Dipping My Toes—and Phone—In the 21st Century

I went kayaking with a few friends the day it reached 106 degrees in Washington, D.C. (mistake No. 1). As I awkwardly climbed into my boat with the grace of a baby fawn learning how to use its legs, the 12-year-old boy by the docks assured me my possessions would be safe—and dry—in a spot in back of the kayak. He seemed wise and weathered beyond his years, so I trusted him (mistake No. 2).

Unfortunately, when Huckleberry Finn pushed me and my kayak into the river, water immediately sloshed over the back and all over my bag. When I finally managed to skillfully maneuver my kayak into a cove of previously intact grasslands and check my possessions, my flip phone was having a conniption.

After spending several minutes shaking water out of my phone, removing the battery and turning it on and off—each time only to see an ominous white screen—I decided that maybe this was a blessing in disguise. It was 2012, not 2002…and I was 25, not my mother. It was probably time to get a smartphone.

I put my water-logged phone back in my bag and glided along the river, daydreaming about all of the things I could do with a phone that wouldn’t be mistaken for a “Saved By the Bell” relic. The possibilities were endless.

The same can be said about the use of smartphones—and all mobile devices—in the multifamily housing industry.

During the session “Beyond the App: Measuring and Capitalizing on Emerging Mobile Strategies” at the 2012 NAA Education Conference & Exposition, several panelists discussed the rapid adoption in the use of mobile devices among residents and prospects—and the equally swift evolution of marketing and operations strategies tailored to those devices.

Many industry experts anticipate the fusion of traditionally separate customer sales and service channels as multifamily housing mobile tactics adapt to the millions of American consumers—excluding my immediate family—using mobile phones and tablets as either primary or complementary computing devices. The idea? Immediate and individualized content to users based on their location, the device they are using and their established social graph and computing history.

According to some leasing agents, the merging of social, mobile and local is already a reality. Many prospects are parking in front of a community and doing mobile research in the car before entering the leasing office. They are toting their smartphones while on property tours, using them for sharing photos and looking up information on the fly.

These mobile users are inherently on the go—and it’s up to apartment companies to deliver information and services in a way that will effectively reach this growing population of consumers.

I, it turns out, won’t be a part of this group just yet. After my kayaking excursion, I went home and buried my phone in a bowl of rice, which not only sucked all the water out of it, but also served as a time machine. I missed you, 2002.

For more, check out “Social, Local and Mobile,” on page 54 of the July issue of units magazine, which mailed July 10. The e-version is available here.