More Than Likes & Shares: How to Set Your Communities Apart on Social Media
Social media is much more than a game of “likes” and shares. HappyCo covers why social is a prime multifamily marketing opportunity — and how to set a strategy that piques interest and builds community.
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Some in multifamily and beyond might feel nostalgic for the days before “likes” and shares and comments were part of the marketing mix. For better or worse, Multi-Housing News make clear there’s no going back to the time before hashtags, as “80% of apartment seekers [are] referring to social media before choosing their next rental property.”
Indeed, a 2018 Pew Research Center study concluded “one in four Americans are online ‘almost constantly.’” Web database Stastista presents this staggering sum: “the number of eyes looking at social media… is expected to reach 3 billion people worldwide by 2021.” At the same time, multifamily marketing teams have reason to familiarize themselves with the Gen Z generation, as it “encompassed 24.3 percent of the U.S. population as of 2016… more than Baby Boomers (22.9 percent) or Millennials (22.1 percent).”
However, RE Journals suggests these tech-savvy renters (and future renters) are prone to skepticism — and not just in the social media realm. Writer Michael Zaransky argues: “those in Generation Z are viewed as being more serious-minded and wary of the world.” Engaging millennials with online content may also prove tricky, as Multi-Housing News notes: they “view multifamily living as not just a place to live but a home for the long-term, and developers need to appeal even more to that emotionality.”
With so many eyes on social media and such a discriminating audience at the table, how can multifamily operators set their communities apart? HappyCo dives into a range of vetted social media strategies, ultimately sharing in-depth insights from a multifamily marketing director whose experimental approach to social may well prove empowering to marketing teams across the multifamily industry.
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When you’re hunting for “likes” and shares it can be easy to forget: a social strategy should hinge on copy that sparks conversation, copy that’s… social. HousingWire stresses this point in a March 2019 piece on the use of social media in real estate. As author Phil Treadwell explains: “When two people are having a conversation, one of them doesn’t start off by saying everything they have on their mind, the conversation goes back and forth depending on each other’s response.”
In his view, the analogy is easy to translate on social media: “Start lots of conversations by posting a lot of pieces of content, listen to the responses when you get engagement, and use those as feedback to decide what to say next.” Treadwell concedes: “I get a lot of feedback about the frustration that comes from not knowing what kind of content to create… and deciding what or where to post it.”
However, his advice is straightforward: latch onto something complex and relevant, and share it in bite-sized pieces. As Treadwell defines it: “Pillar content is simply one larger piece of content, typically about something you’re interested in or has a main message you are trying to share, that can be broken down or repurposed into smaller pieces of micro content.”
Where should marketing teams turns to find this “pillar content”? Treadwell spells out all of the ways: “A news article that speaks directly to issues affecting your audience, an interview with someone knowledgeable about the market, a roundup of stats that paint a compelling picture. Look at your trade groups and industry news outlets for ideas.” Importantly, he warns — intriguing copy isn’t enough in its own right. Treadwell reminds marketers to remember their medium is a visual one: “Find a way to illustrate the facts using online infographic tools to make it visually captivating. Yet, there’s a big step beyond relevant content; marketers need to make it compelling.
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Swearing by the effectiveness of social media, Brad Hargreaves, CEO of popular co-living company Common, reveals: “We’ve tested Google Ads in about 50 different ways and have never seen it come close to the returns of social.” But Multi-Housing News notes that Hargreaves does draw one line in the sand, as he “contends that it is not enough to create an Instagram profile to show off a property and its amenities.”
Rather, in Hargreaves opinion, “telling a story” is the best way to strike a chord with social followers. He explains: “you have to be able to create compelling content that would be compelling with or without the association with Common.”
Common, for example, shares “thought-provoking photography” (his properties and shots of others in the same neighborhoods) as part of a greater “narrative.” Hargreaves finds this key to increasing Common’s following: “It’s been successful for us to blend, to focus on genuinely compelling content first and build the audience around content we’re producing.”
Of course, to ensure their well-crafted content is worth all of the effort, it’s important for multifamily marketing teams to get a sense of which visuals work best for each social platform. In a recent piece, Multifamily Executive identifies the opportunities on offer: “Snapchat is popular with young adults. Photos are good for Instagram or Pinterest. For video, use Facebook or YouTube.”
Above all, it’s important to strike the right tone once you’ve found something novel to share. As Multifamily Executive argues: “keep in mind when using social media to connect to a Gen Z audience, influencers should keep it casual, with informal language, and avoid picture-perfect staging.”
Once multifamily teams are in the swing of finding audience-specific articles or visuals and transforming them into creative, digestible posts, these marketers should have two more goals in mind for the ideal social strategy: solving problems and building community.
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Indeed, in Multi-Housing News, New York University marketing professor Thomai Serdari stresses: “millennials want and are used to being part of the so-called perks economy.” In the real estate realm, Serdari argues: “that could mean potential residents looking for a community with a gym to work out in, restaurants and entertainment nearby and community programming to take part in.”
To that end, Serdari gives operators a valuable lens through which to craft their social content: “looking to connect with the younger generation should be looking at solving problems,” as “those who are successful are able to articulate what the solution is that they offer to every specific customer segment.”
Beyond sensing renters’ needs and highlighting related amenities, multifamily teams also have a powerful chance through social media to go one step further and showcase something so many millennials seek: a sense of community. A recent Forbes piece explains it best: “Just as physical amenity spaces became commonplace over the past decade and the convenience of services in multifamily is now the norm, experiences that bring communities together is the next wave.”
By hosting resident events that get people mingling (barbeques, outdoor movie nights, gardening events, etc) you do two things: inspire meaningful connections among your tenants and signal to future renters on social media that this is the lifestyle they could enjoy, too. Forbes makes clear: “such community-focused buildings… have the greatest differentiating factor of them all: a base of residents with a passionate pride of place. Give residents a sense of community and they can become building advocates and brand ambassadors.”
Ironically, this kind of memorable social media marketing can stem from something quite traditional: real-life interactions with your tenants. As Forbes explains: “based on your conversations with residents, you can gauge interest in certain kinds of vendors and events to pique curiosity and engage residents in a way that can spark longer-lasting relationships.” In other words, powerful social media strategy truly takes shape from social interactions.
While many real estate sites offer novel content approaches and influencer opportunities, Forbes strikes at the heart of why a “people business” like multifamily is already in a strong position to take social by the horns. Contributor and real estate tech CEO Benjamin Pleat lays it out simply: “We are all capable of extending and receiving messages of welcome. The multifamily industry is uniquely positioned to step up and create a sense of belonging as a feature of all apartment buildings.” Needless to say, HappyCo was curious to see how this meaningful storytelling takes shape from inside a multifamily company.
For a behind-the-scenes perspective on social media strategy in multifamily, HappyCo spoke with Terri Richey, Marketing Director at Kansas City-based CRES Management. From cross-marketing opportunities to staff participation, Richey shares how she learned the ropes of social media through trial and error, ultimately deciding: the best mix of content is local meets authentic.
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In Terri Richey’s view, social media is more than a marketing tool; at its best, a social network can truly make people feel connected to the place they call home. As Richey puts it, “I want residents to really become part of their community, because the idea is that they should love where they live.”
To that end, Richey has set a social media strategy centering on content that “tells a story and showcases a lifestyle” specific to each CRES property. It’s why social posts at the company largely stem from a hyper local lens. Richey makes this happen in part by pursuing cross-marketing partnerships with local businesses. She finds this is one of the best ways to ensure residents “feel attached to the area,” as they can “take advantage of discounts not far from their doors instead of going across town for a haircut.”
Richey starts by approaching local business owners with a compelling ask: “our residents might not know about you yet, and we’re really interested in having them learn about your business. Do you have any interest in offering a regular discount that we can cross-promote?”
Once business owners are on board, Richey says these partnerships prove ripe for boosting both parties’ social media followings. Richey shares the businesses’ discount announcements and the retailers in turn share stories about their local CRES community. A pizza place near CRES’s Prairefire property was quick to offer a free monthly pizza deal, “which of course gets that business many more orders, as people will order extra ones for their families and friends.”
A cycle bar in the area brought Prairefire residents together for a Sunday spin class free of charge. To Richey, the benefits were clear: “It brought our residents together, got them meeting new people.” In her view, the key to this type of cross-marketing is that “as partners, we take time to compliment each other on social, so there’s always a positive spirit to the posts.”
All the while, Richey says she keeps in mind a few things about her audience. The social publishing software she uses reveals that most people browsing and engaging with CRES content are “definitely millennials and Gen-Z.” Yet, Richey is well aware that renters in these groups value inclusion and diversity, so she works to make sure the CRES social content highlights the experiences of employees and residents of all ages and backgrounds.
She’s also sensitive to the delicate balance of building community for current residents vs. showcasing their property as an appealing home for prospective renters. Richey admits: “At first, I was treating social media as a way to market only to new renters. But if we were offering a month’s free rent, for example, current residents would naturally be thinking: ‘Oh, really?’”
That’s when Richey discovered the benefits of crafting social ads in addition to social posts. She found a seamless way to create and publish social ads marketing CRES properties to would-be renters without current residents seeing the messaging. Richey typically runs two of these social advertising campaigns per month, always ensuring their reach is local, so that “we don’t have everybody in Michigan liking our properties in Kansas City!”
Interestingly, once Richey addresses the known variables — audience demographics and cross-marketing partnerships — she admits social media strategy is much more an art than a science. Richey confesses: “Even though it’s been popular for years, it’s still new, changing all the time. What people do care about, what they don’t care about — it’s never predictable.”
Against this backdrop, Richey believes experimentation and research are critical. She recommends that multifamily marketing professionals keep a careful eye on metrics to sense which posts strike a chord with their intended audience. Facing disappointing numbers, though, multifamily teams should flex their research muscles and find other types of content that might resonate as local and authentic.
For example, Richey decided to “experiment” and “share content from a blog about how to make a coat rack — something simple that residents could really benefit from.” Unfortunately, it was mainly her employees who proved inspired. Then, Richey decided to liven up her copy, sharing a post that added a stylish twist to an available unit. Richey recalls, “I posted something like: ‘buy the dress, eat the cake — rent the apartment’ and we got so many likes. I thought: ‘how come our Amenity of the Month posts don’t do this well?’”
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Through a delicate mix of improvisation and analytics, Richey has found that three posts per week on Instagram or Facebook seems to be just the right number to retain CRES’s social following. Facing more than that, some people unfollow the company’s accounts.
True to her local lens, Richey has also discovered that national, themed posts — i.e. National Pancake Day — lose their luster when you step back and realize your audience is inundated with these kinds of offerings from a range of companies. That’s why Richey remains confident: “the best kind of content is content that shows property managers really know their residents.”
Ultimately, Richey has discovered the posts that really resonate are “Day in the Life Of” spotlights featuring a maintenance technician or a leasing agent working around the property. In one post, a maintenance technician explains how to change the batteries in a smoke detector. In another, a tech looks to the camera and asks: “did you know that putting egg shells down your sink is actually a good thing because it helps sharpen the blades at the bottom?” Needless to say, Richey was excited to find these behind-the-scenes posts are truly conversation-starters for people at the property.
Richey admits: “some of our team members are always taking selfies, and others are more shy. But the idea is that they all share a slice of what life is like on the properties.” Along the way, she keeps in mind a piece of advice she received from a sales rep for the social publishing software CRES uses.
The rep stressed: “Social media is like a puppy. In the early days, you’re all happy posting pics and getting responses, but then the puppy starts being a puppy. It starts chewing on somebody’s shoe, ruining things — just like how you’ll receive negative comments here and there. That’s when you face that you’ve gotta keep nurturing the puppy anyway, working together to make things positive as your puppy grows up.”
To Richey, the puppy analogy is a helpful reminder to be conscientious (and flexible!) as her teams tell CRES’s story on social media, showing current and future residents why — and how — the company cares. As Richey puts it, “When we tell our story, they can really see who we are, what our residents are experiencing living in a certain community. They can feel that we really know them.”
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Whether your marketing team members are hunting for relevant news articles or debating how many employee selfies to post per week, Richey’s puppy analogy is likely to serve them well. Social media metrics can prove disappointing; negative comments can prove discouraging. Yet, multifamily teams already have the powerful interpersonal skills and customer-oriented mindsets that it takes to thrive on social media. By adjusting their social strategies toward compelling, locally-framed content, multifamily marketers can truly build community among current residents and pique the interest of prospective renters.
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