Reputation is everything. Just ask Taylor Swift. She made a whole album dedicated to protecting and saving her reputation – appropriately called, “Reputation.” Ask anyone in the apartment industry – or any other business, for that matter – if reputation matters and they’ll say yes.

For apartment owners, reputation is even more important. After all, we’re asking people to sign a long-term lease to live with us based on the perception of our community.

For a long time, we could rely on online reviews to share the opinions and comments of our residents in every community to build a positive reputation. But how do you get that message across when potential renters are less likely to look at or believe our online reviews?

Back in the days before everyone relied on the internet, a personal referral meant everything. Then came ecommerce and websites flooded with organic online reviews that guided decisions. People could go to eBay and feel confident enough to send a bunch of money to some stranger because they had positive reviews from other people. But then people who were selling stuff figured out how to effectively hack the system and promote reviews that at best were glorified and at worst were fraudulent. That’s what created the reaction that a lot of people have now: how can you trust reviews when they’re being manipulated?

The survey of Gen Z renters found that while they still read reviews, they don’t rely on online ratings and internet listing sites to find an apartment as much as earlier generations. You know what they rely on most? A personal referral. For the Gen Z generation, they’d rather talk to someone living in the community before making a rental decision. They’d rather find someone willing to talk to them instead of reading an anonymous review. If they don’t someone who lives where they’re looking, they can still find a way to get that reference.

Members of the Gen Z generation have grown up with social media, so they have a lot more social media relationships than older generations. They can get a referral through their personal network, which extends through one, two or three rings or more of connection rather than relying on someone anonymous whose motivation they may question.

As apartment owners, we can provide a middle ground between getting a referral from a personal network or from an anonymous review. We can organize onsite, in-person events where prospective renters can meet actual residents. We can connect a prospect by text or phone to a current resident who can act as an ambassador for the community. To build a good reputation today takes a multifaceted communication approach to reach the next generation of renters.