When it comes to your company's online reputation, active management is key. Consider this recent, textbook example. A resident at the St. George Manor apartment community in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego was not happy. Her water was suddenly cut off, and she took to Facebook to vent.

“She went on our Facebook page and posted on the wall saying, ‘What’s going on? I’ve got no water!” says Melissa Deen, marketing director for San Diego-based Sunrise Management, which runs 9,000 units across Southern California and Arizona.

Within minutes, the community’s manager posted a response to this effect: “We were just told by the water company that there’s been a temporary shut off, and that service should be restored within a few hours.”
After thanking the manager, the resident expressed her relief, and patiently waited for the water to come back on.

Sunrise’s experience with the resident’s Facebook post is a textbook example of how to do social media right for apartment operators. The original message could have–and in multifamily’s past, probably would have– elicited a defensive response from a community manager, something along the lines of, “This isn’t our fault, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Instead, with training and practice, Sunrise was able to reply, in a timely manner, with the just the right response.

Part of that came from the company’s program of assigning one, senior onsite employee to be responsible for all content on the community’s Facebook page, a strategy that allows for a dedicated presence, as well as accountability for what gets posted there.

“You can’t give a circular saw to a three year old, that’s just asking for trouble,” says Joe Greenblatt, Sunrise Management’s CEO. “Likewise, you don’t have someone who’s brand new to the business, and who likely doesn’t understand tenant-landlord law and Fair Housing, run your Facebook page.”

The exchange on Sunrise’s page represents another lesson for apartment operators: when things go wrong, share, don’t hide, your experience. “The days of ignore it and it will go away are definitely gone,” Deen says. “You have to be quick to respond, and be open, honest and direct. Give them some response, whatever it is, acknowledge it and let them know you’re looking into it.”

Having cast about in uncharted–and at times, hostile–waters at the dawn of social media interaction with residents, smart apartment operators are starting to get it right as the technology matures.

Keep in mind that maintaining an engagement over social media takes time, and that it’s critical to give associates that time to do their jobs.

“The real cost in all of this is time,” Greenblatt says. “But it’s also a high priority, high pay-off activity.” The firm has lifted some administrative functions, such as processing rent checks, off its onsite associates through automation, so they can focus on interacting with residents.