If you work in marketing for the multifamily housing industry, you may have heard Apartments.com has launched community reviews. And, you most likely sit in one of two camps: nervously optimistic or somewhat ticked off (I heard from both sides at last week’s NMHC OpTech conference in Dallas).
Let me explain why we’re going down this controversial path and why we believe it’s the right thing to do:
First, it’s what renters want, and our ability to deliver value to our advertisers will diminish over time if we don’t continue to evolve and address the needs of consumers.
Second, I am convinced the current, highly trafficked apartment reviews sites paint an unfair, negatively biased picture of our industry. We simply can’t be that bad! According to Brett Hurt, founder and CEO of Bazaarvoice (whose platform powers Apartments.com’s reviews as well as hundreds of additional brands across dozens of industries), the average product rating worldwide is 4.3 stars out of 5, and 80% are four to five stars. On Yelp.com, across all categories, the average rating is 3.8. The notion that consumers only post reviews when aggravated or irritated is simply false. Let me repeat this statistical fact: The propensity to post a review when happy or satisfied with a product or service is higher than the propensity to flame.
So, how are reviews on Apartments.com fairing so far? With close to a thousand reviews already in the can, the news is good. The average rating for all reviews is 4.0, which has been consistent going back to when we had fewer than 50 reviews. 72% of all reviews are four or five stars, and only 15% are one or two. In other words, the reviews we’ve received are much more consistent with cross-industry norms and generally (apologies in advance for the all-caps, but this is important) VERY POSITIVE. What about those 1-2 star reviews? Yep, they can sting, but they also represent an opportunity to engage in the conversation and address customers’ needs, and when consumers see that in action it reflects positively on you.
This brings me to our last reason for launching reviews: They not only provide the renter a say, but they also give you, the property manager, a new voice. This is your opportunity to be heard like never before by responding thoughtfully and gracefully to negative reviews and appreciatively to positive. You may not feel like thanking us now, but I’m convinced someday you will.
Now, about that moderation process. Each review goes through three filters. The first is automated, looking for profanity, proper nouns (no name-calling here), HTML and also verifying only one review is submitted per IP address (to stop anyone from stacking the deck from a single machine) – basically, stuff a computer can police. Each review then gets read by two sets of human eyes. These folks are looking for more subtle no-no’s, like fair-housing-violating language, spamminess, and just unrelated or blatantly inflammatory content. We didn’t have to have such a stringent approval process. We could have relied solely on automated filtering or just one set of eyes, but you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff these filters catch. Well, maybe you would. Not all of it’s bad, mind you, but we believe it’s this level of thoughtful, thorough moderation that will separate us from others in the space, and allow our industry to enjoy average ratings more akin to the norm.
In fairness, much of the worry in the industry seems to be around management of reviews, and, indeed, this is a challenge. That’s why we’re committed to working with third-party vendors that manage reputation, reviews or surveys. It will take some work to get the various systems to talk to each other, but we are already in discussions with many of those vendors to figure it out, and also developing some of our own tools that will allow you to moderate your Apartments.com reviews at no additional charge. Stay tuned.
Our advertisers believe it’s our job to cast their communities in a positive light. Prospective renters, meanwhile, want thorough, trustworthy and helpful information, and they want unbiased reviews. Knowing what we know about ratings and reviews across industries and looking at our data thus far, I believe Apartments.com can satisfy both.