Apartment managers have come a long way in managing their online reputations since ratings and reviews sites first blossomed onto the multifamily scene.

Sites like ApartmentRatings.com, which first launched in 2000, quickly became “gripe” sites and were riddled with anonymous reviews. But although slow and a bit apprehensive about embracing ratings sites, today, there’s a burgeoning group of online rating sites that, correctly applied, are helping to increase marketing and tenant retention.

And most landlords are happily on board to do damage control,  but there’s always room for improvement.

“Unfortunately it takes a long time to outgrow your reputation,” says Doug Miller, president at Lutherville, Md.-based SatisFacts Research, a brand acquired by Apartmentratings.com’s owner, Internet Brand, in 2012. Miller suggests managers take control of the customer experience from the beginning to properly manage their online reputation, and offers a few tips on how to do it.

“The starting point is managing the customer experience,” Miller says. “All the marketing won’t matter if the service sucks.”

It Never Hurts to Ask
Tenants are, for the most part, willing to post reviews about their community. Two years ago, a SatisFacts-led study found that 63 percent of residents nationally were OK with rating their community online. But they’ll need an extra push to do so: Only a minuscule 8.8 percent said their apartment community asked them to post one.

Managers should formally ask residents to leave reviews in order to get the most out of their online presence on a review site. It’s especially helpful to serve as a balance to drown out the negative posts. But e-mail marketing blasts asking residents to leave reviews won’t cut it: A more targeted, personal touch is required.

Strike When the Iron's Hot
Instead of presenting residents with surveys after their lease ends, or merely asking them to leave positive comments at random times during their tenancy, Miller suggests focusing on critical events, such as when residents receive service, so they can immediately reflect on it.

That includes an approximate 90-day period after they move into their apartment and right after completed work orders. The survey questions presented to them should be related to the real experience.

“Do it when they’re most willing to give feedback because they’ve just gotten the service,” he says.

Real-time Response
With millions of ratings across review sites and about 30 million unique visitors at Apartmentratings.com alone, managers have to take control of their reputation in real time—as the reviews are posted, and not a minute after the fact.

“If it’s a wonderful positing, thank them,” Miller says. “If it’s negative, then that shows an incredible moment to show [the resident] what you’re made of.”

A template response to resident concerns isn’t enough—managers need to be incredibly empathetic and engaging when dealing with residents online. While a simple “thanks for sharing, have a nice day,” will suffice, encouraging residents to call the office and actively following up with their concern shows management in the best light.

-Linsey Isaacs is an assistant editor with Multifamily Executive magazine. Follow her on twitter @LinseyI  to continue this conversation.