Reputation Management: It’s a PR Thing
Reputation management is as old as public relations itself. You might even be able to argue that they’re synonyms.
After all, that’s the job of the public relations professional – to manage the reputation of people and companies in every communication channel possible. But for some reason, reputation management, which is a very broad subject in public relations, has recently been simplified into responding to reviews online.
That might be why so many apartment owner/operators engaging with review sites view it as a customer service activity rather than a public relations function. After all, all you’re doing is responding to a customer, right?
Not exactly. Reputation management is what it literally says it is — managing the reputation of a person or entity in the public sphere (in front of many people in many channels, one of them being online reviews). That’s not the job of a customer service representative who solves customer problems on a one-on-one basis.
Customer service representatives play a valuable role in an organization, but it’s not equivalent to that of a public relations professional. Responding to reviews, which is a small part of the reputation management function, belongs in the public relations arena for several reasons:
The time for customer service has passed
In most cases, the resident has already brought their concerns to the attention of a leasing agent, the community manager, the corporate customer service team and any warm body that would listen. Their issue wasn’t resolved. They turned to Yelp, ApartmentRatings or Google for revenge or maybe a last ditch effort to get their problem solved.
The review sites gave them a platform to escalate the issue to the public and do real damage to the company that they perceive has slighted them in some way. This is where public relations plays a critical role. When it becomes public, it is no longer just about solving the customer’s problem. It’s about solving the problem and managing the reputation damage at the same time. Public relations is equipped to do both, whereas customer service is focused on simply solving the problem.
The audience has expanded
Solving the problem in the review response realm is not a one-on-one communication exchange. It’s playing out in public, and you have to be much more careful about what you say or do than you would be in a typical customer service interaction.
Although it’s rare, one small misstep could spawn a hundred memes, encourage lawsuits and even land your CEO in the hot seat on 60 minutes. Public relations is best equipped to say the right things in a public exchange and help avoid the worst case scenario.
The resident is effectively a reporter
Even if it doesn’t make the 60 minutes agenda, a negative review has made the public agenda in front of your most important public – prospective renters. The resident is effectively playing the role of an investigative journalist and telling that negative story to your prospective renters like it’s on the evening news during ratings season.
Responding to them should be done with the same care and concern you would use to respond to an investigative journalist on the national stage. Sure, the resident doesn’t have as broad of a reach as the reporter, but they do reach your most important audience and can grab the attention of the reporter.
Sure, the worst-case scenarios of leaving reputation management to customer service are unlikely. But is it worth the risk? Or is it just better to have the function most equipped to manage reputations handle your online reviews?