By Kayla Murphy, PR & Integrated Media Manager

Hand putting check mark with red marker on poor one star rating.Referrals, personal or digital, are a strong way to reach qualified prospects. In the past, most referrals were personal, from a current resident to a select few of their close friends. However, in today’s digital age, we have the opportunity to increase the reach of one person’s personal referral exponentially, from a few friends, to hundreds of viewers online.

On the other hand, the thought of hundreds of people reading online reviews about your community that you essentially have no control over can incite feelings of fear or dread.

This fear often results in the ostrich-like behavior of not realizing the power of a review, either positive or negative. The reality is that negative reviews can and will happen whether or not your community is actively soliciting online reviews, and ignoring that fact is about as reasonable as an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Being prepared and responding appropriately to reviews is the best way to harness their potentially extensive effects.

With strong online reviews, your community will show up higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). One person’s review can reach thousands, and you can increase the number of prospective residents who find your community online.

How to Prepare for Negative Reviews

The reality is that someone, at some point, will have a negative experience with your community, despite all of your best efforts. A negative online review, rather than being seen as a negative hit, should instead be viewed as an opportunity to provide excellent customer service, and, therefore, a bit of reputation management.

Create a policy to clarify the best way to respond to a negative review. This policy should include draft text, a designated contact person, a time frame for responses, and the maximum number of times your organization will respond. The wording of the initial response is key.

The initial response should include the following:

  • Thank them for bringing their concerns to your attention. Because they have brought it up, your community can better itself by addressing the problem.
  • Validate their feelings. By doing so, they will be more apt to listen to what you have to say next.
  • Try to bring the conversation offline. Give them information for a specific individual with whom they can speak to, and suggest that they call them to address the issue.

For example, your response could say, “Jane, thank you for letting us know about your experience. Your experience at ABC Retirement Community matters to us. Please call Phil at 123-456-7890 so we can further discuss this experience with you.”

If it’s a review that is completely, irrefutably false, you can easily respond with a disputing statement, but only if you’re 100% certain that the complaint was false, and have the evidence to prove it. Sharing the proof that it’s incorrect should be done professionally with the utmost grace – each response is a direct reflection on the community as a whole.

The most important thing to remember when responding to negative online reviews is that every online interaction is an opportunity to reestablish your community’s good reputation, and possibly change someone’s mind. Not only are you responding to this customer, you’re also publicly showing how your community regards negative critiques and solves problems. Be kind, be thoughtful, be gracious, be honest, and always be polite.

How to Solicit Positive Reviews

The second way to handle negative reviews is to bury them in a swath of positive reviews. One good way to do this is to reach out to current residents and their families, and explain the value of positive word of mouth. Then direct them to an online review site where you’d like to see your reviews bolstered.

Try to host an online review party at your community for residents– show residents the value of using online review sites like Yelp or Google+, then ask them to leave reviews for your community. Many residents enjoy learning how to use these websites to their advantage, and are more than happy to give their opinion about their community.

With proper planning and management, online review sites are nothing to fear. They can be embraced as part of your larger digital marketing strategy. The conversation about your community is happening, with or without your input. Plan to provide input, and your community can benefit!

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