If you have spent any time reading or learning about Internet marketing during the past year, you were exposed to two main themes:
- Creating a Social Strategy to drive traffic to your site; and
- Using Reviews to drive traffic to your site, and managing your reviews
So should you be drinking the Social and Review Kool-aid?
My short answer: Yes and No. If you believe that the buyer/seller relationship has fundamentally changed then yes. If you do not think that there has been a change in this relationship, then no.
As Daniel Pink says in his HBR podcast , from time’s beginning we have always been selling something. But how we’ve recently been engaging in the sales process has changed dramatically. Before the advent of the internet, the seller held the power in the sales relationship because they had access to all the relevant information about a specific service or product (including the wholesale price). However, with the explosion of readily available online information, it is the buyer who possesses leverage.
For example, before the Internet, purchasing a used car was fraught with deception, because the seller held the most important information about specific vehicles. Today, you can go to carfax.com, input the VIN number and find out whether the vehicle has been in a serious accident, stolen, or recaptured from a flood (think Hurricane Sandy cars). Without the Internet, a used car buyer would have to trust that the seller was acting in good faith about the history and condition of the vehicle. The seller held the power in the relationship. As soon as a buyer presents the Carfax report, the buyer has the power.
So how does this apply to Senior Living and Assisted Living Communities?
Steve Moran from Senior Housing Forum and I delivered a presentation to over 300 participants at this year’s Assisted Living Federation of America Annual Conference about how to use Reviews as a way to increase and improve online marketing performance . During this presentation we discussed a few key ideas and related back to some old, trusted ones.
Paid, Owned and Paid Media
The type of media used to project your message or brand determines its effectiveness. There are three types of media – Paid, Owned, Earned.
Paid media is one-directional. Its message is controlled by the publisher and generally seeks to interrupt the target audience’s daily attention through novel or traditional messages.
Owned media are messages that are published in a specific format. While the ultimate message can be one or bi-directional, the initial message is controlled by the publisher. The most common forms of Owned media are blog posts and Advertorials.
Earned media are messages that are published in a specific format that are not controlled by the publisher. These messages include comment cards, unpaid public endorsements/product placements and many forms of word of mouth advertising. Online reviews and testimonials comprise the fastest growing part of today’s Earned Media.
According to Nielsen’s 2011 Media Survey , the media format most trusted by individuals are Earned media including reviews on websites and comments left
on blog posts. Paid media formats, both online and offline, occupy most of the bottom half on the trusted media spectrum.
The results of this report imply that advertisers and publishers who seek conversions from their publication and advertising campaigns should lessen their exposure to Paid media and focus their efforts on Earned and Owned media. So, according to the Nielsen report, if you want to build greater word of mouth and trust amongst your stakeholders and prospective residents, you should focus your marketing efforts on building an approach to Reviews and a fulsome Social Media interaction/internal publication strategy.
Social or Reviews?
If you had to choose between the implementation of a Social or Review strategy, which should you start with? I believe that a well-designed and well-executed Review strategy will be far more effective than a wholesome Social strategy. Why? Because a strong review strategy will ultimately generate its own Social benefits and build the reputation you deserve.
Don’t believe me yet? A 2011 study and working paper completed by Harvard Professor Michael Luca asserts that restaurants in Washington state with at least a 1-star rating on Yelp.com benefited from 5% to 9% increase in revenues over those restaurants that had no rating on Yelp.com.
Moreover, Professor Luca contends that for every additional star rating an independent restaurant will benefit by an additional 5% to 9% in revenues. Professor Luca’s analysis and approach was confirmed by colleagues Michael Anderson and Jeremy Magruder at University of California at Berkeley who published a corresponding paper in The Economic Journal (Volume 122, Issue 563, September 2012) 
If restaurants rated on a popular review site can generate additional restaurant revenues, what do you think reviews will mean for your Assisted Living Community’s revenues, especially if your competitors are afraid of embracing them?
Reviews Have Multiple Benefits
Today’s consumers want transparency and easy access to information from sources they can trust to re-balance the sales transaction (a la Daniel Pink). The current opaque information policies regarding pricing, service and amenities offered by Senior Living operators continues to be out of sync with the new purchaser paradigm, and as a result, consumers will look for all trusted information sources to tip the balance of the sales transaction in their favor.
While personal recommendations are the highest form of trusted advice, they are in short supply. Thus, online reviews serve as a proxy for the closest form of trusted media.
Volume and type of online reviews have tremendous impact on the visibility of a community’s online presence. Search engines using Social search algorithms rank websites with large volumes of reviews and/or explicit comments higher than those sites whose social content does not materially change. So if your community is posting receiving fulsome reviews on a regular basis then your online presence or storefront will rank ahead of your competitors.
Review websites relevant to Senior Living Operators
Ok, you agree that you need to have a review strategy. Which sites should you target to be the main generators of reviews for your community?
There are two types of review sites:
- General consumer sites
- Special niche sites.
For an effective strategy, you should encourage posting to both types, but be strategic in your focus. Choose consumer sites like Yelp.com and Google Reviews (or Google Plus) and niche sites like Retirementhomes.com and Senioradvisor.com because all of these sites are locations where consumers make both general and specific searches about Senior Living.
Once you’ve decided where you want your stakeholders to direct their reviews, you should ensure that all of your paid and owned media campaigns direct individuals to these review sites. At RetirementHomes.com, our comprehensive process ensures that genuine reviews are posted to your profile, are easily referenced by search engines, and are compatible with your own Social sites.
- Daniel Pink HBR podcast
- Blair Carey and Steve Moran American Living Federation of America Annual Conference Presentation
- Nielsen’s 2011 Media Survey
- The Economic Journal (Volume 122, Issue 563, September 2012)
Blair Carey, CFA is the Managing Director of RetirementHomes.com and is a sought after adviser to Senior and Assisted Living operators in the areas of Online/Search Marketing, Social Engagement and Lead Management.