The Hazard of Fake Reviews
Online reviews have become the X Factor in the apartment world. While prospects have been utilizing them to help sway their decisions of where to live for the past several years, that propensity continues to rise.
According to an ORA Power Rankings report recently published by J. Turner Research, online review volume ballooned to 9.3 million in the apartment sector in 2019, up 1.5 million from the previous year. More significantly, a related study indicated that reviews now account for 58 percent of a renter’s total influence when they decide whether or not to lease at a community.
With so much at stake, it’s easy to see why onsite teams are eager to beef up their online ratings. Some have even resorted to stocking their online listing with positive reviews of their own doing. Here are some rules to follow when implementing that strategy:
This is not to discourage onsite teams from pursuing positive reviews and asking happy residents whether they’d be willing to post one. But there’s a fine line. Incentivizing reviews—or worse yet, having members of your team write them—can have several counterproductive effects. Here are some of them:
They appear inauthentic
Prospects can be a savvy bunch. They are quick to diagnose when something appears a bit fabricated, and if every review is overwhelmingly positive, they will appear more out of place than a MAGA hat at a pride parade. Onsite teams often panic at the sight of an ugly negative review, but they won’t necessarily deter prospects if you respond to them correctly.
In fact, they can even help prospects see that someone is upset but the community is handling it in a proactive and appropriate manner. As one of our LTM clients often points out, prospects like to see a little of the “salt and pepper” when perusing reviews, because they know it’s not authentic if a community receives nothing but 5-star recognition across the board.
They can get you into trouble
From managing a fairly large volume of reviews at our agency, I’ve seen it. A positive review arrives in the queue, and it’s written by the community manager. They didn’t even try to hide it. The Federal Trade Commission forbids the use of fake testimonials or reviews. While it seldom reaches this point, the FTC has the power to stop and penalize parties for “using unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.”
Not only that, but what will your current residents think if they see your onsite team members essentially boosting up your scores. In some cases, they might feel duped that positive reviews were part of the reason they chose your community. I say this jokingly, but if you go the unsavory route of stocking your own listings, at least have the wherewithal not to use your real name.
They could put your positive reviews in jeopardy
Of all the regular review sites, Yelp! is the most difficult to navigate. The site will move some seemingly authentic reviews to the non-recommended section while leaving others that would seem slam dunks to filter. It’s very inexact. But something that certainly can happen if the site deems that you’re being too aggressive in soliciting positive reviews is that all of them can disappear.
One community for which I regularly assisted with responses had a 4.3 score based on about 100 reviews. One day it was down to 1.3. That’s because Yelp decided that day to move all of that community’s positive reviews to the filtered section. A maintenance worker at the community had been actively seeking positive reviews and received about 30 in a two-month span. When Yelp noticed the unrealistic influx, all of that community’s positive reviews were at risk.
Like all forms of cheating, fake reviews have their exorbitant risk factors. It might work for awhile—think of the recent Houston Astros scandal—but if you are uncovered as a cheater, the cringe factor it can leave on your residents and prospects isn’t worth the risk.