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The Do’s and Don’ts of Online Management

Online Management

Student housing and multifamily consultant Casey Van Zandt discusses how to design a resourceful website and manage all the online properties associated with it.

Technology can not only make apartment life easier for residents but can also make life easier for property managers — if they follow best practices. Student-housing and multifamily consultant Casey Van Zandt, owner of Casey Van Zandt Consulting, discusses how to optimize your community’s website to meet residents’ expectations, as well as how to use social media and online forums to better communicate with current and potential renters.

Q: What are the most common mistakes that apartment communities make in designing their websites?

A: There are a lot of very basic do’s and don’ts when it comes to, basically, the website design. 

You want to make sure the website is optimized for mobile devices and tablets. So, for example, for onsite property websites, they’re seeing about 36 percent of their traffic coming in from mobile devices, and an additional 6 percent is from tablets. And that’s basically about a 100 percent increase over last year in mobile traffic. So you want to make sure that what the potential renter and the current renter see on the mobile site is just as effective as what you’re going to see on the traditional website.

In addition, PayLease’s research shows that the top reason a consumer visits the website is to pay a bill. So you want to make sure that the website and the mobile version are both equipped for current residents to be able to pay their rent online.

You definitely want to have a direct call to action on each page that’s very clear —basically saying “Apply now,” “Apply here,” “Pay rent here.” And our recommendation is to have a call to action on each page.  

Trends are shifting where you want to use real property photos over stock photography. And in addition, if you’re able to incorporate videos throughout the website, that’s pretty awesome, as well.

And then, as far as text within the website, you want to try to stay away from industry jargon and stick with concise, clear language. Remember, only about 20 percent of the text is actually read online, so what you write, you want to make sure it counts.  

Q: What features are becoming more common or more commonly requested by residents?

A: Renters want fast mobile-friendly sites that let them complete many tasks online — such as paying rent, applying online, e-sign for the lease, e-sign for the renewal lease, putting a work order in and also being able to retrieve package deliveries —all electronically though your website, both mobile and the traditional website.

With the way the app world has kind of taken over, people just want the convenience. They don’t want to have to spend 20 minutes on a Saturday to go in and sign the actual lease document. They don’t want to go down and negotiate the renewal. Having all of those types of services available readily online is the way to go.

Q: How are residents using social media to communicate with their property managers or apartment communities?

A: A number of ways. Currently, in property management, Facebook is kind of the leading social media platform at this moment. And what the properties are doing is, they’re utilizing Facebook more as a community board of content, including relevant local information and updates. And the ultimate goal there is so that the current residents and the followers on that Facebook page are engaged and participating and interacting on the posts.

And although Facebook is the primary, the other platforms are still very relevant. So Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest — they’re present and working, not necessarily from a communication standpoint, just from more how the platforms operate.

In addition, there are a number of places where you can review an apartment community online, so maintaining a positive online reputation is, in some cases, a full-time job. It’s very important as it relates to traffic leads and potential renters and renewals — having a very good, positive online reputation.

Q: Are there specific tools you would recommend to apartment community managers to help manage some of those components? 

A: I’ve seen companies outsource using vendors to manage all of the social media platforms. I’ve also seen them just hire companies to manage the online reputation. And then I’ve also seen it done in house, where you set up the review notifications and get emails basically instantly once the review has come through. And then it falls onto the property manager to go in and make those responses to the reviews. 

The best business practice is to respond as soon as possible. And you want to be sincere within the response and, ultimately — let’s say it’s a negative review — putting a response in a way that the actual reviewer feels that they’ve been heard and a resolution has happened, whatever the issue may be. And ultimately so that your potential renter can read that review and say, “Wow, they may not be perfect, but they’re able to provide good customer service. They’re sincere.” And it may be a place that they would want to live.

And just like in social media and online reputation, there are a number of vendors that offer tools to help manage apartment listings. Just like any service, though, you want to make sure that you audit and verify the tools are actually working, especially in the beginning. And whenever you want to audit — whether it’s quarterly or monthly, whatever you feel necessary — don’t just hand it over to the vendor and assume it’s all 100 percent. Integrations can be kind of tricky. 

If you’re not outsourcing the service, at a minimum, a property manager could create a checklist with all the apartment listing sites and set basic reminders just to go in and update as needed. So, for example, if you run a promotion or a special, making sure they get updated on all the information out there publicly. And a simple checklist can help with that. It’s not going to be as sophisticated as outsourcing it to a vendor, per se, but it still can be helpful if, for example, they don’t have the budget.   

Also, choose services that integrate. So taking a best-in-breed solution that allows you to select, for example, the best web designer. And then you’re able to choose the best online payment processor, and then ultimately piece everything together so that you have a perfect solution. So I would recommend choosing services that are open to integration and that they work so that it makes life for the property manager and their position a whole lot more resourceful than having a bunch of services that don’t integrate.

Want More?

Education Conference

For more information on this topic, plan to attend Van Zandt’s panel discussion, “Keeping Up with Internet-Savvy Renters: Online Trends Today and Tomorrow,” at the 2015 National Apartment Association Education Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas this June.