The Internet has undeniably changed the senior living buying process. And as more seniors and their family members go online to research senior living options, a provider’s online reputation can be either a deal-maker or a deal-breaker in attracting new residents.
Having a strong online reputation can be one of the best weapons in a senior living provider’s marketing arsenal, according to experts who spoke at a recent Senior Housing News webinar. It can also be an organization’s best defense in the event of an emergency or disaster.
“There are so many variables that can affect your online reputation,” said Lisa Bade, senior manager of digital and search marketing for GlynnDevins, a senior living marketing company that works with more than 150 communities in 33 states.
What consumers are saying on review sites like Yelp!, Google Reviews and Caring.com, as well as the content a community posts to its website and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, all have an impact on an organization’s online reputation, Bade said.
Only 37% of senior living organizations in attendance regularly monitor their online rep, according to the results from a poll taken during the webinar. Meanwhile, 55% said they sometimes monitor their rep, such as by doing Google searches on their respective communities and having a Facebook page.
That left just 8% of organizations who said they currently do not monitor their online reputation, but expressed an interest in learning more.
Whatever steps a community already has taken, it’s clearly critical for senior living communities to build a strong online reputation. And there are a few ways to achieve this.
1. Self-audit your activity
Building an online reputation—one that effectively conveys an organization’s message to attract prospective residents and their families—takes a considerable amount of proactive planning. Being proactive online is easier said than done, said Bade.
“You’ll want to think long-term and prepare for a continuing process, knowing that you don’t build and enhance overnight, but that a strategic plan can help you build your online reputation over time,” she said.
Conducting a self-audit of the community’s online activities can help identify goals and objectives, as well as strengths, weakness and opportunities for growth in building out an online reputation, said Brandi Towns, associate director for public relations at GlynnDevins.
This means asking questions such as: Is the organization currently monitoring online reviews and social media? If yes, then who in the organization is responsible for responding to reviews and social media comments? Are you creating and sharing content about the community on a regular basis?
Taking these steps is more important today than ever before, especially considering the savviness of current consumers, who are relying on the Internet for most, if not all, of their senior living research.
“Sixty percent of the buyer’s journey is now done online, and about 57% of purchase decisions are already complete before a consumer even picks up the phone or stops by,” said Bade. “That’s why it is important that all of these online activities present a positive image of your community.”
2. Take command of reviews, good and bad
Everyone likes positive reviews. Whether this praise comes internally from a community’s own residents or externally from residents’ family members and loved ones, consumer reviews are critical to senior living communities’ online presence.
But negative reviews can also be good for business, giving providers the opportunity to not only stand up for themselves in the face of criticism, but also the chance to create a dialogue with disgruntled consumers.
“Do not be afraid of negative feedback,” said Towns. “It happens from time to time and can add legitimacy to your online review. But it all matters how you respond.”
Acknowledging receipt to let reviewers know the community values their feedback shows that the organization is concerned with resolving the issue at hand.
Consumers who read a negative review and see a brand respond are 116% more likely to purchase than those who see no response from the business, according to the Conversation Index from Bazaarvoice, a network that connects brands and retailers to the opinions of shoppers, which companies can use to help them drive sales, build customer loyalty and increase profits.
“When responding, be sincere and keep a calm attitude,” Towns said. “Always be honest and transparent about what you’re doing. Continue to monitor and solicit positive reviews, and when possible, take touchy subjects offline and set up a meeting with that person.”
Responding within 24 hours of the review’s posting is a good rule of thumb, too, added Towns.
3. The Three E’s
Online recognition is not only effective for building a senior living community’s brand, but it can also build staff morale, says Bade.
It all comes down to the so-called Three E’s: engage, equip and empower.
This means engaging residents and adult children to share their reviews and feedback, equipping them by giving them reasons to speak highly of the community, and empowering adult children and other influencers by giving them an opportunity to share positive feedback on review sites, social media and other channels.
“Happy residents and adult children do like sharing their experiences, realizing that they might be helping others make an important life decision in moving into a senior living community,” Bade said.
Building a better online reputation is not something that can be done overnight, or even a week’s time. It requires not only engagement from residents, their families and other influencers, but also the right personnel within an organization who can champion this strategy to ensure ongoing success.
“In the end, with an active reputation management program, senior living communities can end up with more online reviews, better search rankings, increased leads and ultimately more move-ins,” said Bade.
Written by Jason Oliva