Social media advertising is a powerful marketing tool in the apartment industry and beyond. According to research by data specialist Statista, in 2021 the U.S. spent more than $240 billion on online media advertising, compared to the $60 billion spent in 2020. Of that $240 billion, $47.9 billion was on social media advertising. Social media advertising is cost effective, too. In the second quarter of 2021, the “cost per mile” was $6.37. Advertisers paid this amount to have their ads viewed by a thousand potential customers.
However, apartment marketers sometimes grapple with decisions such as which platforms they should be on, what types of content make the most sense and how much of their budget should be allocated to paid social ads. MHN spoke to several experts to see what works—and what pitfalls to avoid.
Getting a ‘Boost’
Why should digital marketing teams pay to advertise on social media platforms if they can already post content for free? The views, for one. Each platform has its own algorithm to determine how many people might actually see those free posts, according to Mike Whaling, president & founder of 30 Lines. “It’s just not that many people,” he said of regular posts. “In fact, Google posts have much greater organic reach today than posting to your property’s Facebook page.”
Boosted posts offered by Facebook and Instagram are the simplest, most cost-effective way to promote individual posts so more people will see a particular message. According to Facebook, “a boosted post is a post to your page’s timeline that you can apply money to in order to boost it to an audience of your choosing.”
The boosted Facebook posts show up in your audience’s Facebook News Feed as an ad. You can also select Instagram as an ad placement for your boosted post. While boosting a post is considered an ad, Facebook Ads are created through Ads Manager, and they offer more options for customization. Instagram also offers both boosted posts as well as Instagram Ads for more robust campaigns.
“Boosted posts are useful if you have a post you’ve already created that you want to get in front of more people in your area like a donation campaign you’re running or a grand opening for a new lease-up,” Whaling said.
Unlike boosts, paid ads provide the most customization and placement options including Messenger, Instagram Stories and Meta’s Audience Network. “Paid ads can be tailored to your specific business objectives such as creating brand awareness, collecting leads, driving website traffic, driving views of video tours, etc. In most cases, apartment marketers should be running paid ads, not boosted posts,” Whaling said. “You can maintain greater creative control and add specific descriptions and calls-to-action that will drive more prospects to take action.”
Getting Prospects’ Attention
Meta, the new parent company name for Facebook, has the broadest reach, but other social advertising options include YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn (suggested for corporate housing and preferred employer campaigns), Snapchat, Nextdoor and Pinterest. And more pop up all the time. Choose the networks that give you the best chance to effectively reach the most potential prospects.
According to Whaling, understanding your audience and where they spend their time and attention should be the number one factor when deciding where to advertise. Knowing why prospective renters are on these sites in the first place can be tremendously helpful in planning ads that will get their attention and make them stop scrolling.
“Beyond that, you also need to consider what kind of content you have—do you have a compelling video that is going to catch someone’s eye? Can you show cool lifestyle photos from recent resident events?” Whaling said. Not showcasing the people at the community is a common mistake that he has observed. “It’s ‘social’ media. People are there to connect with people. Show more people, more residents, more neighborhood activities and more of your on-site team.”
Emma Tessler, founder of Ninety Five Media, suggests starting on Instagram and TikTok. “These are the biggest platforms right now,” she said. “Everyone wants to see what they’re going to lease in real time. Don’t assume that photos will persuade your renters anymore.” Tessler suggests making ads featuring walkthroughs and detailed videos in the actual spaces.
After consistently posting for a few months, Tessler suggests performing an analysis of your content’s performance to determine where you may want to push a bit harder or pull back, based on the reactions you are seeing from your audience. “Analytics will tell you everything you need to know about your content performance and where your spend should be.”
For example, Bozzuto’s spend for social media advertisements is less than 20 percent across the board. “We are always measuring, seeing what the results are with our spend versus the results we’re seeing on page search and across the ILS and then tweak as needed,” Daniel Paulino, vice president of digital marketing at Bozzuto, said. “We dabble in a little bit of everything. We always test new platforms and new ad formats as they’re available.” According to Paulino, Facebook is the platform that consistently delivers.
What to Post
The standard ad unit—and the one that’s been around the longest—is the single-image ad with one image, some text and a call-to-action button. Another basic option available on most platforms is carousel ads that contain up to 10 different cards to showcase either multiple products or tell a linear story. Bozzuto has found those much more effective than the single-image ad. “Carousel ads are more engaging,” says Paulino. “You can tell a progressive story, show what makes your properties different and the lifestyles they offer.”
According to Paulino, video ads are also extremely effective, but it takes a bit of tweaking and testing to figure out what works best. “We’ve found that videos under 15 seconds—and sometimes under 10 seconds—are the most effective,” he said. “It can be more difficult to tell a story concisely in that time, so we always have to tweak those and figure out the best kind of topic to focus on within such a short format.”
Paulino stresses that “test and learn” should be the primary mantra of any marketer especially a digital marketer. “You never really know if a platform is going to work in a specific ad unit or a tactic is going to work or even a specific campaign with the creative and the messaging that you developed,” he explained. Testing and regularly looking at the metrics and trends are key to success.
“Tweaking, optimizing, retesting and analyzing the results on a consistent basis are things that every marketer should be doing to really understand where their opportunities are—and where they’re getting the best return,” Paulino said.
Bozzuto has been collecting data for years and the team has identified a huge shift in consumers’ interest in floor plans. Before COVID-19, they looked at the pictures of the building, the amenities and obviously pricing and availability. But now they spend three to four times more looking at floor plans. According to Paulino, that information helps them decide what to advertise on social media.
If you see efficient results, ramp up the spend slowly and always keep in mind that every later dollar that you have is less efficient than the earlier dollars. “If you have only 10 percent of your budget in social media and you’re seeing efficient results, that doesn’t mean that if you double the budget it is going to be as efficient,” Paulino explained.
Building a Marketing Funnel
“Facebook is by far our largest platform with nearly 27,000 page likes, making Facebook—and by extension Instagram—our main area of focus for paid social media,” Megan Davidson, senior marketing analyst with Pangea Properties, said. “We also have a decent following and put a small amount of ad spend toward Twitter.”
Pangea structures paid social media campaigns to build a marketing funnel with top-, middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns to target renters at all stages of the prospect journey. According to Davidson, the top- and middle-of-the-funnel ads are optimized for link clicks and engagement, which are monitored and tracked via Google Analytics and Facebook Business Manager. “The bottom-of-the-funnel ads on Facebook are click-to-call using a tracking number to correctly attribute the calls, and lead generation forms that are sent to our CRM to become guest cards for the leasing team to work,” Davidson said.
However, Davidson said that it’s difficult to definitively prove return on investment or return on ad spend for the ads higher in the funnel without a more robust multi-touch attribution model, especially considering the current debates and changes surrounding privacy and third-party data.
“However, we do use the Facebook pixel to retarget and bring prospects down the funnel. Anyone who visits one of the landing pages in top of the funnel (TOFU) ads is then served middle of the funnel (MOFU) ads,” Davidson said. “Even if we aren’t able to track specific, individual prospect interactions with our ads, by tracking engagement and landing page visits we can determine what is and isn’t working and continue to optimize our strategy.”
Like other aspects of marketing, paid social media requires a strategic mix of logic and creativity. According to Davidson, staying up to date with digital marketing tools, tactics and trends is key to staying ahead of the curve. It’s also a good idea to keep an open mind and think outside the box. “Consider parallel industries like hospitality or even other industries that are completely different from multifamily,” she said. “Their strategies may not be directly applicable to us, but they can still inspire new tactics to try.”