Winn's Quarrystone at Overlook Ridge, in Malden, Mass., offers renters a choice of wood and granite tones in the unit kitchens.
Courtesy WinnResidential Winn's Quarrystone at Overlook Ridge, in Malden, Mass., offers renters a choice of wood and granite tones in the unit kitchens.

As a property manager or owner, naturally, you want your residents to love you, your brand, and your properties. But do they? And, more important, how do you know?

You can blast out expensive surveys to residents to your heart’s content, asking them to rate your communities’ service levels and amenities on a numerical scale. That may give you an accurate sense of how your residents feel about your developments, true, but it won’t necessarily help you manage your reputation. For that, you need authentic feedback. And the best place to turn to for that is your reviews.

Getting to 5 Stars
By analyzing genuine, authentic feedback from posts on apartment review sites, you can address issues that directly affect your online reputation. Making a concerted effort to do so might just help you improve your communities’ overall ratings. And if you’re not pulling in 4s and 5s on the 1-to-5 grading scale, the effort will be well worth it: 43% of apartment searchers won’t even consider a property unless it has a four- or five-star rating.

“Effectively responding to reviews serves the dual purpose of demonstrating care for residents while also appearing proactive in the eyes of prospective residents, who scour review sites to help fuel their decision-making process,” says Veronica Romney, director of marketing suite products for property-management software firm Entrata. “Using the feedback as market research is the next step in the evolution of reputation management.”

Granted, there’s no fun in getting skewered online. But this is your chance to use the reviewers’ remarks as market research—the type of raw, authentic feedback that might not always come through on surveys. Residents are often reluctant to open up on questionnaires because they’re too busy to answer open-ended questions when they aren’t currently passionate about an issue. On review sites, they let loose because they’re driven by the emotions of the moment.

Turning Negatives Into Positives
Let’s be clear: Some negative reviews simply are misplaced rants. A resident might not have gotten his or her way and is lashing out by lambasting everything about the community. But when perusing a decent sample size of reviews, certain themes are bound to emerge. If one person says the gym is too hot, maybe that person just likes things on the chilly side. If eight people say so, it’s probably time to evaluate the airflow in the gym.

The issues that emerge online, certainly, can be more pressing than a muggy, 77-degree gym. The idea is not only to diagnose what issues are important to residents by categorizing them and identifying trends, but also to decide what you’re going to do about them. Adjusting the air-conditioning in the gym or making sure to mow the edges surrounding the dog park are easy fixes. Others aren’t so simple and might require you to put together a committee of your most innovative operators to discuss how you’re going to make changes.

Maybe outdated appliances are a widespread concern. Is it within the budget to replace them all at once, or would a phased-in approach work better? Perhaps inadequate parking is a common complaint. You initially believed there was nothing you could do to solve the problem because you have no extra parking space. But what about asking city officials whether they’d consider allowing street parking on a previously unavailable side street, or inquiring whether a nearby retail outlet would allow guests to park there after hours?

Competitors’ Reviews as Market Research
You can also read the reviews of the comps in the neighborhood in addition to your own. This helps determine what’s important to residents in your particular locale and helps uncover the differentiators that make your community better than others. If you’re the only one in the neighborhood that offers a 24-hour fitness center, you’d be shortsighted not to make that part of your presentation when entertaining prospective residents.

Identifying negative review trends for competing properties, and increasing your service levels in those capacities, can be a game changer in the minds of prospective renters.

Negative reviews initially come across as annoying. You want them to go away. But when viewed from the proper perspective, they are a solid form of market research. They can be the ticket to improving your community and, most important, creating happy residents who write mostly positive reviews.