Student Housing Business

SEP-OCT 2018

Student Housing Business is the voice of the student housing industry.

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SMARTER OPERATIONS September/October 2018 85 J Turner Research provides the student housing industry research and tools for building a strong reputation. ORA (online reputation assessment) scores, for example, rank student properties on a 0 to 100 scale. ORA rankings for multi- family debuted in 2015. Earlier this year, J Turner started a separate stu- dent housing ORA Power Ranking. Ratings Tracker, a tool for online reputation management, launched in 2014. SHB spoke with J Turner President Joseph Batdorf, who urges the industry to take student reviews seriously, and to make sure they're being used for operations improvements. Student Housing Business: Why did you think that there was a need for rankings and tools? Batdorf: Online reputation has become the dominant way peo- ple look for an apartment. Our research shows that for the major- ity of residents, the first place to search for an apartment is online. Reviews are the stealth tool that people are using to find a prop- erty where they want to live. We did a student housing study ear- lier this year with more than 19,000 respondents across the nation. The results show that an overwhelming majority — 86 percent — of stu- dents utilize online reviews in their apartment search. When we started tracking online reputation six years ago, there were only two review sites, and Yelp. Google came three to four years ago and exploded the review market. Adding to this, today, there are gaming companies that have exploded the number of reviews as well. It has become very diffi- cult, almost impossible, for proper- ties and/or companies to quantify their online reputation. Now there are 20-plus sites where residents can leave reviews. The biggest chal- lenge is how do you look at so many sites at one time to determine what your online reputation is? We saw a huge need in the multifam- ily industry for standard metrics to measure and benchmark a property or company's online reputation across sites. With our ORA score, we simplified that task and pro- vided the much-needed standard to quantify online reputation. Our Ratings Tracker clients can regular- ly monitor their ORA score through our dashboard and benchmark their performance within their port- folio and versus their competition. SHB: What do operators get wrong most often — where are the areas of improvement? Batdorf: The insights you get from reviews are valuable for operations. Reputation management is an oper- ations issue and not a marketing issue, and that's what operators get wrong most often. Reputation man- agement is basically handled by the marketing department and not the operations team. SHB: Does it behoove owners to invest in gamification? Batdorf: Yes, it does. Gamification has its impact on the total volume and sentiment of reviews for a com- pany. The residents earn points for writing reviews among other activities such as responding to sur- veys and renewing their lease. This incentive produces a high volume of reviews, usually with a more positive sentiment. SHB: How are you growing your research capabilities and products to measure reputation in student housing? Batdorf: We are constantly evolv- ing to offer the latest online rep- utation research to the multifam- ily industry. We are growing our footprint of properties month over month. We started tracking the rat- ings and reviews of 48,000 prop- erties and now we are almost at 80,000 properties. We are monitor- ing new review sites as they come up on the horizon. This year, we went through our fourth iteration of the ORA algorithm. We annu- ally publish a white paper to give a quantitative perspective on the growth of review volume, senti- ment, and market share of various review sites titled 'The Mechanics of Online Reviews Sites and ILSs.' It's a constant process of evolution. SHB: How often does a low score or a not-so-stellar online reputa- tion result in a full-on, start-over rebrand effort? Batdorf: We don't have specif- ic research on when companies rebrand. Review sites can track a property's name change by focus- ing on the property's address. Your reputation 'follows' you even when you change your name. Whenever they do start over with a rebrand- ing effort, they should keep in mind that the factors that will have a dramatic effect on changing their online reputation are gamification, pushing reviews through the sur- vey system, and/or being more aggressive in asking for reviews. A rebrand with those things in mind can be immensely helpful. SHB: Who relies on online ratings more — student housing or multi- family prospects? Batdorf: Residents across the spec- trum rely on online reviews while deciding to lease at a property. However, our research shows that reliance is slighter higher among conventional residents. While residents consider multiple fac- tors while choosing an apartment, online reviews account for 52 per- cent of the total influence for con- ventional residents and 47 percent for students. At a rating of 6.26, the influence of online reviews on students' decision to visit a prop- erty is marginally lower than con- ventional residents who rated this influence at 7.37. Students are more familiar with properties as they have visited friends at these properties; they are socially more active, and word-of-mouth is more intense. The 'universe' of properties to decide between is more finite. SHB: What do you think student housing owners need to understand about reputation management? Batdorf: Whether you know it or not, residents are paying close attention to your online reputation. It is a critical factor in their decision to visit or lease at your property. — Lynn Peisner Reviews: Students' Stealth Tool upcoming events InterFace Multifamily Southeast November 27, Atlanta InterFace Healthcare Real Estate Southeast November 28, Nashville InterFace Salt Lake City Industrial Real Estate November 29, Salt Lake City InterFace Salt Lake City Multifamily November 29, Salt Lake City Ancillary Retail Expo January 14, Daytona Beach Entertainment Experience Evolution February 12, Los Angeles InterFace Student Housing April 8-10, Austin

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