4 Ways to Boost Resident-Generated Content

7 min read

These strategies market communities effectively through the eyes of residents and staff.

During its ownership of The Retreat at Tampa, a student housing community, Landmark Properties used user-generated content such as videos to enhance the reputation of the property and improve leasing velocity. Image courtesy of Landmark Properties

Think about the last time you purchased something online. Did you give more weight to the advertising copy describing the product or to the user reviews to see what other customers were saying?

Online reviews are a form of user-generated content (UGC), and they’re an important part of the consumer decision-making process. According to a 2020 study by media-experience cloud company Cloudinary, 70 percent of Gen X and Gen Z respondents, and 78 percent of Millennials, said it was “very” or “extremely” helpful to know how other product users feel when evaluating a purchase. Older buyers are less reliant on UGC, the study found.


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UGC is powerful because consumers consider it to be authentic and believable. So, if you’re not harnessing the power of UGC, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to boost engagement, increase leasing and renewal velocity, create a sense of community and even improve your ability to hire talented employees.

“UGC helps residents contribute to a community’s growth, strengthens brand loyalty, improves conversion rates and builds customer trust,” said Dalma Murg, an SEO engineer for Reach by RentCafe. “It is cost-saving and has a positive impact on local rankings.”

Here are four strategies being used by apartment operators to solicit and use UGC from residents and staff.

Incentivize Both Residents and Staff to Provide Content

Contests are a great way for apartment owners and managers to encourage both residents and staff to provide content that can be used for social media, blogs or to post on an apartment community’s website.

Landmark Properties, which acquires, develops and manages residential communities, including off-campus housing, has found that one of the best ways to obtain content from residents is to host contests.

“We’ve done decorating-your-room competitions and cooking competitions, where you do a video of what you’re cooking in your apartment,” said Delany Duke, the firm’s director of digital services. “We collect the content, post it, offer a gift card to the winner and then share that content as part of our marketing strategy.”

Duke said that gift cards are a great motivator, particularly for college students, so Landmark gets at least 30 to 40 percent of residents participating in the competitions they hold. “They’re already taking photos and sharing content on a daily basis, so it’s really easy for them to participate,” she said.

WC Smith, which has a portfolio of 10,000 market-rate and affordable apartments, recently held a contest at The Collective, a three-building community in Washington, D.C., where it invited residents to write an essay saying why they love living there. The incentive to participate: a professional photo shoot.

“We had a big response,” said Holli Beckman, chief marketing officer. “We had people writing about using the rooftop, the fitness amenities and the different spaces.”

After hiring a professional photographer to shoot the winner, the company used the photos—after obtaining resident consent—on the community’s website, in social media and in advertising. “Instead of having stock photos, we now have real photos of real individuals living in our community,” Beckman said.

Although many operators require their leasing and management staff to provide photos, videos and other content as part of their job responsibilities, others encourage staff in different ways. “We try to incentivize them with little perks—things like wearing jeans on a Friday if they can gather a certain number of reviews or get photos of residents using the amenities,” said KrisAnn Baker Kizer, vice president of leasing and marketing at Pierce Education Properties, an owner and manager of student housing properties.

Always Ask for Content

Most managers request reviews from prospects and residents whenever there is a positive interaction. For example, Meg Evans, a marketing coordinator at Bristol Development Group, said the firm routinely asks prospects to post reviews at various stages of the leasing process, on sites such as Facebook, Google, Apartments.com, ApartmentRatings and Apartment List.

Be sure to ask for content at other times as well.

Morgan Properties, which owns The Villas at Bryn Mawr, located near Villanova University, encourages residents to share photos on Instagram. Pet photos are particularly popular for residents to share. Image courtesy of Morgan Properties

“Don’t be afraid to ask your residents, employees or surrounding community to share their experiences on social sites,” said Jillian Fikkert, director of property marketing at Morgan Properties. “It can be intimidating for some to start the conversation about sharing content or experiences. We supply teams with QR code cards to help get residents directly to the sites to share their experiences.”

At Morgan’s Villas at Bryn Mawr community in Pennsylvania, the team asked residents attending on-site events to post photos on Instagram. They also recently asked residents to share photos of their pets.

“A lot of residents are sharing their experiences at events through Instagram stories, and we re-share those stories as well,” Fikkert said. “That’s the ultimate in resident-generated content, where we can share their story and show exactly what it was like through their eyes.”

Consider creating events or other opportunities that residents will want to share with their peers. “This can range from creating a beautiful mural on your building that people want to take pictures of to making sure your move-in gifts are set up in a beautiful vignette,” said Beckman.

Choose the Right Platform

Once you’ve solicited the content from residents and staff, what’s the best way to use it to achieve your goals?

Pierce Education uses UGC on social media—TikTok, Facebook and Instagram—but also shares it on community websites, creating a scrolling feed of Instagram posts. They use resident-provided photos in brochures and flyers as well.

Pierce utilizes a platform called RentGrata, which offers prospective renters the ability to message with current residents, thereby improving conversion rates through the personal interactions.

“It’s been extremely successful for us,” Kizer said. After launching the platform at one property, the company had signed 90 leases within three months as a result, she said.

Be sure to leverage content to appeal to your target audience, which, in most cases, will be prospective renters.

“If I’m shopping for an apartment, the first place I’m going to go is probably not some property’s Instagram account,” said Mike Whaling, president of 30 Lines, a marketing-technology studio.

Instead, use that content in prospect-targeted marketing, whether that’s on your website or in e-mail marketing.

Remember that content provided by your staff can be used to engage more than residents and prospects. “If the staff shares content, it makes them relatable and seem more approachable,” said Whaling. “It’s also a big communicator of culture for the purposes of hiring. In today’s market, talent is at a premium, so if you’re able to showcase that your employees love working there and enjoy sharing their experiences, that goes a long way to show the next recruit it’s a place they might want to consider working.”

Don’t Forget to Ask for Permission

Most apartment leases include language that permits the community to post photos of residents. But managers often get separate approvals from residents at events, during contests or when sharing photos taken by residents.

“Be sure you get the appropriate approvals from residents to share content,” said Fikkert. “Keep photo-release forms, and rules and regulations, in mind for contests to best protect everyone.”

And don’t forget the basics. Duke suggests providing good customer service to residents at all times, as well as creating meaningful relationships with both residents and prospects, to encourage sharing of content.

“If you’re providing a good customer-service experience, your residents are going to be more likely to want to participate and to make your community look good because they’ll feel like they are a part of it,” she said. “But if we’re not making those connections, when we ask for permission, they may say no.”

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