Marketing in Motion

The audience for social media platforms is constantly shifting, so successful leasing calls for flexibility. Depending on budget, multifamily owners and managers have a variety of innovative tools to choose from.
To market Cardinal Management Group’s  University Towers, a student housing community  in Austin, AgencyFifty3 incorporated the  community’s Instagram page, virtual tours, videos and updated photos. Images courtesy of AgencyFifty3; University Towers photo by Craig Washburn

University Towers, Austin. Photo by Craig Washburn

As with so much else in the multifamily industry, social media is bringing about sweeping changes in recruiting and retaining residents. And it isn’t the mainstream social media sites influencing rental decisions.

A 2015 study of renters by J Turner Research found that 13 percent of respondents reported checking Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites during their most recent search. But according to the National Multifamily Housing Council and Kingsley Associates’ 2015 Renter Preferences Study, 80 percent of potential residents reported visiting a community website. Nearly as many, 73 percent, visited Internet listing sites.

And in another telling result, the NMHC/Kingsley survey found that 66 percent of respondents had researched communities on opinion sites, which influenced 54 percent of decisions to lease an apartment. Another 52 percent of respondents said an opinion site had persuaded them to forego a community visit.

Those newer media work hand in glove with more traditional efforts. Even though the days are past when marketing relied on flyers, newspaper ads and word of mouth, “the best approach is always a multichannel approach,” said Michael Huereque, director of AgencyFifty3, an advertising agency specializing in multifamily properties. “There is no silver bullet in marketing, and it’s important to remember that campaigns work best when pushed through several mediums with a single unifying message.”

Tailored tactics

To market Cardinal Management Group’s  University Towers, a student housing community  in Austin, AgencyFifty3 incorporated the  community’s Instagram page, virtual tours, videos and updated photos. Images courtesy of AgencyFifty3;

To market Cardinal Management Group’s
University Towers, a student housing community
in Austin, AgencyFifty3 incorporated the
community’s Instagram page, virtual tours, videos and updated photos. Images courtesy of AgencyFifty3

Moreover, even the most popular sites offer no one-size-fits-all solutions. Strategies must be customized to fit the audience first, the medium second. Generational differences offer a case in point. Facebook—used by 88 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds, according to a November 2016 study by Pew Research Center—and Instagram (59 percent) can be beneficial in reaching the friends of current Millennial residents, as well as for branding and awareness.

Also of note to communities striving for Millennial appeal, popular channels like Snapchat, Periscope, Instagram and Facebook Live are adding features to enhance marketing efforts. “A lifestyle video should always be considered, and new photos should accompany any physical renovation to the asset,” explained Huereque. “These videos can be converted to 15-second clips and run as ads on Facebook and YouTube.”

Baby Boomers are considerably less prolific social media users than Millennials: only 64 percent of those age 50 to 64 are active, according to Pew—but social media sites can still be gateways to leasing. A study by DMN3 Institute found that more than half of Baby Boomers who visit social networking sites will also visit a company website or use a search engine.

That suggests a crucial takeaway to Jamie Matusek, president of multifamily marketing agency Catalyst. “As you develop your social media strategy for this demographic, link up your social media tools and make sure everything (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter) can be found in one place,” she advised last September in an MHN  guest column. “Remember this demographic knows what they want and are not afraid to pay for it. Tell a story through your digital strategy about how your property will make their life better and more enjoyable.”

New and improved

Red44, located in Rochester, Minn., is one of the three market-rate properties for which CPM is employing its virtual reality approach. The community is set to open in August 2017 and will include 159 apartments. Image courtesy of CPM Cos.

Red44, located in Rochester, Minn., is one of the three market-rate properties for which CPM is employing its virtual reality approach. The community is set to open in August 2017 and will include 159 apartments. Image courtesy of CPM Cos.

The audience for social media platforms is constantly shifting, so successful leasing calls for flexibility. Depending on budget, multifamily owners and managers have a variety of innovative tools to choose from.

CPM Cos., a multi housing developer and manager, has incorporated virtual reality into marketing three of its properties: Spectrum and Revel in Minneapolis and Red44 in Rochester, Minn. “This saves our potential residents time and incorporates education into our marketing efforts,” said Amy Borrell, the firm’s director of marketing. “The program allows them to experience more than just one apartment, like your typical online 3D model would; it allows them to walk through the entire building starting at the entrance.”

Since introducing the VR tool into its marketing a few months ago, CPM has detected an uptick in conversion rates and lease closings. Looking ahead, the company plans to use programs that permit prospects to open and close doors and move between spaces.

New tools like VR extend the capabilities of marketing, but attention to basics is still essential to achieving success. Borrell recommends details such as amenities, rent, photos and floorplans should all be provided as public information on the property’s site.

“All of the information necessary to understand your audience is available upfront. Then, with trial and error, we learn what works. Despite this, most people neglect to study their end results,” cautioned Huereque. “We believe this is largely due to a lack of preparation. Conversion elements, or key performance indicators, must be clearly outlined and implemented at the beginning of any campaign. A few hours of extra prep can make a huge difference in your understanding of the end result.”

Marketing to current residents

Resident Profile Page

Star Building Group has created four modules specific to a multifamily property, made to complement standard social media platforms. Image courtesy of Star Building Group

As social media and other tools make a larger impact on recruiting new residents, plenty of room remains for growth in resident retention. Only 36 percent of respondents to the NMHC/Kingsley Survey reported checking their community’s social media sites and half said that they would never check. Facebook led the pack, visited by 28 percent of residents.

New tools intended to promote resident engagement are in the works. Star Building Group is preparing to roll out a system that will use four modules to complement standard social media platforms. Residents can repost events, photos and updates from the site onto their own social media profiles. The product will also incorporate a privacy feature that permits access only to people connected with the property.

“The modules allow residents to not only stay up to date on what is happening in their building but get to know their neighbors better and establish a community feeling,” said Paul Jenkins, managing director of Star Building Group. The resident module allows neighbors to exchange messages, promote resident skills and services, buy and sell items, report lost possessions and connect with local businesses.

The management module features interactive surveys and polls on issues related to the community, such as the choice of a new paint color for the hallways. It also broadcasts information about housekeeping issues, like the schedule for an upcoming fire drill.

The master of ceremony module serves as an online community leader. It provides a networking platform, offering education on emergency preparation and serving as the core for interaction among residents. Module four is a virtual social director that can organize game nights, karaoke parties and other get-togethers.

“There needs to be more focus on the experience of living in a space, compared to just the amenities offered,” explained Jenkins. “Apartments can be seen by residents as temporary stops because a lot of marketing is not advertising the community as a whole. Schools, restaurants, parks should all come into the mix.

“At the end of the day, people want to live in a neighborhood, not just a building,” he observed. “We need to look at that as an amenity all its own.”

Originally appearing in the May 2017 issue of MHN.