If you are one of the thousands of homebuyers whose house-warming plans have been delayed by two years because of developers being behind schedule, where else to vent but on social media? According to real estate research firm LiasesForas, nearly half of the 3,23,000 homes that were to be delivered in 2013 will be delayed; and a third of these won't be ready before 2015.
Even as disgruntled home buyers spit venom on Facebook and Twitter, real estate companies are scurrying to online reputation managers for cover.
To be sure, social networks have become an ideal platform for irate consumers to get back - justifiably or otherwise - at developers. Still, when it comes to real estate, hell has no fury like a homebuyer made to wait. Builders with delayed projects are being forced to either hire external agencies or set up in-house online reputation management teams.
Tata Housing recently hired Social Wavelength to leverage the digital media to be more accessible to consumers across India and also track comments on the brand in the online space. Unitech, Puravankara Projects and Supertech are also resorting to online reputation management.
"When we see negative conversations, we try build on them and put the right perspective forward, reason it out. If there has been a project delay, we tell them the ground reality about why it happened," says Rajeeb Kumar Dash, head of marketing services at Tata Housing. Many of the comments online stem from miscommunication, which needs to be sorted out. What is also important is to set expectations of a customer right," says Jack Bastian Nazareth, COO of Puravankara Projects, who sees online reputation management as an extension of customer relationship management.
Such damage control has a two-pronged approach. One is to flag out negative views, conversation, and comments about a brand, address them and make the customer feel that she is being listened to. "Consumers in India are very forgiving. They are fine if their voice is heard and responded to. A solution may take time, but being heard takes care of most of the problems," says HareeshTibrewala, joint chief executive officer of Social Wavelength.
The other strategy, he points out, is to amplify positive views. "It is also important to identify those who are talking positively about a brand and then to amplify that to create a feel good about the brand," adds Tibrewala.
Mumbai-based Lodha group uses online forums as a feedback mechanism to understand grievances of customers and then engage directly with them offline as much as possible.
"We have found that a majority of concerns expressed online are due to misinformation or a lack of information and we are able to address these satisfactorily at an individual level through direct engagement," says R Karthik, chief marketing officer, Lodha group.