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Why online reviews are here to stay

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Shelley Laurell
Shelley Laurell

The Internet has given consumers a voice. Sharing with one another online, they visit and revisit online sources when making decisions. The places where their searches intersect with information they want are known as the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). Online reviews are one such place.

In seeking reviews, families are looking for confirmation that your brand is what you say it is. They want feedback from other families who have experienced your brand. Even after they've made a choice, they revisit online reviews to confirm they made the right choice.

For many senior care providers, online reviews cause apprehension. It's important to remember though, that conversations about your brand are already happening. Without you. Probably in places you can't reach. Online reviews are one place where you can join the conversation.

Blake Hodges, director of digital media for GlynnDevins Advertising, encourages his clients to be involved. "Providers are reluctant to get into social media because of disgruntled employees," he says. "But disgruntled people will find a way to tell more people, and submitting a grievance online is easy. Providers need to be aware of what people are saying about them, and at the time it is being said."

Just How Important Are Online Reviews?

A company known for monitoring online review activity is Forrester Research. In a 2010 survey, it found that:

  • People trust consumer ratings and reviews (62%) more than the ratings/reviews of industry experts (57%).
  • Other than recommendations from a friend or family member, consumer reviews are the most trusted source of information.
A Caring.com member survey reinforces Forrester's findings:
  • A combined 94 percent of respondents feel that online reviews are worthwhile: 45 percent consider them trustworthy information, and 49 percent consider them helpful to their search for a senior care provider.
  • Companies with reviews received 550 percent more inquiries online than those without reviews.

Providers find reviews beneficial to both SEO and conversions.

Sunrise Senior Living monitors online reviews. "We see value in online reviews as they help to share real stories from family members and residents with prospective family members and residents," explains Abby See, senior manager of online marketing.

Danielle Cantin, director of marketing at American House, says, "Reviews have added a level of authenticity to our brand. It is hard to quantify whether or not inquiries have increased due to our review activity, but it's fair to say our SEO is strengthened by the relevant and timely postings -- making us more likely to turn up in a search -- therefore more likely to get an inquiry."

Family Feedback Helps With Continuous Improvement

Consumers' growing reliance on reviews offers senior care providers a means of continuous improvement. Online reviews may help you identify a problem you weren't aware you had. If families who visit on Sunday afternoons are consistently posting concerns about the lack of resident activity or an unfriendly front desk person, both are problems you can fix.

You may also learn through reviews that a family chose another provider because of something you don't offer. If you don't have a dedicated memory care courtyard and that's what families want for their loved ones, their reviews may help you justify that capital improvement.

The Positive Side of Negative Reviews

"Negative reviews are a great tool," explains Cantin. "There's a certain anonymity that comes with writing a review online. Writers feel safe and are able to share their thoughts freely, without fear of rejection or confrontation. Reviews empower people who felt disempowered at a particular moment."

MaryBeth Dagg, public relations and communications manager at Emeritus Senior Living, adds, "Reviews are one way we can determine where we have unhappy families and try and resolve any issues. We have several methods that residents and families can use to express concerns, but many aren't comfortable talking directly to staff. By responding to online reviews, we've been able to reach out to families and let them know we're listening."

Negative reviews lend authenticity. People are suspicious when every review is perfect. In fact, 68 percent of consumers trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad. The key is to quickly address the negatives:

  •      Thank the posters for their comments. Encourage them to contact you offline so you can resolve the issues.
  •      If it's an issue you've tried unsuccessfully to resolve, ask your families who feel differently to post positive reviews.

How to Join the Conversation

Here are ideas to help you get started:

  1. Assemble a team to read and respond to reviews. Prompt response online is critical.
  2. Establish a process for tracking complaint resolutions. Part of the success of online reviews comes from posting the fact that an issue has been resolved.
  3. Fill out profiles for your communities on the most-reviewed sites, such as Caring.com, Angie's List, and Google+.
  4. Bookmark profiles so you can easily monitor what's being said. Some review sites will alert you when you have a new review.
  5. Set up Google Alerts for your brand name and your community names.
  6. Encourage families to post reviews, and make it easy for them by sharing a list of the sites where your profiles are in place.
  7. Reputation management services can help. GlynnDevins offers one that aggregates what's said on the sites you want monitored, then sends you a daily alert e-mail.

The bottom line is that reviews are here to stay. Actively monitoring and responding to them are must-do strategies for protecting your brand. MaryBeth Dagg of Emeritus explains it well by saying, "We know that if we quickly address problems identified in reviews, our resident and family satisfaction will remain high and people will continue to see Emeritus as a quality senior living option."

Shelley Laurell is an author for Caring.com. You can see thousands of consumer reviews in Caring.com's Senior Care Directory.

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