The bottom line of online reviews in senior living

How this now-common feedback is influencing our industry

By Denise Graab

At a national assisted living trade show just a few years ago, expert insights about "online reputation management" were in high demand. Few in the industry were actively soliciting or managing online reviews from senior living residents and their family members, much less considering staff reviews of their businesses or the impact of reviews on their business-to-business relationships.

Today, there are more than 200,000 reviews of senior care businesses online, most of the professional communities are paying attention to reviews, and much of the industry conversation has shifted from "What is online reputation management?" to understanding the specific business outcomes of seniors housing reviews.

In general, reviews are everywhere nowadays. Whether you're buying a new pair of shoes, booking a hotel or want to eat at a local restaurant, you can read online instantly what others like you have said about the product or service to help you narrow your selection.

For a while, some industry executives thought this trend didn't apply to senior care (“our audience isn't online”), or that social media was a passing fad they could simply wait out and ignore. They were mistaken. And the savvier companies who've harnessed the opportunity of online reviews are now realizing better bottom-line impacts as a result.

A shift in consumer search behaviors

The search for senior care has increasingly shifted to online sources, with most consumers starting their research of local providers using search engines and general terms (e.g. "assisted living in San Mateo"). Among the results on page one of the search engine are third-party websites and directories with senior care reviews.

Even in cases where a doctor or hospital discharge planner has referred the searcher to a specific facility, they're still going online to research that company before picking up the phone. In fact, it's estimated that 60 percent of the sales decision research is now done before a buyer ever contacts a vendor, and half (or more) of senior living leads are now coming from online sources.

Search marketing firm BrightLocal found in its 2015 Local Consumer Review Survey that 92 percent of consumers read online reviews (up from 88 percent in 2014), and 68 percent say positive reviews help them trust a local business more. These findings align with what we're seeing in the senior living industry as well.

In a webinar about online reputation management, GlynnDevins marketing agency shared that senior living business listings with reviews can get up to 14 times more inquiries than listings without reviews, and a five-star rated company is over 100 percent more likely to get a move-in than a community with no ratings or reviews. For senior living businesses most reviews are positive, and there are awards for those earning the best reviews, which are then used for local PR and marketing. This generates more inquiries, tours, and move-ins.

Additionally, the more reviews a senior living community garners, the more of these sales results they see. According to research Caring.com has done: community listings with 15 or more reviews convert leads five times better than listings with only one to two reviews, and get seven times more tours and eight times more move-ins.

Online reputation also influences talent acquisition

It's not just consumer reviews that are positively impacting our industry. Companies like Aegis Living are benefiting from online employee reviews as well. As industry blogger Steve Moran noted, Aegis is a better-rated employer on the employee review site, Glassdoor.com than tech giants Google, Facebook and Apple.

"When the culture is healthy, people loving to come to work each day, there is less turnover and better interactions between residents and team members. As a result, costs are lower and occupancies are higher," says Moran.

Recruiting and retaining the best talent has been a top challenge for operators, and it's been suggested that the industry to do a better job educating the public about the benefits of a career in senior housing. Extensive national marketing campaigns like the one launched by Brookdale Senior Living last October can help attract the right-fit employees (and new residents), but so too can online employee reviews — and at significantly less expense than traditional marketing.

According to Corporate Responsibility magazine, companies with good reputations enjoy greater consideration among potential candidates, far lower costs to hire those candidates, and potentially greater retention among existing employees. In the magazine’s 2015 corporate reputation survey, they found that if unemployed, the majority of women (85 percent) and men (67 percent) would not join a company with a bad reputation.

Online reviews from current and former employees are contributing to companies' reputations. Glassdoor reports that 61 percent of its U.S.-based users are reading employer ratings before applying for jobs. Realizing the increased influence of employee reviews online, smart headhunters and hiring managers are now strategizing and responding to these readily-available, public-facing insights formerly known only to company insiders and their friends and family via offline word-of-mouth.

Industry vendors need to heed online reviews too

Beyond influencing seniors housing consumers and employees, online reviews are also serving as a research and analysis point in business-to-business deals. For instance, in a 2014 business owner poll that The Alternative Board conducted, 46 percent of respondents cited getting good reviews from other business owners as the greatest single source in influencing buying decisions. They valued the vendor's employee reviews as well.

Website information or a brochure received directly from a vendor can be considered too sales-oriented or self-interested, and thus less trusted than third-party validation via reviews.

This has come up in Caring.com's conversations with senior living marketers. After going through a directory demo with one of our account executives, the prospective partners will ask about a business or service detail they read in a review on Glassdoor or Feefo.com (a transaction-based reviews site Caring.com uses for collecting feedback from seniors housing helpline customers). These executives seek to confirm or counter those anonymous insights they read online, and help solidify their trust our business.

Build the reputation and success you deserve

Your online reputation is likely making a difference for your senior housing business, whether positive or negative. To make the most of this opportunity: Be regularly aware of what is being said in reviews about your business; actively generate positive reviews; address negative online feedback; monitor and measure the specific impacts to your business; and adjust your online reputation strategies accordingly.

Whether you need to meet occupancy goals, recruit and retain the best employees, or seal industry deals, online reviews can play an important role in achieving the results you seek.

 

Denise Graab is director of industry marketing at Caring.com. Graab has 20 years of marketing and communications experience with the last 10 focused on social media.

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