5 ways to conquer an increasingly complex online world

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Mike C. Gray, APR
Mike C. Gray, APR

As a senior living provider, you understand the importance of building positive relationships with your residents, their family members and the communities in which you operate. Over the past several years, however, you may have found it increasingly difficult to manage your reputation online.

Review aggregators such as Caring.com, SeniorAdvisor.com and others are among the first to pop up during a Google search because of the vast amount of traffic they receive from all across the country. Additionally, social media sites such as Facebook and Google+ have gotten into the game by allowing users to rank and review specific communities or companies.

You might question how these developments affects you. The answer is simple: 87% of Americans aged more than 25 years use the internet at least once a day, according to the Pew Research Center. Additionally, new research indicates that 70% of Americans won't reach out to a company if they have received several bad reviews online. These companies includes senior living providers. That is why it is now more important than ever to build and implement a strong online reputation management plan.

1. Seek input.

Counteracting any negative content and promoting positive content requires a well thought-out plan. Most sales and marketing staff have a firm grasp of where prospective residents are coming from, whether it be through friend/family referrals, a website, etc. Ask them for their advice and thoughts on where to focus the company's efforts.

Current data suggest that although prospective residents themselves place greater emphasis on review sites, the children of prospective residents are more interested in the quality-of-life aspects of senior care. Those children, therefore, tend to monitor social media sites such as Facebook.

2. See what's already out there.

The next step is to examine the existing content on those review and social media sites to see whether it is communicating your brand adequately or is in need of improvement. Most senior living providers have pages on Caring.com, SeniorAdvisor.com and other sites already, because the pages were set up by those sites. Many providers, however, aren't aware of these sites or choose not to participate. This decision is a mistake, because bad reviews or no reviews at all can hurt your credibility.

Remember that review sites act as credentialing agents, similar to “earned media” placements (we'll talk more about those later). If you don't have a presence, then prospective residents and their loved ones are likely to assume the worst about you. This isn't fair in any way, shape or form, but it is a new reality.

The same is true on social media. Not having any social media presence is a red flag for members of the Baby Boom generation, as they have become very enthusiastic about certain platforms, such as Facebook.

3. Improve content.

Once you have a strong grasp of the sites on which you are going to focus your attention, focus on the content. For review sites, provide professional pictures of the community with detailed descriptions of amenities and living options. Individuals increasingly depend on visuals and need to see the type of experience that they or a loved one is going to get.

Also, begin soliciting reviews from residents or family members that can be posted to these sites. Encourage them to share their experiences. This approach will provide your community with authentic review and allow prospective residents and loved ones to relate to your community.

If necessary, create an incentive, such as a small gift card or rent credit, to encourage or thank people for reviews. Remember, however, only to encourage authentic reviews from real residents and loved ones. Don't pay for reviews or post fake reviews. They can be spotted easily and will undercut all legitimate reviews for your community.

Make it easy for people to submit reviews by setting up computers at events and encouraging reviews there, so that they can be posted right away. Many review sites require an e-mail address and send a verification e-mail to that address, so it is much easier if people submit reviews right then and there. The review sites do not like it when communities encourage reviews in this way, so you might need to space out submissions over a few days.

Finally, if someone does write a negative review, respond right away with an apology and an invitation to meet in person. The goal is to take the conversation offline. Even if the review in question is not accurate, future visitors to the review site will respect how proactive the community was in responding and addressing the issue in question.

4. Don't forget social media.

It's also critical to create content on social media. Your target audience really is the children of prospective residents, and they want to see that their family members are going to be able to participate in lots of fun activities and outings.

One of the most successful ways to create content on social media is through photographs. Purchase cameras for your activities directors and sales and marketing team members so that they can capture what makes your communities special. Don't rely on camera phones, as the quality is not always great.

5. Share stories with the media.

Another great way to enhance your online reputation is through earned media, a very new concept for senior living providers.

Share positive stories when they present themselves. The highest-ranked stories on most news websites are human interest stories. Say that a prospective resident or a loved one of that prospective resident supports a local charity, for instance. If that person reads an article about current residents of your community supporting that charity, then that person no longer will see your community as a something foreign but rather as just a continuation of the things he or she already likes to do.

Earned media opportunities don't need to be just about residents. If staff members create unique and engaging ways to care for seniors, for instance, then you should be positioning them as leaders in the industry.

The nice thing about these opportunities is that they will live online forever on a news organization's website and can be shared on social media and your website.

Managing your reputation online is no longer a luxury but a necessity. The marketplace has become increasingly competitive, and prospective residents can choose from more options than ever. Testimonials and positive stories or photos about your community are far more valuable than any advertising campaign ever could be. If you are not positioning your community well online, then you may be missing out to your competition.

Mike C. Gray, APR, (above) and Andrew K. Ryan, APR, (left) are partners with Commonwealth Partnerships, a communications firm that specializes in working with the senior living and home-building industries. They have combined experience of more than 21 years working with regional and national senior living providers on initiatives related to reputation management and public relations.



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