Search & Social: The Newest Marketing Power Couple

Whether it’s through an Internet Listing Service, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or Google, multifamily marketers are challenged more than ever to reach and engage a wide array of audiences across a multitude of platforms.

By John Thornton

John Thornton

The way prospects search for apartment homes continues to evolve with technology and a seemingly never-ending emergence of digital channels. Whether it’s through an Internet Listing Service (ILS), Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or Google, multifamily marketers are challenged more than ever to reach and engage a wide array of audiences across a multitude of platforms.

Adding to the challenge of stitching together a coherent and consistent marketing experience, is the inconsistent and fragmented approach our prospects take to find their next homes.

As the industry’s marketing practices become more advanced, forward-thinking marketing teams are clamoring to make search and social marketing work together. It hasn’t yet happened on a widespread basis because search and social are not immediately or inherently connected in the most obvious way.

Search is a more commonly executed media type for marketing, with most marketing teams concentrated on Internet Listing Services, search engine optimization and pay-per-click campaigns to boost their presence in Google Search. These tactics generally target people who are actively pursuing properties. They’re in the moment.

The manner in which social is utilized as an advertising platform is widely sporadic. Some see social advertising as simply posting status updates on Facebook, which isn’t usually the responsibility of the search marketing team. Others believe social marketing consists of promoting or securing a sponsored post, but the news feed is a very competitive place, and it can be nearly impossible for a property to break through beyond its current residents or page followers.

But both of these forms of social advertising only scratch the surface of a more active social advertising strategy. Social advertising efforts can be used to actively advertise to in-market renters in the time between searches on Google or the ILS, essentially nurturing them through your funnel without the leakage of your competitors.

With social campaigns, you have a moment to get in front of prospects when they are thinking about moving or get upset with their current community, but might not have actively started their online search.

Link the strategies

The typical renter journey lasts about 90 days as they scour an abundance of platforms in search of their next place to live. Marketing strategies should be collaborative and provide a consistent presence on all of these channels in an effort, to build a chain of continuous marketing that nurtures that renter into your marketing funnel.

You have to build a program that’s ready to accept the user in the way they’re using the digital space. If you go dark on any of those channels, you lose the connection to that prospect and disappear from their consciousness.

It’s undoubtedly a challenge, and the only way to make it happen is to have information about who in the market is looking to rent an apartment. You have to analyze comprehensive data that links your search, ILS and social information and allows you to market to the right people. Yet, many multifamily marketers leverage these search and social channels in silos, disconnected from one another without a cohesive strategy.

“As an industry, sharing campaign information between search and social platforms is not yet the norm,” said Cassie Khaing, senior brand manager at Mill Creek Residential. “One way to accomplish this is to partner with an agency that monitors all the data collectively instead of in silos—and makes adjustments based on the data from all campaigns—allowing visibility into the shared information. This approach leads to more effective results when it comes to spend and conversion.”

The benefits of cohesion

Gathering and sharing information from search and social campaigns someday will become the standard in the industry, but apartment operators have been slow to embrace the concept as these campaigns are often implemented by different teams. But the combination of search and social can produce strong lead conversions.

According to research published in Search Engine Land by Julian Connors, president at SEO Without Borders, combining these efforts resulted in a 30 percent increase in organic traffic, 25 percent increase in paid clicks and a 35 percent savings in ad spend. While the results will vary on a case-by-case basis, sharing data from campaigns will almost exclusively result in a positive outcome.

Marketing teams must also keep in mind that some efforts are designed specifically to sell, others to create brand awareness.

“Both are key to keeping you at the forefront when that subset of consumers is ready to make a decision about where they want to tour, and ultimately rent,” said Kim Morgan, marketing manager of JVM Realty Corp. “In the past, being on an ILS and simply having great curb appeal was enough to satisfy both, but today we rely on social media and display ads to help bridge the gap between brand awareness and the lead funnel.”

Track the touch points

You want to understand the prospect’s move between each piece of data and ensure they do not have a fragmented journey. Each touch point utilized by the prospect is extremely valuable from a data standpoint, yet many marketing teams credit a conversion to the first or last media viewed by a prospect before they sign a lease. From the prospect’s perspective, it’s never one singular linear experience.

That’s why multi-touch attribution has become one of the industry’s most emerging concepts, as it allows the ability to track each touch point and weigh them based on their importance to conversion. And when analyzing these touch points and their role in the eventual conversion, it’s important to do so with proper perspective.

If you don’t look at the attribution properly and understand that they all drive value in a different way, it will sometimes appear that the investment is not giving you the desired return. Different media has different purposes and different measurements, and some are more prominent for their “assist value” as opposed to bringing home a conversion.

Linking search and social campaigns promotes a very organic consumer journey as they decide on their next home and provides visibility into how to secure additional prospects.

John Thornton is the senior director of Performance Marketing for RentPath.