Advances in web and mobile technologies ultimately do one thing: empower people. The technology allows people to control their own decision-making process through research, comparison and evaluation-all in a way that reflects their personal preferences. This freedom, coupled with the improved ability to share information, has taken word of mouth and put in on steroids, creating a culture of online ratings and reviews.
On the one hand, this is great news for the apartment industry. More information makes for smarter consumers and (we hope) more motivated customers once they walk through the leasing office door. Happy customers bring happy returns, as the saying goes. But an unhappy customer online may not only be a hassle to deal with but a wrecking ball to a solid company reputation.
The industry has heard it time and time again: There is only one way to get a handle on negative customer reviews-respond quickly and professionally. But more than being just reactive, apartment companies increasingly are pursuing proactive reputation management strategies. According to Matthew Kilmurry, director of marketing at AvalonBay Communities, his company is digging for more data on effective responses to customer complaints. They plan to test the quality of responses from employees at the property level, the company’s central customer care center and a third party. “There’s some room to figure out who best responds,” he said.
Lisa Trapp, director of marketing at Sequoia Equities, said her company also saw an opportunity to augment customer response through the creation of an online customer care forum. “The site was developed to allow residents to give suggestions, report problems and give our team kudos.” she said. “It automatically sends notification to the right people to move quickly to resolve the problem.”
In addition, Trapp said the company launched a “haters to lovers” campaign, where site teams were given tools to help encourage residents to talk about their positive experiences. Trapp said 95 residents wrote in over 11 days to give specific team members praise.
But as final keynote speaker Sam Richter, a technology, sales and marketing expert, pointed out, good online reputation management goes beyond company brands to include employees’ personal brands. Most people think, to some degree or another, that how they represent themselves online when they’re off the clock doesn’t really matter. However, given the improved searchability of the web, much more personal information, which most people assume is private, is actually public. And not only is the information currently available, it’s likely to live on in cyberspace for an eternity. (Seriously. Did you know that every tweet sent on Twitter is actually sent to two places? To your followers and the Library of Congress, where it’s archived.)
Because of the long-term nature of the web-forever is a really long time-it’s important that people, like the companies they work for, take a proactive stance on managing and protecting their personal brand online. Aside from not behaving badly online, such as slamming the company you work for or a sponsor, expressing strong political or religious views and sharing TMI (too much information) on your health issues or vacation plans, Richter also recommends purchasing identity theft protection services. From there, he suggests five things to improve personal brands and execute better reputation management:
- Own your own name; if not, you are leaving your reputation to chance. A great place to start is www.namecheck.com.
- Write a good bio that uses highly searched terms.
- Include the bio in your online profiles. (He recommends starting with ZoomInfo, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Naymz, Plaxo, WorkFace and any relevant blogs.) At each web site, be sure to adjust the first line accordingly to improve search results.
- Automate reviewing your personal brand by setting up a Google Alert for your name or going to www.Topsy.com.
- Set up a free account at www.mywebcareer.com, which also gives you a reputational score.
A 12-page guide with more detailed information on creating, managing and protecting your personal brand is available at www.samrep.com.