Rank REIT ORA Score
1 MAA 66
2 Camden Property Trust 64
3 Associated Estates Realty Corp. 60
4 Post Properties 50
T5 Equity Residential 47
T5 Essex Property Trust, Inc.* 47
T5 Home Properties, Inc. 47
T5 AvalonBay Communities, Inc. 47
6 UDR, Inc. 46
T7 BRE* 45
* Merged

The second edition of the ORA© Power Rankings analyzes the online reputation of the public REITs.

REITs are often at the vanguard of the industry, serving as bellwethers of operational and technological trends. Based on the average ORA© Score of the group, they're performing only slightly above the rest of the multifamily market. And a closer look at the numbers reveals a majority of REITs have a lot of room for improvement.

But first, a little background on the rankings and how they work.

To arrive at a national score, J Turner Research tracks and analyzes the online reputation of more than 51,000 apartment properties across multiple ratings websites, on a monthly basis. To overcome the challenge of multiple ratings scales, J Turner has devised a statistical model to establish a single score for each property. This score, based on a 0-100 scale, serves as a benchmark to compare and contrast individual properties—and portfolios—nationally.

"This process is a solution to a REIT's challenge of assessing their entire portfolio's public perceptions across a host of online platforms," says Joseph Batdorf, president of J Turner Research.

The average apartment community has an ORA© score of 51. But of the 11 public REIT portfolios ranked in this month's installment, only three firms outperform the average.

Seven public REITs posted scores in the 40s, with UDR, AIMCO and the now-acquired BRE pulling up the rear. But at the top of the pack, MAA and Camden Property Trust dominate with ORA© Scores of 66 and 64, respectively, while Associated Estates makes a very healthy showing at No. 3, with an average score of 60.

Camden's Approach

According to Camden, feedback of any kind can be valuable, if you listen closely enough.

"Of course, we prefer the positive reviews but we understand how valuable negative reviews are too," says Kristy Simonette, Senior Vice President of Strategic Services at Camden Property Trust, which ranked 2nd among the REITs. "Customers are savvy and they expect to see a variety of reviews, otherwise they question the authenticity."

Camden aims for a responsive strategy. "As hard as we try, we just cannot make everyone happy but we know our residents want us to be responsive and resolve their issues," says Simonette.

The firm ‘actively listens' to what is being said using SocialView, a web-listening tool . It constantly monitors properties' online feedback so property managers can evaluate customers' sentiment. From there, community staff is responsible for responding to reviews in a thoughtful, canny way to encourage negative reviewers to contact the property managers for a solution.

Overall, reviews are about learning from residents. It can help identify areas where properties are excelling and other places that need some improvement. Camden has taken resident feedback a step further by pursuing ethnographic studies to find exactly what change residents wanted to see.

However, one key to a positive presence on online review sites is to be active in the community offline. Opening lines of direct communication is the best way for property managers to connect with residents.

Over the last few years, Camden has worked to establish a customer communication platform at MyCamden.com, where residents can create a profile at move-in, choose a communication preference for email, phone, and texting, and see community news. It creates a safe place where residents can communicate issues with the property management team, who can find a solution before the resident writes a review online.

While this month's edition looks at REITs, future Power Ratings will include top properties by state, the top 10 ORA© scores for the NMHC 50 and top U.S. cities with the "happiest residents." You can access January's Top 50 Communities here.