voice to those rather than saying “HEY! I know you’re full of it but let’s talk about it offline” For me it’s about turning a complaint into a positive for your business. Sure you won’t be able to do it every time but I think ONE time makes it worth it.

        • I 100% agree with the idea of putting them on your site –  @mwhaling:twitter  is assisting us in doing as much on millsapartments.net for the very reasons that you sight in your second paragraph. 

          And, it’s not that I disagree with you; it’s that I think there is more value in managing/leading/coaching/prompting/mentoring/promoting to the massess as opposed to the one off’s, even if some of those one off’s are big advocates/sneezers/influencers. 

          I think managing to the one off here and there is the chief reason bad policy gets written and adopted. And, chances are high that if they are looking at you on Aptratings; they will find you in other places as well. 

          You know what I am really interested in? At what point (economically) does a review become more or less meaningful in the way of actually influencing a purchasing decision. 

          Hope the day rocks! M

          • Right @mbrewer:disqus it should just be one piece of your overall Marketing. Agree totally. I would love to see industry numbers about how people were swayed from renting based on a review. THAT would be the holy grail.

    • drwildone

      If you don’t correct your problem management the bad reviews will grow.
      If I rent a hotel room for one night I can write a complaint on the hotel that 85% of prospective hotel guests read the guest comments before making a reservation.

  • Anonymous

    We do not respond to ratings reviews, and they are not part of our marketing strategy:
    The whole debate about Apartments.com and Review Sites is significantly overrated. Mike Brewer’s comment is Spot On. We do not respond to positive or negative reviews. That said, if something is broken, the apartment operator needs to fix it. Rarely does someone just post a negative review without first calling, emailing, tweeting or sending a message on Facebook. Our company is active on many platforms and venues if someone wants to contact us, We are listening on multiple channels.The ranters will rant, and they get to do that. The Review Sites that have controlled reviews have little value, and prospects see through them. They may make a timid apartment owner feel good, but controlled reviews smell like bad fish. 

    All of that said, some folks use the review sites as part of their marketing strategy, which makes sense. The piece that is overrated is the fear factor and that you have to participate, You don’t and it has little to no effect on occupancy. 

  • Melissa Jensen

    I’m a big fan of reviews, I read them on nearly every product I buy.  I value the opinions of those who have gone before me when making a purchasing decision.  I make a point on Amazon and travel sites to read the one star reviews, most of them I just skim and dismiss, what I’m looking for is a recurring theme in the bad reviews.  I honestly don’t care what any responses are.  If there is a recurring theme I’m staying away.  If over and over there is a bad comment in the a familiar vein their is a problem. That being said, I don’t care if management gives some bull response as to what they have done to fix it.  I don’t want the problem in the first place.  It turns me off to see over and over again that a hotel had issues with their (fill in the blank) why keep reacting, fix the problem. 

    I see very few good reviews on apartmentratings.com that don’t jump out at me as having been written by the staff or as a favor by a tenant that is close to the office.   I have know marketing strategies that have included writing bogus good reviews.  This really feels like a ranting site, gross exagerations of reality.  I agree with responding in most cases to bad reviews on sites, I fully understand the logic behind leaving them, with appropriate resonse, up on sites for people to see, but what kind of dignified respnse can a manager give when their leasing consultant is refered to as a slut?

    • True Melissa, there’s no great response when someone refers to you as a slut. Well there IS but it’s probably not an appropriate response. Most reviews aren’t like that though but yeah there are some outliers. It’s why I think it’s important to have a “When is enough enough” strategy in place too. I’ll get to that in my next post. Thanks for stopping by!!!

  • Chrissy Benedict

    It’s all about customer service and If I am not doing something right and can fix it ~  I want to know what it is and how I can do better.  We are in the business to please people.   So, by all means I want to hear from my residents.    I loved the article thank you so much for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for commenting Chrissy. Naturally I agree with you completely. Today’s tools make it so easy to listen that there’s almost no excuse not to. Have an awesome day!

  • Countrysidemanager

    I LOVE this article!!!! Lots of valid points are made here!! Being in the property management business for over 13 years I have found that resident feedback is very much appreciated; positive &/or negative. I love letting my residents know how much I appreciate & value their opinion!!  Their feedback is our reputation & without their voice we are not heard!  Thanks again for sharing the article!

  • Westendmanager

    I too LOVE this article!  I work for Company A and I want to know what the resident or prospect is feeling.  If there is something that needs our attention we will respond and correct the problem!  I welcome and appreciate them taking the time to veiw their opinion. Word of mouth is how we stay in business.  We care about our residents and want them happy.  So YES let keep posting! 

  • This is great conversation happening here! Love it! I agree with Melissa J in regards to apartment ratings.com being a ranting site. They’ve become the apartment industry’s National Enquirer. What’s real and what’s not anymore? And the acceptance of calling out of specific names and use of profanity…do they even have a proofreader or filter? I am all for reviews, be they good or bad, and responding to them is soo important but I’m just not sure apartmentratings.com qualifies as a proper place to trust ratings or write legit reviews anymore. Their time has passed and sites like Yelp, Rentwiki and I’m sure many others that I’m not familiar with are stepping in as the more valuable, reliable rating sites and that’s where the engagement should be geared.

    • What’s so worrisome about Apartmentratings.com for everyone Jessica is that they show up in organic results on Google. If it didn’t have the SEO that it does I believe most people would ignore them. It’s BECAUSE of that SEO that you can’t. I think the site is a horrid, popup, advertisement filled mess but it works. 

  • honestly. I feel like building an app that allows people to direct their customer complaints and good comments as tips to an internal team at community the moment it happens.  but the twist will be to tie the tips on good/bad service to things useful at making their home their home, like receiving a custom carpet clean or adding fans or even offering a month of free rent as they stay connected with a community. I think that would be useful and create a better revenue brand management program on a company then the current anonymous one-sided model via apartmentratings.com. It creates accountability (the user is a real resident) creates a controlled environment and makes it interactive and real time that enables teams to be empowered, get better trained and stop feeling helpless over sites like apartmentratings.com. FYI… it is not a difficult app, so hopefully someone cleans up my idea and takes off with it. Too busy at the moment, but it could prove very useful for a portfolio and the industry. Cheers.

    • That’s a great idea Carmen. It still doesn’t solve the ApartmentRatings.com “problem”. People use AptRat because you’re anonymous and it’s so one sided toward renters. Once you add accountability into the equation people will feel less inclined to use it. Embracing it is sort of like dancing with the devil so to speak. Might as well play along….

  • I just want to thank you for a well stated, rational argument in favor of this kind of web site and Apartment Ratings.com in particular.  I am looking for an apartment and I have used Apartment Ratings.com quite a bit in my search. True, the people who write reviews often have some issues with the proper use of the English language, ( you can blame the public school systems for that!) and a fair number of them may be a little (or a lot) crazy. But no one-not even a crazy drunk-is going to go to a web site and start ranting and raving about a really great place to live. It just doesn’t work that way.

    I have lived in apartments for many years, some of them quite nice, many of them truly awful.I have gone to Apartment Ratings.com and posted quite a few very well thought out, appropriately punctuated, spell-checked  reviews about all of them. Why? Because I want to reward the good places with my praise and warn prospective renters about the others. Where else do they have to turn to for honest advice about the experience of living somewhere other than a former tenant? 

    I agree with everything you said about responsiveness, too. If a person is offering a service or a product and does not recognize and respond to negative reviews, no matter what the forum, he or she deserves what happens next…which is usually a big dip in profits. In fact, just the other day I
    read an article that quoted a recent survey ( I am blanking on the source, sorry) that asked customers why they left one business to go to a competitor. Over  90% stated the reason was that they felt that the business they left DID NOT CARE about them or their experience.
    That says it all, no?

    • I loved your whole comment but the last part really speaks to the heart of this whole post. Saying nothing is no good. People want validation that they’ve been listened to and MAYBE.. just MAYBE the people you’re talking to will do something about it. Responding to criticism builds trust in your relationship and can move the relationship forward. I’m glad you stopped by today and commented…really appreciate that.

  • JW

    This article completely misses the mark. Apartmentratings.com has become a cheap way of advertising for unethical management companies. Most of the positive reviews on this site are placed by staff, not residents and they are easy to spot. HUGE rooms, professional staff, close to shopping, etc. The site should be held responsible for the content and its validity. If that was done, then it would be a great tool, as it is, its a joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

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