When it comes to online reputation management, ratings and reviews can be both a curse and a blessing. But with an average of 66 million unique visitors a month to Yelp.com (as of Q4 2011) it’s clear that when it comes to multifamily reputation management, the new reality is that potential renters are taking reviews into consideration.

Speaking at the ‘Ratings and Reviews: Past, Present and Future,’ session at the Apartment Internet Marketing conference in Phoenix this week, Erica Galos-Alioto, vice president for Yelp local, Patrick Grandinetti, head of real estate for Google, and Wade Hewitt, vice president of Apartment Ratings.com, all had plenty of advice for dealing with reviews.

Here were the key takeaways:

·        Think of reviews as free market research, Galos-Alioto says. “After spending so much time to make your business strategy successful, it’s easy to nit-pick details,” she says. “I would encourage everyone to take a step back and ask yourself what you can do with all the information available online. What it does provide is a lot of valuable information to improve your business and you should focus on what your customers want. It’s a great opportunity to build loyalty and thank them for their feedback.”

·        There is something to learn from every review. “Every review has some limit of truth,” Grandinetti says. “If you want to be seen as a brand that is authentic, you are going to learn from that and respond to it.”

·        When it comes to volume, don’t expect to get a ton of reviews. Multifamily reviews are different from other reviews, Galos-Alioto says, because people might eat out every night but they certainly aren’t moving properties every day. “One of the problems is that the industry historically hasn’t wanted people to leave reviews,” Hewitt says. “What we need to do is make it easier for them to write reviews.” His suggestion to increase volume is to attach reviews to surveys residents are already doing, giving a diverse set for a more accurate representation.

·        Clarification is necessary when it comes to negative reviews. “A lot of times when you do clarify,” Galos-Alioto says. “The reviewer is often compelled to change rating so it puts different light on situation.”