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The Importance of Reputation Management in Student Housing

A morning panel session on reputation management at the second annual LeaseCon in Dallas last month.

DALLAS — It’s no secret that today’s students spend a lot of time on their phones, perusing social media and scanning the internet. With such a high level of importance placed on digital content, what people are saying about your community through online reviews is becoming more powerful than ever. As an owner or operator, it’s imperative to handle negative reviews quickly and efficiently, and to bolster the amount of positive reviews left about your community.

A panel of reputation management strategists weighed in on best online reputation practices during the session, “Review and Reputation Management: Who Should be Managing Your Reputation? What are Best Practices? And Creating an Effective & Efficient Strategy for your Teams,” at the second annual LeaseCon: A Social Media, Digital & Traditional Marketing Boot Camp, held at The Westin Galleria in Dallas in September.

“There is a direct correlation between online reputation and how well your assets are performing,” says John Hinckley, CEO of Modern Message. “Building the right strategy around reputation management is key. It’s been interesting to watch over the last eight years and see the industry change from turning a blind eye to reputation to incorporating it as an important component of leasing strategy.” 

Mindy Price, vice president of sales at J. Turner Research, agrees. “We conducted a study recently where we polled 38,000 conventional multifamily respondents and over 19,000 students and we asked them what percentage of their decision to lease is based on online reputation,” she says. “For students, it was 47 percent, and for conventional multifamily, 52 percent. With such a high percentage of your prospects choosing to visit a community with a higher online reputation, you can’t bury our head in the sand and hope it goes away.”

“Your online reputation is your digital curb appeal,” says Lyndsay Tadlock, senior account executive at SOCi. “If you’re not maintaining that on a regular basis, you’re missing out on a huge part of NOI, which is your bottom line.”

Making An Impact

“The big question is how do we make a difference and make an impact with our online reputation,” says Hinckley. “Essentially, what that gets down to is learning how to engage your residents to discuss your community in a way that bolsters a positive reputation. Just like any kind of team, you’ve got an offense and a defense. I think the best strategy includes approaching reputation management on both sides of the coin.”

While simply asking students who have come into the office and had a great experience to write a review seems like it would be a good way to reinforce positive online reputation, much of the time, that student is not going to write a review, according to Hinckley. “What we think works really well is a systematic approach to resident engagement,” he says. “Residents have move-in and move-out dates, and there are opportunities throughout that time to touch those residents while they live there in a way that actually converts to a positive review.”

Creating a space in your office where students can easily write a review is another helpful tactic. “Guilt is a powerful emotion,” says Tadlock. “If you have an easy method for reviewing the property in your office, like an iPad, and you ask students, ‘would you mind doing me a favor and writing us a review,’ what are they going to say? ‘Yes, of course.’ You should not solicit a positive review, just provide them with an outlet and ask them to write something — be it positive, negative or in between. That method can have an impact.”

Properly handling a negative review is just as imperative as receiving positive ones. “There are going to be bad reviews, we know that,” says Price. “We have found that the student’s perception will change based on how the manager handles the situation. If you continue to have the same complaints online, you might have a great response but if you’re not fixing the problem, the perception will remain unchanged.”

“If you have a negative review, the most important thing to do is address it and commit to resolving it,” she continues. “If prospective residents see that it was a one- or two-off problem that was fixed and if they are surrounded by positive reviews, that perception will change.” It can also be beneficial to have the person who wrote a negative review respond again speaking to their experience now once the problem has been solved.

“It’s important to keep emotion out of the response,” notes Tadlock. “Before moving over to the vendor side, I was a regional portfolio supervisor for six student housing properties in College Station, Texas, and it was very difficult to take emotion out of the equation when I received negative reviews that I knew weren’t true. If you have a third-party managing your reputation, the emotion will always be taken out of the responses.”

Katie Sloan

InterFace Conference Group is a division of France Media Inc., which publishes Student Housing Business. To sign up for updates on next year’s LeaseCon, visit www.interfaceconferencegroup.com/subscribe.

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