Face it: Even if you're the best landlord or property management company ever, you're bound to upset some tenants eventually. Maybe you didn't have the resources to complete a maintenance request in time. Maybe you lost some records, and your tenant is frustrated. Maybe you didn't return an entire security deposit, and your tenants dispute the charges. Maybe ... well, maybe you didn't do anything wrong at all.
It was bad enough in the pre-Internet days when stories about bad experiences with a company would spread via word-of-mouth. But now, a customer's horror stories, real or imagined, can spread across the world lightning fast -- and the danger to you, your business, your reputation, and your profits is real. As a landlord or a property manager, how can you protect yourself against bad press online?
Manage Your Image
Your best defense is a good offense. No, we don't mean going up to the tenant's door with a baseball bat, even though you may be extremely frustrated. Instead, stage a charm offensive.
Take a moment to search for your name or your company's name, and consider your or your company's online presence through a user's eyes. You might see positive things, negative things or maybe even nothing at all. You may have put that information there yourself, or it may be information that other people, such as tenants or competitors, placed on the Internet.
With that information in mind, start curating your company's Internet presence accordingly. Don't respond to bad press outright, because that can spread it around further. Instead, use your company's web-presence to project a positive, friendly and helpful image of your company. If your company does not have a presence on social media, consider creating one, so as to create another place where you can share your version of what your company does.
(Maybe) Approach Your Tenant
If it's a current tenant who's spreading information about you, and you can figure out which one, consider taking the time to reach out to him or her. Sometimes tenants don't express their concerns to their landlords and vent these concerns behind the landlord's back. Communicating with tenants, explaining your stance, compromising with them or offering an apology isn't a bad idea. It can soften their ire, resolve the problem and possibly convince them to take down the information they put online.
Be aware, however, that a lot of tenants may be afraid of these kinds of meetings, and with good reason -- they're concerned about retribution. If you choose this route, make sure you're not taking anything that could be construed as an antagonistic tack. Keep the meeting friendly, make sure everyone leaves on a positive note, and don't ever leave the tenant guessing as to how you feel or if there will be any retribution.
And if it Gets Bad Enough...
Depending on the information that's online, you may be able to contact the social media site or the website's host and ask them to remove it. Typically websites only do this if something is defamatory, though, and be aware that silencing speech outright may have an even worse effect on your reputation than letting it fester.
Finally, if what you're seeing about you or your company online is bad enough and bears no relationship to reality, you may want to hire a lawyer to look into the matter. Online defamation is just as serious as more traditional forms of slander and libel. Don't hesitate to investigate steps you can take before your reputation is damaged further.
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