Guest post by Denise Graab from Caring.com
"We have a stellar reputation in our local area and several industry awards, so therefore this negative online review (or social media comment) must be removed."
It's still a common misperception, unfortunately: that somehow the offline reputation you've built for your senior living community over years, possibly even decades, is automatically known online and reason enough for removing any contrary feedback on review websites.
The reality is: despite your best offline marketing efforts, family caregivers and older adults (who increasingly start their senior care search online) may have never heard of your community, much less know anything about your awards and longstanding reputation. In fact, Caring.com research shows that only 15% of consumers search for senior care using a senior living community's name, and only 40% have any local knowledge of communities in their area.
Even in cases where your senior living community has been suggested to them by a well-respected social worker or doctor in-person, many will still go online before calling or touring your community because they want to learn more about what others like them have said you’re offering, as well as to see your website and get more info for their specific needs -- instantly, on their schedule, at their convenience.
Given the significant role that the Internet now has in influencing senior care search and decision-making, it's imperative that you actively monitor, build, and manage how your senior living community is perceived online, or your "online reputation." And unlike advertising in your local newspaper (if you still have a local newspaper in your town), you can't really “control the message” in what consumers are saying about you in social media. Instead, you need to focus on learning the online reputation landscape, use effective strategies for crafting your online presence, and apply best practices for responding to any online criticisms.
Begin with these three simple steps that any senior living community of any size can take to manage their online reputation:
Start with search engines.
What's on page 1 and 2 of search results for your community's name? Whether it's the prospective resident's first or second impression of your senior living community, you need to know what they're seeing in those search results. And if your website isn't on page one, you need to do some search engine optimization (SEO) to fix that, and you should be working with online directories or other aggregators who do have a presence in those crucial early search results.
For those older adults and family caregivers who don't know your community name (yet): Revisit the search engine and search by "assisted living in YOUR TOWN, YOUR STATE" (e.g., "assisted living in Denver, CO"). Is your senior living community included on page 1 or 2? What impression does that online content give about your community -- how close is it to the stellar reputation your community has built offline? Try also switching out the words, "assisted living" with "nursing homes" and "retirement homes" and see what those search results deliver. Many consumers don't initially know the latest industry terms or the difference between an assisted living community and a skilled nursing facility. You want to search by the same words ("search terms") they most use to find you, and you want to do what you can to ensure they find good information about your community -- to stay on their radar and encourage further inquiry.
Next, look at your website(s), directory listings, and social profiles.
Your website is online real estate that you do control, and should be your “best foot forward.” It must be uncluttered, well organized, and easy for first-time visitors to find helpful information rapidly -- including how to contact you to get more questions answered or to schedule a tour.
For listings about your community on other websites -- which frequently do appear at the top of search results -- make sure you've taken advantage of every opportunity to optimize those listings for senior living searchers. At a minimum, include a business description and compelling photo(s). Also consider including some rate information, even just average starting rates for your most-commonly available rooms or apartments. Here's why: in a local search survey by International Data Corporation, 76% of online searchers said they want to find pricing information. This holds true for older adults and family caregivers who use Caring.com to find senior living communities as well -- in fact, "Find Costs" is one of Caring's most-clicked call-to-actions. If your website or listings don't deliver the information that the online searcher most needs or wants, they're likely to bounce off of your page(s) and go back to other search options.
If your senior living community is participating on social networks, you need to make sure that you're leaving a positive impression there, too. Be consistent in how you present and communicate your brand across online channels, whether it's your website, your social profiles, or listings in online directories. And make it easy for your website visitor to stay connected to your senior living community by social media -- they may be considering your services for a future date, and your social profiles can be a great way for you to stay on their radar, build a positive impression of your services, and influence their selection over time.
Also important for all of your online business pages: Make sure they're mobile-friendly. This is a must in 2016, when Google search results prefer web pages that load well on mobile, and when more than half of those age 50-64 have a smartphone.
Make online reviews a priority.
In nearly every industry nowadays, consumers look for the opinions of others like them before making a purchase decision. Senior care is no exception, and in fact, on Caring.com, we're finding that online reviews are making a huge difference in driving inquiries, tours, and move-ins for senior living communities. In case study after case study, reviews have increased consumer conversions dramatically for senior living communities partnered with Caring.com, particularly when there are 10 or more consumer reviews on a single listing and the senior living community has taken the time to respond professionally to both positive and negative feedback.
Don't wait for reviews to happen -- ask your happy, cognitively-healthy residents and their family members (who are likewise thrilled with your services) to post their feedback on the most-visited senior living review sites. Prioritize the review sites where any reviews you get are going to be seen by the most prospective customers and where those future residents and their family members can immediately schedule a tour or get in touch with your community.
You also need to spend some time monitoring for and responding to negative reviews. In research done by PowerReviews, 82% of consumers said they specifically sought out negative reviews during their research of a product or service. Consumers know businesses aren't perfect, and want to learn about any issues that others like them had with your services (and how you handled that criticism) -- it may or may not be a deal breaker for them, and the presence of negative feedback can also build trust with the consumer researching online (as PowerReviews found, if all the consumer sees are positive reviews, they can easily have a "too good to be true" reaction).
That's not to say that you should allow falsehoods about your brand to remain in online reviews. If there are factual errors, or you know that the review is from a disgruntled former employee posing as a consumer, contact the review site to try to get those reviews removed.
For those reviews you can't get removed: some review sites enable the listed business to respond to negative reviews. Take advantage of that feature -- according to a survey by MarketingCharts.com and Bazaarvoice: 7 in 10 consumers said a brand's response to online reviews changed their perception of that brand, because it made them feel that the brand really cares about customers, demonstrated that it really does have great customer service, and is trustworthy.
It's understandable if managing your online reputation feels daunting -- particularly if you haven't yet been considering digital marketing and PR. The good news is there are tools, organizations, and services you can turn to for help, including review monitoring software, marketing agencies, and reputation management features on the review/social media/directory sites. There's also a lot of free information available to help you better manage your reputation, such as that available through Caring.com's Digital Marketing Academy, on HubSpot, via Senior Housing Forum, and elsewhere.
You've worked hard to establish your senior living community as a high-quality establishment -- use these tips and resources to make sure senior care searchers online know it.
About this Guest Contributer: Denise Graab
Denise Graab is director of industry marketing at Caring.com, a leading senior care resource with three million monthly website visitors and more than 105,000 consumer reviews of local senior living communities and home care agencies. Denise is also the co-creator and project manager for Caring.com's Caring Stars award program, which was the first in our industry to honor the best assisted living and memory care communities based on consumer ratings. Learn more at: http://partners.caring.com/.