Veronica Romney: Reputation Management — No Simple Task at Student Housing Communities

Veronica Romney, director of marketing suite products, Entrata. Veronica Romney, director of marketing suite products, Entrata.

Responding to reviews at student housing communities is more challenging than it seems on the surface.

Dealing with the youngest subset of millennials, after all, comes with greater expectations and requires a different approach when it comes to ratings and reviews. Apartment operators who believe they can use a response methodology similar to the one they use at non-student housing communities often encounter difficulties. Students live their lives online and have the expectation that their feedback will yield timely responses and tangible results.

They also are likely to pass on your community if it doesn’t have strong ratings. According to the results of a study by Entrata on reputation management, 63 percent of students indicated that reviews have a significant impact on the decision-making process when searching for an apartment. In addition, 38 percent of students indicated that a 3-star rating is “too low” to consider renting an apartment.

Complicating the process further is that subsets exist within the student population. Juniors, seniors and Master’s students, for instance, might perceive reviews differently than a sophomore renting for the first time. These are only some of the obstacles student housing operators face.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you better connect with students when responding to reviews:

  • Don't copy and paste responses. It can seem disingenuous to see the same, canned response over and over. While this concept transcends student housing reviews and should be an across-the-board rule of thumb for reputation management, it is particularly important here. Authenticity is key to the student demographic, and anything that comes across as a canned or pre-written response will not be perceived as genuine.
  • Speak their language. Corporate-sounding responses may not resound with the student audience. You don’t have to go as far as saying, “Hey bro, we’ll totally be there tomorrow afternoon to fix that busted-up washing machine.” But a chattier, less formal response will resonate much better than something that looks like a lawyer wrote it.
  • Respond quickly. As noted, today’s students grew up exclusively in the digital age and have even higher expectations when it comes to response times. A middle-aged individual who left a review often won’t even take another look for a few days. In the age of instant gratification, students probably have an alert set up on their phone for when the community responds. And rest assured, they’ll let you know about it if the review has been out there for a week and hasn’t been responded to.
  • Demonstrate that you're listening to an even higher degree. Students have more of an activist bent than other populations and they demand to be heard. This goes back to not using copy-and-paste responses. Even with positive reviews, make sure to show you’ve read the review by composing an individual response that mentions some of the statements in the review. It’s even more important with mixed and negative reviews to demonstrate that you have acknowledged their concerns.
  • Take action. Students have grown up in the social media world and are used to companies giving them lip service. If you don't take action on what you say online, you could make the situation even worse. After acknowledging their concerns, explain what you’ve done to address them and what you plan to do moving forward. At the very least, invite the resident to speak in person. Better yet, reach out on your own. Naturally, there are going to be times when the reviewer is over the top or has a misconception about what he or she is complaining about. Rather than calling them out online for their inaccuracies, offer them a chance to speak in person, and you can address the issue there.
  • Generate positive reviews — the right way. While it’s important to cultivate positive reviews in an organic sense, such as asking a satisfied resident whether they’ll share their experience online, make certain to not cross the authenticity line by writing fake reviews or incentivizing residents to write them. One student participant in the Entrata survey indicated: “Be realistic. When I see reviews that look fake, I immediately cross the place off my list. If I see good reviews and then go to a place and it doesn't match the photos or reviews, then I cross it off.”

As you’re well aware from leasing season, students can be a challenging bunch. Having an    acute awareness of how to respond to them in their social media comfort zone will only assist in efficiently operating your community.

While many apartment operators perceive reviews – particularly scathing ones – as an annoyance, keep in mind that reviews are free market research. You are not going to find more genuine, raw feedback anywhere else than on Yelp, Google Plus, Facebook Reviews, Twitter or ApartmentRatings. When you utilize the feedback to make your community better that will make the reviews consistently better as well.

Veronica Romney is director of marketing suite products for Entrata.

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