By Philip Shea, Associate Editor
As the tool of social media becomes more and more paramount, property managers are constantly seeking ways to maximize the effectiveness of their online marketing strategies. Social media marketing management programs such as HootSuite, Shoutlet and Sprinklr offer clever and innovative ways to optimize content and monitor team workflow and statistics.
Laura White, director of marketing at Ginkgo Residential LLC, says that she uses Google Analytics to manage and keep track of which marketing plans, key words/phrases and SEO strategies are providing the most return. The program, which is offered free of charge as a basic service, generates detailed statistics from sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and ApartmentRatings.com.
“The measurements I use include Ad Words campaign tracking and reports, [which are] very helpful when evaluating key words that are generating good to excellent click-through rates, average ad positioning and pricing bounce rates,” says White.
She adds that the application’s ability to locate from where visitors are re-directing is one of the prime features, because in her view, the most important utility of social media is “to build and increase SEO.”
“Visitor sources is a consistent benefit for me [and helps] in determining smart choices for target and direct marketing plans, as well as verifying ad spend that is better responding and performing,” she says. However, while such programs have been receiving much attention from industry professionals due to their wide range of functionality, many operators are still finding that more instinctual and customized approaches can be just as effective.
“We do not use any type of software at this time,” says Lynette Hegeman, vice president of marketing at Gables Residential. “We do have social media specialists in-house that manage all of our properties and pages.”
According to Hegeman, certain notification systems via the social media sites themselves can be quite effective in gaining a general idea of just how much responsiveness is really being generated.
“There are different programs we use that we get reports from,” says Hegeman. “We set up alerts, so we monitor what goes on Facebook [and] Twitter. We also have subscriptions to ApartmentRatings.com and Yelp, and we have alerts with those that [tell] us when something has been posted, and we respond to every posting—positive or negative.”
Katherine Gibson, director of marketing in the multifamily division of Harbor Group Management, agrees that it is important to respond to every comment posted on a social networking site, as this is perhaps the most effective way to maximize online presence even in the face of programs that emphasize other strategies.
“The properties respond to anything without getting deep into the content of what the issue is,” Gibson says. “I know there are a number of programs out right now [and] there are some very good programs being developed for reputation management.”
Yet Gibson notes that while her company uses a program that tracks prospect phone calls, she has thus far not been satisfied with what she has seen on the market in terms of social media reputation management software. However, she believes there is plenty of room for improvement and that a more streamlined product is likely on the horizon.
“I have not been happy with any of the solutions because I don’t think they really help the property manage that process, but there is something that is about to be released that I think is very, very exciting,” says Gibson. “In fact, I am optimistic that our 2013 budgets
will allow for a new reputation management solution.”
Hegeman, meanwhile, indicates that apart from software and applications, property managers can also find advantages in hiring personnel whose sole job is to monitor the company’s social media marketing strategies and optimize respective content and exposure.
“We call them ‘social media specialists,’ and they have a collection of properties by region,” says Hegeman. “This is a full-time position, and their sole purpose is to post on Facebook, Twitter [and the] community blog. These individuals also monitor the rating sites such as ApartmentRatings.com, Yelp and Google.”
In terms of what elements make for a strong social media presence, Gibson says that it’s important to have a clear brand and message that is constant across all platforms and gives the prospect reason to trust what the company is selling.
“I think consistency is really the best strategy, because if you’re not consistent at what you’re doing and posting regularly, people aren’t going to go to the sites; they want to see new content posts,” says Gibson.
Yet for Hegeman, at the end of the day social media is not necessarily about winning over new prospects—but keeping a strong line of communication and trust with current residents. In the long run, this might translate into an effective sub-strategy for attracting future tenants, as a good reputation on the property often creates word-of-mouth buzz that can trump other forms of marketing.
“In our company, we don’t look at social media as a way to get more leases. We really use it as a way to engage our residents,” says Hegeman. “We think that it’s about making them feel part of the community, connecting them with other residents, helping them to understand what’s going on, etc. So for us, it’s a communication tool and engagement tool.”