How to Respond to Unfavorable, False Reviews on Apartment-Rating Web Sites
The Internet has proven to be very beneficial for apartment communities, as it gives prospects the opportunity to shop for apartments 24 hours a day in the comfort of their homes. As prospects continue to do more of their research online, user review and ratings Web sites such as yelp.com and apartmentratings.com play an ever increasing role in how your site is perceived by the public.
When a person, usually a former or current resident, wants to give his opinion about a site, he logs on to one of these Web sites, searches for the community’s name, and then posts a review of the site. Prospects can then search the Web site to read reviews about apartments in the area where they’re interested in living, explains marketing expert Lisa Trosien. But, at times, these sites have proven to be a thorn in the side of many communities. While these Web sites were developed to give prospects an inside look at what a site is really like before leasing there, they’re turning out to be forums for complaints by disgruntled residents.
Experts say these Web sites are here to stay. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit idly by and let disgruntled residents portray your site in a negative light. We’ll tell you what you can do if you feel your site has been unfairly portrayed on such a Web site.
How Apartment-Rating Web Sites Can Help You
Although some owners and managers might disagree, apartment-rating Web sites can help you. Here’s how:
Help you improve your community. If you look for trends in the reviews, you may be able to get a better grasp of some real problems at your community, points out Trosien. Then you can use this information to help you improve your community, she explains.
Let you “shop” your competitors. You can use apartment-rating Web sites as a resource for “shopping” your competitors. Look for the positives and negatives that residents post about your competitors, and then use that information to get an edge over them. For example, if residents say they like certain amenities that your competitors offer, you may consider introducing them at your site, suggests Trosien. And if residents seem universally disgruntled about something at your competitors, such as their maintenance response time, improve your site’s maintenance response time and tout that fact in your ads to make your site stand out from the competition, she adds.
Help you market your community. If your community has gotten good reviews on apartment-rating Web sites, that positive feedback is likely to generate leases for you, says Trosien.
How Apartment-Rating Web Sites Can Hurt You
As many owners and managers would agree, apartment-rating Web sites can hurt your community. They can:
Turn away traffic. The biggest fear that owners and managers have about apartment-rating Web sites is that prospects will read the reviews—which may or may not be true or accurate—and then decide not to visit the community, says Atlanta attorney Robin Hein. And this fear may not be misplaced.
Contain mainly unfavorable reviews. Unfortunately, most people who review a community are motivated by negative experiences. So the reviews are often one-sided and don’t represent what most residents actually think about the site. In fact, it’s highly likely that most of the current or former residents who posted negative reviews about your site were lease violators.
Fail to verify reviewers’ identities. Although apartment-rating Web sites are supposed to be used by current or former residents to review their communities, most sites have few or no mechanisms in place for verifying whether a reviewer ever lived at the site he’s reviewing. A reviewer could actually be a disgruntled former employee posing as an angry resident. In fact, there’s really no way to stop an individual with too much time on his hands from logging on and posting reviews for various apartment communities that he has never actually set foot in.
Fail to reveal reviewers’ identities. Most apartment-rating Web sites allow reviewers to post anonymous and uncensored reviews. The reason for this practice is to encourage residents to give candid reviews, without the fear of retaliation by an angry owner or manager. But this practice also leaves owners with very little recourse if they feel that the reviews are false or misleading.
Fail to verify the truthfulness of reviews. Apartment-rating Web sites don’t verify the truthfulness of the reviews posted. And these Web sites aren’t accountable for the truthfulness of any of the reviews posted, adds Hein. In most instances, reviewers are only required to comply with the Web site’s user agreement, which prohibits such things as profanity and personal attacks.
What to Do About Unfavorable or False Reviews
Since apartment-rating Web sites are probably here to stay, you need to know what to do about false or unfavorable reviews of your community on them. Here are some ways of dealing with unfavorable or false reviews of your community on apartment-rating Web sites:
Request a retraction. It can’t hurt to ask the apartment-rating Web site to retract the unfavorable or false review—although it may not comply. Some Web sites won’t remove a review simply because an owner or manager is unhappy about it. But they will delete anything in the review that doesn’t comply with their user agreements, such as threatening or vulgar language or the actual names of site managers or employees. So owners who are unhappy with a review should first look to see if the review violates the Web site’s user agreement before asking for it to be amended or removed.
Post a response. Many of these Web sites allow people to post responses to specific reviews. If you decide to post a response, you have to be careful. You certainly don’t want to start a nasty online battle with a resident that’s subject to the scrutiny of other reviewers and prospects. Also, posting even a polite response can call attention to a negative review and serve to “validate” the existence of these Web sites, notes Trosien. If you do decide to post a response, keep it short and polite. You can also invite readers to call or visit the site to evaluate it for themselves, or provide information that explains or disputes reviewers’ statements.
Solicit positive reviews from happy residents. Ask residents whom you know are happy at your site to post positive reviews to counteract any negative reviews, advises Hein. As we mentioned, most people post negative reviews on these Web sites. Having positive reviews on these Web sites will give visitors to the Web sites a more balanced view of your community, he explains.
Post results of a resident survey on apartment-rating Web site. Conduct a short, three- or four-question resident survey and, if the results are positive, post the results on an apartment-rating Web site that has negative reviews about your community on it, says Hein. Your survey can ask residents to rate their overall happiness with your community as well as some key issues that prospects are interested in finding out about, such as how your community’s maintenance response time, cleanliness, and staff attitude measure up, he explains. If the apartment-rating Web site allows people to post responses to reviews, you can then post the results of your survey as a quick plug for your community, he says.
If you decide to do this, make sure your residents authorize you to publish the results of the survey. To get such authorization, include the following language in your survey:
By participating in this Resident Survey, I authorize XYZ Community to publish the results and any comments made in whatever manner it chooses and use either my initials or my first name and last initial in a publication. I understand that I may revoke my permission to use my name and quote at any time by sending XYZ Community a written request to stop using them.
Robin Hein, Esq.: Fowler, Hein, Cheatwood, and Williams, PA, 2970 Clairmont Rd., Ste. 220, Atlanta, GA 30329; www.apartmentlaw.com.
Lisa Trosien: President, ApartmentExpert.com, 2355 Waterbury Cir., Aurora, IL 60504; www.apartmentexpert.com.