By Wallis Shamieh, Content Marketing Specialist

The internet has changed much of the way consumers do their shopping. They are no longer making purchase decisions just from seeing or hearing an advertisement, either online, in the newspaper, or on the radio. With limitless information available on the internet, consumers are comparing, researching and reading online before they decide to even give you a call.

Especially in an environment where ads are over-saturated and the use of ad blockers continues to be prevalent, it’s becoming increasingly important to harness digital, word-of-mouth brand advocates for your senior living community as part of your marketing strategy. Word-of-mouth has always been a powerful form of communication, and in the age of the internet, it is significantly amplified.

Brand Advocates

When you think of digital brand advocates, you probably think of influencers like news and media outlets, bloggers, vloggers and social media stars. While these forms of brand advocates may work well for many industries, when it comes to senior living, the most effective brand advocates you have are your residents, their families, staff members, and even other prospects. These are the people who know your community the best and are most likely to have a positive message to share.

Online reviews

So, we want residents to share their positive experiences with others, but on what platform? This is where online reviews come into the picture. Online reviews on websites like Yelp, Facebook and Google are all popular places that people visit online when making purchasing decisions.

In fact, according to BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey, “93% of consumers read local reviews to decide if a business is good or not.” Continually asking brand advocates for reviews is important, too, because according to the same survey, “77% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months aren’t relevant.”

Make it a conversation

Many sites will generate placeholder pages (known as a Places page on Facebook) so that they can compile user generated content related to a place that doesn’t yet have a claimed page. Posts, reviews and check-ins are listed on the Places page on Facebook, and Yelp generates a page for your community, even if your community hasn’t claimed it. Even if you don’t have an intentional social media plan, users are still having these conversations online without you. So, like it or not, your community does have a social media presence.

In order to steer the conversations in a positive way and respond to online reviews, it’s important to establish a presence, claim your pages, and respond to comments. The survey also found that, “responding to reviews is more important than ever, with 30% naming this as key when judging local businesses.”

Now that we know that online reviews are key to digital prospects picking up the phone, we can follow these three steps to harness digital brand advocates.

Step one: Develop and Maintain a Digital Presence

In order to harness the power of digital brand advocates, you must first create a purposeful digital presence and content strategy. This includes claiming your social media pages (including any of the “Places” pages that were auto-generated), establishing an enewsletter, having a responsive, up-to-date website, and putting out engaging content regularly, among other things.

It’s not enough to simply claim your Facebook page. It’s important to keep it current with new posts on at least a weekly basis. Having stale content on a page can give just as negative an impression as not having one at all.

Step two: Solicit Positive Reviews

Your brand advocates most likely won’t post online reviews without being prompted to. However, according to BrightLocal’s survey, “68% of consumers left a local business review when asked.” To sweeten the deal, consider offering an incentive, like a low value gift card or an entry into a prize drawing. These small costs will pay off largely in the future.

It’s also important to continually solicit online reviews. Make it part of your daily or weekly routine. Google gives more weight to reviews that come in a stream, rather than reviews that come in all at once. Consumers often only read recent reviews, and ignore any that are older than a few months.

There are several ways you can ask your brand advocates to leave reviews. One way is to send out automated emails to new residents, or perhaps their family members, a few months after they’ve moved in. The email can contain links to popular review sites, and include directions on how to leave a review. Another method is to consider asking prospects who tour the community. In this case, you must be selective about the prospects you choose to ask.

Some staff members are also inclined to share their positive experiences, so you may want to invite a few each month to leave a review. Many employees enjoy sharing their personal experiences on their social media channels, so it can be helpful to provide them with a guide that offers suggestions on how to best represent the community online. If you’re not sure how to create your own guide, Love & Company offers a guide that can be branded for your community.

Step three: Monitor and Maintain

Now that you’ve established your digital presence and you’ve asked your brand advocates to leave positive reviews, it’s important to continually monitor and interact with the reviews that are left. Not every review that is left will be a positive one, but there’s no need to fear. Negative reviews are opportunities to show your excellent customer service skills.

Don’t just respond to negative reviews either. Responding to positive reviews can convey appreciation for the positive words, and possibly encourage others to leave positive reviews as well.

Successfully creating and maintaining an environment where online reviews can flourish seriously impacts the number of leads that funnel into your sales pipeline. Remember that just one additional move-in each month produces 78 additional months of revenue in a year.

For more information on how you can harness the power of brand advocates, please contact Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013 or Rick Hunsicker at 214-906-3801.

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