Images have always been important for marketing apartment communities, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made them critical. Photos, videos and 3D tours allow prospective renters to not only see but to virtually walk through an apartment without the necessity for an in-person visit. They also are key to renters who are relocating and doing their apartment search online. And, in the current market, most multifamily owners and operators believe it would be impossible to achieve their goals without the use of photos and videos.
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According to the 2020 NMHC/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Report, 83 percent of survey respondents said they would need to see unit photos or slideshows online before renting an apartment without seeing it in person, while 64 percent said they would need to see community and amenity photos and 59 percent, a virtual/3D tour. That report is based on pre-pandemic data, but industry experts say that photos, slideshows, videos and 3D tours are even more important today.
“For most demographic groups, photos and videos are essential, especially when we’re in an environment like we’ve been for the last year, when people aren’t comfortable touring on-site or are moving to another market and doing it all online,” Sarah Yaussi, vice president of business strategy for the National Multifamily Housing Council, told Multi-Housing News. “Renters want to see what they’re going to get.”
Why Photos and Video?
Most renters begin their apartment search online and narrow it down to two or three properties before scheduling tours, said Esther Bonardi, vice president, corporate and multifamily marketing at Yardi. “Properties that don’t have compelling photos are very unlikely to end up on the shortlist of the properties they tour,” she noted.
According to HubSpot, a provider of marketing and sales software, videos can increase conversion rates by over 80 percent. On that same note, businesses report that photos and videos engage their audience more than any other type of content. In addition, HubSpot reports that the most common frequency for posting to social media is three to four times a week.
But what about the size and format of your posts? There are some general rules of thumb you can follow to ensure that your images provide sufficient detail to users but don’t load so slowly that people click off your site. Images have to work across all devices as well—computers, tablets and phones. Hootsuite, a social media management company, offers the following guidelines:
- Facebook: Facebook automatically resizes and formats your timeline photos, but to avoid pixilation or slow load times, the recommended size is 1200 x 630 pixels. For videos, Hootsuite recommends a minimum width of 120 pixels in either .MP4 or .MOV format. Videos can be up to 240 minutes long and up to 4GB in size.
- Instagram: Recommended sizes for Instagram feed photos are 1080 x 566 pixels (landscape), 1080 x 1350 (portrait) and 1080 x 1080 (square). Instagram Reels—short videos up to 30 seconds long—should have an aspect ratio of 9:16 so they can be viewed full screen on a mobile device, with a maximum resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels. The same goes for IGTV videos. For stories posted on Instagram, the maximum resolution is 1080 x 1920 pixels.
- TikTok: TikTok videos should be 1080 x 1920 pixels, with an aspect ratio of 1:1 or 9:16. The maximum video length is 15 seconds.
- YouTube: YouTube videos should be 1280 x 720 pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Tailor Images to Your Property and Audience
While professional photography is key to the success of a digital marketing plan, having a well-defined property type and determining the target audience should dictate what type of images you can use in your campaign. While some videos for Class A properties are virtual Hollywood productions, not every property has the kind of budget necessary to support that—nor is that expense necessary.
“A big photo shoot is typically not on the radar for a Class C property, plus the asset isn’t as new and shiny, so it’s really more utilitarian,” said Becca Wilson, chief executive officer of Spherexx.com, a website, marketing and software development company.
But experts say there’s a place for amateur video as well.
“There’s something very authentic and endearing about self-made videos—even a 15-second montage of your leasing team waving can be posted to social media or embedded on a website,” said Marcella Eppsteiner, senior vice president of marketing, training and revenue management at Mission Rock Residential, a Denver-based management company.
“Our videos show our fun side, demonstrate how we interact and evoke a sense of connection through the screen, which we think has boosted rentals,” she added.
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Once a prospect signs a lease, be sure to continue to engage them through the use of photos and videos. For example, the team at 727 West Madison, a 492-unit luxury apartment building in Chicago, uses Instagram to engage residents and showcase the lifestyle there, according to Beth Argaman, general manager at Bozzuto.
“Sometimes we post an employee, sometimes a view, a resident’s apartment or the building exterior,” Argaman told MHN. The property’s Instagram page includes not only candid shots showing “a day in the life” at 727 West Madison, but also images from residents themselves, often acquired through resident engagement programs on social media.
Showcase the Lifestyle
While photos and tours of the units themselves are important to prospects, so are the amenity spaces and the neighborhood—so be sure to include ample shots of them as well.
“More people are living outside of the unit and view the amenity spaces as an extension of their living experience,” Michael Zaransky, managing principal of Illinois-based MZ Capital Partners, told MHN.
MZ recently completed the lease-up of The Vantage Naperville, a 112-unit apartment in a suburb of Chicago, with no in-person showings. The website included renderings of the units, common areas and amenities, as well as photos of a finished unit, a virtual tour and views from balconies and windows.
“It’s really essential to allow potential renters to experience the property, with renderings and shots of what it will look like prior to being fully completed and prior to an actual tour,” Zaransky said.
Hire a Professional Digital Marketing Firm
The technical requirements for photo and video marketing—image size, resolution and format, among others—as well as algorithms and SEO principles—are difficult for laypeople to keep up. That’s why working with a professional digital marketing firm or professionals with this experience on staff is a necessity.
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The first tenants recently moved into Vista Brooklyn, a 10-story multifamily property in Jacksonville, Fla., developed by Bristol Development Group. The company relied on renderings, photographs and videos to tell the story of the community even before units on the lower floors were open and accessible. Bristol’s digital marketing firm has been key to their success and has guided them on what type of content to post on the building’s website and social media and when.
“Hire an expert,” said Lisa Gunderson, Bristol’s vice president of asset management. “We’ve had an incredible response from the marriage of that information that our digital marketing firm has helped us establish. We got over 100 inquiries a week and secured, on average, five leases a week without anybody having been inside the building.”
A digital marketing firm can also provide expertise on:
- Search engine optimization.
- Tagging images with Urchin Tracking Monitors (UTMs): These tracking modules are snippets of code that allow us to track and measure the performance of an image or video and gives an insight into that traffic, according to Wilson. All images should have hashtags as well.
- Alternative texts or descriptions (Alt text): Also used for tracking, these are inserted into a website to track what users are clicking on. They are also useful “to educate the bots that are culling through websites to define how to map them in the search word category,” Wilson said.
- ADA compliance: Websites should be accessible to visually impaired and hearing-impaired users. Spherexx, for example, builds ADA-compliant website presentations for its clients that can read text to users explaining what appears on the screen.
- Size and resolution of images: The photos should be high-quality—but not so high that they will load slowly, otherwise the website will be penalized by search engines.
- Proper use of images: If you don’t own the photos, make sure you license them.
- Fair housing issues: Make sure your website complies with fair housing rules. Include images of persons of color, varying ages and nationalities, as well as sexual preferences in your images—for example, don’t include just photos of heterosexual couples, but be sure to feature same-sex couples as well.
“Consider putting an agency on retainer,” Wilson suggested. “It incentivizes us to update and edit and keep things fresh, whether it’s your social media or website presence.”