Why Digital Reputation Management Is Essential for Senior Living Communities

by Jeff Shaw

By Holly Koch, Director of Marketing Strategy, SmartBug Media

If you are in the senior living industry, you’ve noticed a surge in tech-savviness among seniors and their families. The journey to finding the perfect senior living community unfolds online, often starting by doing research on communities and reading reviews to narrow down options. 

Recognizing this digital shift, incorporating a reputation management strategy into your digital marketing playbook isn’t optional any longer — it’s a vital component of a thriving community.

The shift in senior living marketing strategies

Seniors today are more present online than ever before. Just five years ago, seniors may not have even had an email address. Today they have email addresses, use Google to thoroughly do research, and read online reviews. 

As senior living prospects’ digital prowess has rapidly matured, senior living marketing teams have had to quickly adapt to the changing marketing landscape. 

Additionally, children, other family members, or caregivers who are key decision makers are going to be doing plenty of their own research on senior living communities to ensure the community is the best fit for their loved ones. 

In generations past, seniors would often only look at a few communities close to their area and pick one of those options. Today, there is much more substantial vetting involved. Prospective residents and their key decision makers will consider how a community’s website feels and if it speaks to the experiences they or their loved ones want to have.

Senior living marketing teams need to meet this shift by being present and active where their prospects are doing this research — responding to Google reviews, actively monitoring and responding on social media, and even engaging in conversations on message boards. 

Within the last few years, it hasn’t been enough to simply have a website that functions. As the majority of senior living communities are taking an active role in online reputation management and local search engine optimization (SEO), it’s crucial to keep up. Without these strategies in place, your senior living community runs the risk of not even being on a prospect’s radar.

Necessary elements of an online review strategy

An effective online review strategy consists of not only encouraging positive reviews but also responding to negative reviews and ensuring that residents and employees are satisfied with the community. 

Think of it as a chess game in which you need to play both offense and defense simultaneously. Offense is gaining positive reviews. Defense is avoiding negative reviews that can hurt your reputation — sometimes even more than positive reviews can help it. 

A great offensive tactic is to send out employee and residents surveys to gather feedback on what is going well and where improvements could be made. Take action on the improvements needed, while simultaneously encouraging residents and employees with positive feedback to leave a review, which in turn encourages prospects to move forward with the community.

One defensive tactic is making sure residents and employees are happy and addressing areas of concern before they take their frustrations online. People are likely to leave negative reviews when they’re in an emotional state — unhappy and unheard.

With prospective residents often the focus, employee satisfaction can be overlooked in a reputation management strategy. But missing this key part is detrimental. Employees have firsthand experience with what matters to people who are considering senior living communities. If an employee is dissatisfied enough to leave a review, they may leave specific feedback about certain aspects that they know are important to prospects and their families to dissuade them.

So you got a negative review. Now what? 

Responding to the comment with an acknowledgment of the negative experience described and an invitation to discuss it one on one can go a long way. After the conversation, the resident or employee may realize they were upset when they left the review and exaggerated, or they just needed the chance to be heard. They can go into their review and edit it or add an additional response noting that they talked through and resolved the issue with the community. 

Whether you get the chance to talk to the reviewer or not, the good will of the offered outreach can help neutralize the negative comment.

How reputation management fits in a digital marketing strategy

Prospects and their families are doing a lot more upfront planning, and an aesthetically pleasing website isn’t enough to keep up with this shift. A robust marketing strategy that includes reputation management, an optimized website, content marketing, SEO optimization, and in-depth analytics analysis is essential to keeping up with emerging generations.

In-depth data analysis is key. Evaluating data will reveal where reputation management and other marketing strategies are and aren’t working, so you can rely on facts instead of gut instinct. Unlike instinct, data doesn’t lie and can show where strategies need to pivot. 

Another hidden gold mine of information: Consider finding out why you may have lost a lead to another community. Part of reputation management is checking in with lost leads and discussing where their expectations weren’t met. Talking with the lost lead about what the community could have done to meet their expectations and make the decision easier for them is essential for doing better the next time. 

It’s vital to keep in mind that prospects want to make these types of important decisions with confidence, and part of building that confidence is helping them envision what day-to-day life will be like in the community. If reviews online are negative, the website has a bad user experience or is too vague, or there is a lack of reputation management strategies in place, the prospect or key decision makers may be left to fill in the blanks themselves. 

Think about how quickly marketing strategies have had to evolve within the last few years. As future generations age and consider senior living for themselves, not only are they even more tech-savvy than the generations before them, but they’ve also potentially been through this process before with an older loved one. Those prior experiences might mean prospects have preconceived ideas about the process and how senior living will be for them, which can be problematic if their loved one had a negative experience.

Giving prospects and families the tools they need to make confident and smart decisions for their future is important. It is vital that senior living communities adjust their marketing strategies quickly to adapt to tech-savvy prospects by managing their reputation and providing helpful decision-making content, all while helping prospects develop an understanding of the vibrant lifestyle they can experience in the community. 

Holly Koch is a director of client strategy at SmartBug Media. She is well versed in implementing digital marketing strategies for many industries, but is particularly passionate about the senior living industry.

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