Lessons Learned

Early misconceptions have been replaced by hard-earned truths.

SOCIAL MEDIA on speech bubbles pinned to a white surfaceWhen social media emerged several years ago as a resident relationship management and marketing tool, it was viewed by many within the property management industry with a mix of excitement and trepidation.
In the years since, early misconceptions about social media have largely vanished. In their place have come some hard-earned truths. Apartment residents are going to be interacting on social media, so you better be as well. Your social media messaging must be well managed, consistent and in harmony with your brand and your other brand communications. You must be proactive and constant in your use of social media. And above all, you must view it as a way of building rapport with your residents and prospective residents.

Social media’s benefits
At Irvine Calif.-based Jamboree Housing Corporation, one of California’s leading community development organizations specializing in affordable housing for families, seniors and those with special needs, and Orange County’s largest developer of affordable housing, Facebook and increasingly YouTube are used in social media efforts.
Those channels, like Jamboree’s website, are used to communicate with a wide array of audiences, including the corporation’s equity holders, prospective general contractors in future developments and, of course, residents.
Facebook is utilized to introduce residents and others to the staff and demonstrate the “bench strength” of the company. “We can also show more human interest stories,” says Mary Jo Goelzer, Jamboree’s chief operating officer. “We can use Facebook to get stories ready to go ahead of time and date stamp them as to when we want them posted. If next week is Veteran’s Day, for instance, we can get a Veteran’s Day posting ready, geared to the veterans living in our communities. The content can be very fresh and very responsive.”
At The Morgan Group, a Houston, Tex.-based leader in high-end multifamily development, construction and property management, with a focus on infill Class A multifamily units nationwide, Facebook is the prime social media platform used, but YouTube, Twitter and Yelp are also employed.
“Since we do so much new construction, before we put all the time and creativity into a page holder for the new website, we introduce [the development] on Facebook and then introduce the page holder and website,” says Kim Small, senior vice president and director of national operations. “We announce ‘new apartments coming to this area’ to get prospects excited and engaged.”
The Morgan Group’s properties also use social media to announce events and new establishments arriving in their communities, encouraging residents to try out a restaurant or store. “That builds community among residents, and encourages them to stay in our communities,” Small says.

That was then
Jamboree has taken a crawl-walk-run approach to social media. In the non-profit world, social media at first was assumed to carry the promise of millions of followers and thousands of dollars in contributions.
“And there was this frenzy that you had to be everywhere every moment, saying everything,” Goelzer says. “But management said ‘time out,’ and was very balanced. Jamboree has been slow and steady in its development of social media, and every one of its fans on social media has been well earned. It’s applying the same core values of the corporation in social media as would be applied in any other communication. We have audiences that want a 16-page white paper, and audiences that want a 16-word headline,” adds Goelzer.
Part of the thinking behind the go-slow approach was to reassure those initially worried about social media being a place for residents to go to complain. But, it wasn’t long before the company realized if it weren’t part of the conversation, that conversation would go on without it.
“For example, the question being raised on social media might be why has a property’s pool been down for a week,” Goelzer says. “That gives us the chance to talk about why it’s down; it’s being renovated to provide improvements.”
Social media lets Jamboree explain its position on issues that might include pending legislation. “The great thing about Facebook is that by looking at their Facebook posts, you know immediately what people like,” she says. “I’m always amazed by what gets people’s attention. Is it sustainable living, awards you’ve won, or an article about a staffer or one of the residents?”
Many young residents come to Jamboree’s Facebook page to check on activity schedules. The company has used insights it’s uncovered on Facebook to learn a growing number want to access the information on their smart phones. As a result, the company is redesigning both its website and its social media messaging so that they are optimized for mobile devices.
Also having undergone an evolution in social media strategy is The JBG Companies, a Chevy Chase, Md.-based private real estate development firm that develops, owns and manages office, residential, hotel and retail properties.
The JBG Companies invests almost exclusively in urban-infill, transit-oriented developments and has a residential portfolio of more than 7,500 multifamily units under management. Senior vice president Matthew Blocher reports JBG no longer looks at social media in a vacuum. “Rather, we look at it in context with an integrated digital strategy,” he says.
“Through a combination of optimized, efficient tactics, we employ a cohesive strategy to drive results across all mediums, SEO, SEM, video, mobile, web and social media.”
The company recognizes that social media marketing provides potential customers with an emotional connection to a brand, and to the opportunities the brand presents for them.
A high percentage of the company’s current and future residents turn to their social networks for recommendations and news. “By integrating our property and our company into these individuals’ social networks, we have been able to develop a trust factor that’s helped to build a stronger rapport,” he says.
What’s more, as part of a broader reputation management strategy, the use of social media has enabled JBG to gain real-time access to its residents’ voices, whether they are positive or negative, Blocher reports.
At The Morgan Group, the approach to social media has changed in two ways. First, the staff is continually attempting to learn where residents are going in social media. “There’s always something new: Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr, for instance, and we try to stay a step ahead of them,” Small says.
Second, she adds, “We as operators have to make sure we train our personnel to communicate through social media.”

Avoiding pitfalls
One of the mistakes Jamboree Housing Corporation has learned to avoid is assuming its messages have to be everywhere at once.
“You need to manage your messages to ensure they’re consistent,” Goelzer says. “It’s hard to do, and you have to dedicate resources, time and staff to make sure they’re consistent. If they’re not consistent, it dilutes your brand and erodes trust.”
JBG also stresses consistent messaging. “We advise our teams and partners to ensure that this process is followed, as one’s ‘voice’ across a digital platform is significantly enhanced,” Blocher says.
The Morgan Group’s Small says her company believes the number one landmine to sidestep is failing to respond to negative comments from residents. “And you have to respond quickly,” she adds. “Everything is instantaneous.” Another lesson, one whose importance is stressed by social media experts, is that it’s not enough to offer content. You must offer quality content.
“There’s a big difference between saying something and having something to say,” Goelzer says. “Jamboree prides itself on the quality it brings to the marketplace, so we want to make sure whatever we’re presenting in social media reflects the quality of our brand.”
Ultimately, in social media, the key is not so much presentation as it is conversation. Says Goelzer, “Social media allows you to be not so corporate or buttoned-down as you might be in your formal website.”
To comment on this story, e-mail Diana Mosher at dmosher@multi-housingnews.com