The Chosen Ones

I don’t get a newspaper anymore.  My news comes online and it’s based on my interests.  A great deal of my news comes from Facebook.  For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use USA Today and local newspapers as examples.  USA Today is a national newspaper that gives readers a broad idea of what’s going on in the nation and the world and your local newspaper gives you a broad idea of what’s going on in your county, city and local area.  Their websites, of course, do the same.  Is this what people truly care about though?  Of course.  On some level, we all care about what’s going on in the world, in our cities and in our towns.

What do we care about most, however?  We care about our family and friends most.  When you ask most people to list their priorities the top three will likely be their family and friends, their job and their religion or spirituality in no particular order.  So where do we all go to get news on our family and friends???  Why, Facebook of course.  My new Sunday morning routine isn’t reading the “funnies”, Sports section and Entertainment section of the Detroit News anymore.  It’s getting a cup of coffee, opening my laptop up and seeing what my family and friends did this weekend.  Who had babies?  Who lost a loved one?  Who had a great time in Las Vegas?  That’s what I care about most.  I know that’s what I care about most because that’s the first thing I “research”.  Then I’ll go to my favorite news outlets and look up how the Detroit Tigers did last night and see if they are still in first place and of course see what’s going on in the nation and the world.

What’s my point?  What am I getting at here?  Well, another thing that I can choose on Facebook is what “advertisers” I allow to appear on my news feed.  I can’t choose that at all with a printed newspaper and websites, including Facebook, are getting a little smarter with the targeted advertising they feed me, but to be honest, it’s never really what I want to see.  I mean, how many times can they suggest I like “Mayhem” on Facebook before I can make it go away.  I can’t.  I can control that I “LIKE” Pepsi and I can see what Pepsi is posting on Facebook in my newsfeed.  I chose that.  So did 4.5 Million other Facebook users.  31.5 Million users chose to allow Coca~Cola to advertise on their newsfeed.

This is the equivalent of telling USA Today or the Detroit News what advertising you want printed in the paper they deliver to your doorstep.  Pretty powerful when you think about it.  So if you don’t have a fan page on Facebook, I suggest you get one now.  If you do have a fan page, but you really don’t have a strategy, I suggest you work on it.  You need to create enough interest on Facebook that people choose to allow you to advertise to them.

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How Do You Find Time for Social Media?

I am asked this question quite frequently.  Be it a Vice President of Operations, a Regional Property Manager or a Leasing Agent, everyone wants to know how much time they should spend on this form of media.  The fact is, there is no correct answer to this, but the answer I most frequently give is to spend as much time as you feel you can.  If it’s an hour a week or an hour each day, you can learn a lot by just getting out there and doing it.  Set your own pace and schedule.  The bottom line is spend enough time on each of these to ensure that the end product is very high quality.  If you can only do one of these things that’s ok.  It’s probably one more than the majority of your peers or competitors.

Personally, I just haven’t had the time to blog lately.  The good news is, I don’t have to blog.  I choose to blog and it really only impacts me if I don’t.  My inconsistency may be a turn off and lose readers, but again, it only impacts me.  An apartment community with a blog or a management company with a blog can’t be inconsistent or they will lose readers and more importantly they may lose the ranking they have built on the search engines if it goes too long without an update.  Communities and companies need to post regularly.  Once a week would probably be a good rate.  More can be better, but too much could result in a diminishing return.

I also haven’t had time to be on Twitter much lately either.  Again, for me personally, that’s ok, but for an apartment community or a management company who has committed to this, there must be some consistency or you may face some negative consequences.  To me, Twitter is a daily responsibility, much like Craigslist, because of the format.  What you post on Twitter gets pushed down to the bottom of the page and eventually off the page rather quickly.  Therefore, to stay relevant you need to post frequently.  It’s no coincidence that the people with a high number of Tweets have a high number of followers.

Lastly but not leastly, Facebook could take up more time than Twitter, simply because it is a little more interactive than Twitter and does not limit you to 140 characters.  It could also take less if it’s not your preferred format or does not get you the results that blogging or Twitter do.  I think initially, the amount of time spent on Facebook will be greater, especially if you are taking the time to load photos and find your current residents and get them to be your “friend”.  Then you can simply maintain it and respond to emails and postings which you will be reminded to do via email updates.

Apartment Prospects on Twitter

Twitter users like to tell everyone what they are doing and some of them are looking for apartments.  I typed “apartment Chicago” into the search box and a slew of Tweets came up.  As I read through them there was one that really caught my attention.  A young lady tweeted, “Still apartment hunting. Can’t wait to fly to Chicago and just GET THIS DONE! Goodness gracious.”  I tweeted her a link to an apartment community where I used to stay when I traveled to Chicago all the time.  I then went to her Twitter home page and noticed that she had posted “one bedroom downtown. Any ideas??” to a local apartment search leasing agent from rentproactive.com.  I presume this leasing agent found her Tweet the same way I did and reached out to her to offer assistance, so obviously this isn’t a new concept, but it did confirm my theory and substantiated that Twitter may be an excellent prospect list and that Twitter users may be open to a  sales Tweet (especially if they are announcing their frustration in finding a place to live).

There are several approaches I would take to mining prospects on Twitter, and they would all really depend on what the Tweet said.   One way would be the soft approach. Conduct your search and begin sifting through the results.  When you come across a possible prospect, simply follow them.  Typically if you follow someone, they will likely review who you are and decide to follow you or not.  With that said, it needs to be very clear who you are.  Your Twitter home page needs to show that you have apartments for rent in their area, have a link to your website and a creative bio that offers referral rewards for Twitter referrals or a discount for Twitter users.

Another approach is to send a Tweet directly to the prospect and follow them.  Send them a link to a property in their area.  Don’t send them a link to your main page and make them do a search.  Be as helpful as you can with 140 characters.  If they are interested they will respond.  A different approach would be to engage them in a conversation. Why not?  If they are interested they will respond.  This is a huge experiment so test different approaches.

Here are some examples of Tweets from the last 24 hours I found with a search for “Chicago apartment” and the approach or Tweet I would send them is in bold:

schuyler22: Planning my apartment shopping in Chicago tomorrow! Got some good ones lined up…hopefully one will work out!”

This is a hot prospect.  Act fast and offer an incentive.

@schuyler22 Got time for one more appointment? We are offering Twitter users no app fee and a reduced sec deposit. (link to community page)

afg1988: workin workin workin. Chicago apartment next year, here i come!”

I would simply follow this person and send him a link to your Chicago communities.

AmyJulia: Preparing for apartment hunting in Chicago– measuring furniture, looking up apartments we want to see, getting stuff together!! So excited!!”

She already told you something about herself.

@AmyJulia We are in Lakeview. Here are our floor plans with measurements so you can see if your furniture fits! (link)

joshlurie: I’m on my way to Chicago! Finding an apartment and signing a lease tomorrow”

Start a conversation ASAP.  Be direct!

@joshlurie What part of Chicago interests you?  We have great deals in the South Loop.  Call us (312) 555.5555.

summerbeth0519: in a blah mood. i need some @willhoge in my life l…off toChicago tomorrow in search of an apartment. im not leaving w/o signing a lease!”

@summerbeth0519 Cheer up! Are you looking in the city or the burbs?  We have both!

SandersonPR: Looking for small apartment in Chicago‘s Wicker Park/Bucktown area that will take a dog-under $1000-anyone know?”

If you have apartments in Wicker Park or Bucktown and allow dogs you MUST reply to this Tweet.  Seriously.  Fill out a guest card via Twitter.

@SandersonPR Bucktown – check! Studios – check!  Under $1000 – check!  Dogs allowed – check!  When can u stop by for a tour? (312) 555.5555

LorenRenner: Sold my car on Friday!!! Apartment shopping in preparation for the move to Chicago. Like Andersonville, Wrigleyville, Lakeview…”

@LorenRenner we have apartments in Wrigelyville right next to the L.  Call us at (312) 555.5555.  Reduced security deposit for Twitter users!

It took me all of two minutes to find about 30  prospects from the last 24 hours in Chicago and I didn’t even get through all of them.  Additionally, it took me all of 8 minutes to prepare the responses I’ve demonstrated above and only because I had to take two phone calls while I was writing.  If you don’t do this you are missing out on a great opportunity to increase your traffic.  Consider it Twitter outreach.

Follow Up Discusson on Apartment Review Websites

(This is a continuation of a discussion that has taken place.  Links to the other blogs discussing this topic can be found at the end of this post.)

I think the fact that we are talking about it is a great sign that we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand any longer. The information above is very compelling and shows an obvious trend in transparency. I agree that it will only progress further and our industry needs to get on board in some fashion.

However, I am still conflicted about coming up with a way to embrace these websites and promote them to prospects or integrate it into our customer satisfaction process.  They simply lack credibility.   Here are some questions and my initial answers I’d like to throw out that could result in possible solutions that work towards equitable transparency:

1.  Can the local apartment associations form a partnership with a customer satisfaction organization to come up with a solution that would benefit the prospect and portray the apartment communities in an accurate manner?

I think this could be a possibility and could actually lead to stronger apartment associations. They are already driving traffic to our communities which is great. Why not add reviews for current residents? The associations could become the JD Power of our industry. Sure there are possible conflicts of interest, but with a third party administrator and the right format there could be a great deal of integrity. Disclosure would be key for transparency to be achieved.

2.  Have any owners/managers had the moxie to post ALL of the results (good or bad) of their CEL or other satisfaction surveys on their community sites?

If you have a 500 unit property and 30% of residents respond, would it be smart to post all 150 responses online? Talk about transparency. This would also take away from some of the credibility of the current formats.

3.  Why not post the number of resident referrals your community receives on their websites or the number of residents who have chosen to renew their lease?

Run a counter at the top of the page that gets updated on a regular basis and have it link to a page dedicated to your resident referral program and the statement that it makes about your community. Residents don’t refer people to a community where they no longer wish to live themselves. Do something similar with a repeat customers page. Most consumers don’t give repeat business to a company with poor products and services. I sure don’t. Talk about that! Let your prospects know how many people have not renewed due to issues that do not reflect customer satisfaction such as home purchases and move outs. These are all things that we have access to that these so called consumer advocate or consumer review websites do not have, which come to think of it diminishes their ability to provide true transparency.

In spite of our desire to believe that the company we work for has the secret recipe, there are not really many proprietary secrets in our industry. With employee turnover at every level our business practices have become homogeneous. Twitter and blogs have increased that exponentially in the last few years. We thought we were in the information age years ago, but that was just the beginning.

We need to become the authority on transparency and push each other to no longer “fall short” on customer service and resident retention. Fight fire with fire ladies and gentlemen. Don’t waste time being held hostage by a website that knows nothing about our industry and who’s business model is to capitalize on content being the driving force of hits on the internet. Information is power and we have more information than we know what to do with. Put it to use and fight their candle with your flame thrower!

Links:

Apartment Marketing Blog

Multifamily Pro

Aptly Spoken

Multifamily Insiders

Would Brad Pitt Respond to Apartmentratings.com?

Apartmentratings.com is the National Enquirer of the apartment industry.  It has given an anonymous voice to the general public to speak out against their apartment management and expose their dirty little secrets.  Actually, come to think of it, I would be doing the National Enquirer a huge disservice by comparing them to an organization that doesn’t make any effort whatsoever to check it’s facts.  Unless you are paying close attention to the information posted about your apartment communities, a great deal of misleading and inaccurate information may be posted about your community and, unfortunately, in some cases about your staff.   

One of the worst things that a celebrity can do is respond to attacks in the media.  As a celebrity, you know going into it that your character and personal life will be under scrutiny.  One of the most talked about celebrities of course is Brad Pitt.  There is almost always a headline about gossip from his personal life in the news.  What you rarely see from Brad Pitt and a lot of big name celebrities, is a reaction, written or verbal.  It’s very rare.  In the cases where you  do see a reaction, it tends to blow up in their face.  They are misquoted or it is found out later that they were lying to cover something up.

I have found this to be true when reacting to negative reviews on Apartmentratings.com.  When you respond to a review, the person who posted that review is immediately notified by email that a comment has been made.  They will typically respond  to your response and call you out as being associated with ownership in some way.  This immediately discredits your response.   

Another issue with Apartmentratings.com is that thier scoring and rating system is totally flawed.  I question if there is a system to it at all other than dividing the number of bad reviews by the number of total reviews and creating a score.  They do not account for the number of residents NOT complaining.  They do not account for time.  They do not account for the fact that an angry customer will tell more people about their experience than a happy customer will tell about theirs.  I dealt with a prospect who had read a review of a 1,500 unit property on Apartmentratings and that community had received 8 negative reviews in the last year.  That is just about one half of one percent of all residents.  This community had a score of 34% on Apartmentratings.  So, a community with upwards of 3,000 residents gets 8 complaints in one year and have a score of 34%.  Take it one step further and factor in an annual turnover ratio of 50% and an average of 1.5 occupants per unit,  you have an additional 1125 new residents eacy year.  Over a 5 year span, you actually have approximately 6,000 customers.  Hmmmm.  Seems a bit unfair considering less than .00016% of residents complained over the course of 5 years.  I’m not a mathmetician, so I don’t even know what you call this, but I do know it’s not a statistically significant number.  I’m not saying the community deserves a 99.5 percent rating, but a 34% is obviously inaccurate.  On the opposite side of that example, there is another community that has an overall rating of 98%, yet it hasn’t had a review since September of 2008 and only has 26 total reviews.  

 Do we really want to spend time as an industry giving credibility to a website that doesn’t seem to give us any?  I’m all for customer service and feedback and like the full disclosure approach, however I feel that this scoring system may be doing just as much harm to prospective renters as good.  

Here’s an example of how it could be harmful.  Let’s say a prospect has limited transportation and limited income.  They go to a property that is close to their work and public transportation and is the only one in the area they can afford.  After they tour, they go to Apartmentratings and see a 34% score and they begin to read through complaints (some of which were probably posted by the competition).  Now that prospect is second guessing living in the one community that truly best meets their needs because of a flawed scoring system.  

Apartmentratings.com needs to service the prospects better and needs to show up and take part in our industry.  By eliminating the scoring factor from their site and sticking with a message board and opinion/review approach, everyone would be better served.  In the mean time, my recommendation is to take the Brad Pitt approach and not react.  Instead, spend the time and resources you would battling with Apartmentratings.com on training your staff to follow up on service requests in a timely manner and properly handling customer service issues.  Even then, your scores on Apartmentratings.com may not increase, but your resident retention will.  😉

Now, the inevitable counterpoint to my opinion is to embrace Apartmentratings.com.  I’m sure some communities or management companies have tremendous success stories about their experiences and strategies on Apartmentratings.com.  I hope they will share them within the comments section of the blog.  If you do respond to negative or positive reviews you should never hide the fact that you represent the property.  Make it crystal clear who is responding and make sure you have an intellectual response.  Do not make excuses.  Do not blame the resident.  Do not undermine the resident’s complaint.  That could result in further retaliation.  You also have to commit to a high level of consistency.  Encourage your happy residents to write reviews.  Again, please feel free to share your success stories.

What I Learned from Blogging About Bass Fishing and Apartment Marketing

I decided to go out on a limb with my last blog and marry bass fishing with leasing and marketing apartments.  I figured there’s really nothing to lose, and at the very least people will click on the article just to see what the hell I was talking about.  It is still getting hits and was recently added to the National Apartment Association blog, so I will share those results in a future update.   So far, I’d have to say it was worth it in that respect.

What I didn’t realize would happen is  interesting.  First of all, if you google “brainoblog” you find a fishing website that has posted my blog and a link to my website.  Bonus!  I also posted my blog on Twitter and ended up being followed by some fishing experts on Twitter, who likely found me through a search.  Double bonus!!  I also realized that having the name of my blog and my Twitter name both as brainoblog, I may have accidentally optimized my organic searches on google.  The only inhibitor to proving that theory is that I’m the only thing that comes up if you enter “brainoblog”.  Either I’m a genius or an idiot with my choice of name, haven’t decided yet.

So, the point is, it can’t hurt to experiment with articles on your blog that aren’t directly related to your core business.  If you’re an apartment community that happens to be by the ocean, you might want to blog about surfing or paddle boarding or deep sea fishing.  If you are near a great metro park you might want to blog about their bike trails or bird watching.  At the end of the day, this is all just a giant social experiment, so have fun with it.  I did, and will continue to do so.  There aren’t any rules…. yet.

Things I Learned on Twitter about Apartment Management

Here’s my first blog for the National Apartment Association.  Let me know your thoughts or comments here or at NAA’s website.  Thanks!