How to Navigate Today’s Top Social Media Platforms
Social media guru Mike Whaling opines on what tools to use, what’s the next big thing and how to make it work for your apartment community.
Understanding social media platforms is critical for apartment community marketers to spread the word about their properties to new audiences. But oftentimes it seems that just when you think you’ve mastered a social media platform, it throws you off with a new feature or algorithm
Mike Whaling, founder and president of digital marketing firm 30 Lines, is well versed in these changing landscapes and stays on top of trends in online tools such as websites, email marketing and search engine optimization, as well as social media. In our interview he shares his advice for apartment community marketers for navigating social media today and in the future.
Q: Facebook has been a primary platform for many marketers, but when the company changed its algorithm earlier this year, it threw some people for a loop. And more changes seem to be on the horizon. What do you anticipate moving forward and how can marketers adapt?
A: I think that the social media landscape in general is maturing. I think the social networks themselves are maturing and starting to figure out how to make money and how to really keep people coming back.
That's really why Facebook is making those algorithm changes, because they don't want it to feel like a spammy experience. They don't want you to feel like the only thing you're seeing are brand posts or random posts from people that you don't care about. That's why the algorithm is there: to keep you coming back. They've been very, very successful with that.
So, as a marketer, you have to understand Facebook, what are they going for. You also have to understand what the customer is trying to do. Why do they use social? So, in terms of where the landscape is going, we certainly see that Facebook is not slowing down at all. People are still using it like crazy.
Facebook [has] made a huge investment in Instagram, which is paying off really well. They're really going after YouTube right now. So we're seeing a much larger emphasis on video across pretty much every social network.
So, as we look at it in terms of changing landscape, it's much more visual, a lot more video. We see that the social networks are really starting to expand their advertising platforms. They have to make money, right? So, they're really giving you some incredible tools right now for marketers to reach very, very specific audiences and market to them in ways that were not possible even two years ago.
Q: Facebook’s new concept is mainly to boost different posts and target specific interests based a little bit on what users have shared, as well as to find new ways to reach new people, or even friends of friends, correct?
A: Yes. One of the secret weapons right now in social media is something called Facebook dark posts. Those are posts that don't actually show up on your page, but they're posts that can be specifically targeted to whatever audience you choose. Like you said, you've got all of the information that you've shared with Facebook, plus Facebook has all of your behavior in terms of what you've found interesting in the past. They have a lot of third-party data partners that they work with.
So they have a lot of different ways that you can reach specific people. One of the things that we love as an example is you can actually build custom audiences. So, for example, you can build a custom audience for anybody who has visited my property website. And then you can target those people specifically and say, "I want to show that group of people a certain post on Facebook next time they log in."
Q: I hadn't realized that you could get quite that specific. That's really interesting information.
A: It's creepy. It's incredibly creepy and also incredibly handy and useful. From the marketing side, I love it.
Q: Playing off the idea of these secret weapons, are there any emerging platforms that apartment community marketers may not necessarily be using now, or may be using sporadically or infrequently, that you would recommend they invest in more?
A: I think the most important thing is not to chase the shiny new network but to really focus on understanding where your audience is and spend your time there. So, Facebook is obviously huge — pretty much everybody is there. I think that's kind of a given. I think there are some nuances in terms of things you can be doing within Facebook that will help you get a little bit more out of it.
So, like I said, Facebook is really emphasizing video right now. So, as a marketer, recognize that and leverage that and produce more video for Facebook.
I think that Instagram is a very hot platform right now. It's probably one of the networks that has the highest engagement among the users that are there. So I think that that's a really, really interesting platform.
And then there are some other opportunities that we see, too. We certainly think that YouTube is incredibly valuable. There's a lot of value for apartments in Pinterest.
One that is almost forgotten at this point, but we see a lot of value in, is Twitter, especially for listening for new opportunities, listening for conversations among current residents or listening for people who might be looking for apartments in your area. Twitter is the most open of the social networks.
So it's the easiest to get into those conversations and have a conversation with somebody who says, "Hey, I just got a new job. I'm moving to Chicago in the fall. I can't wait." Jump in and say, "Hey, that's awesome. Congrats on the job. You're going to love Chicago. Can't wait for you to get here." We see those people favoriting those tweets. We see people responding to them. We get into conversations, and we're able to generate leads just off of some very, very casual non-salesy Twitter conversations like that.
Q: Are there any other best practices for that platform or others — we've talked about Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest — that apartment marketers should be aware of that have changed or been updated in the past year or so?
A: Yeah, I definitely think that the Facebook ad platform is probably one of the most useful tools that you have as a marketer today. I think that as far as like tools, you're not getting everything out of their ad platform if you're not using the Power Editor. That's the best way to really leverage those custom audiences and dark posts and some of the other things that Facebook is making available to their advertisers right now.
The other thing that I really like is private Facebook groups. We're seeing a lot of success with Facebook groups as a way to hone in on, whether it's like all of your current residents. Or we've seen it used in student housing as a way for incoming residents to network with each other and meet each other before they get to the property — create a Facebook group, throw all your residents in there and you see some roommate matching and you see some ways for people to start connecting and building community before they even get to the property. But that's almost like a network within the social network, right?
I'll give you one more secret weapon. It's really valuable across every social network, at this point. But a secret weapon to get more out of social is your email list, because that's the best way to connect with your audience and make sure that they're seeing your message and not worry about somebody's algorithm. It's also the best way to steer that traffic to what information you want them to see, whether it's connecting with your Facebook page or following you on Instagram or sharing something through a hashtag that you're using for a contest. We definitely see that connecting the two — social and email — is an incredibly valuable way to approach marketing today.
Q: How can apartment community marketers get their goals and social media strategies to align? For example, if their goal is to build a better community, do they invest more in the private Facebook groups?
A: Social shouldn't live on an island. Social should be part of your broader communication strategy. So, whatever it is that you're trying to accomplish, whatever it is that you need to accomplish for your business to move forward, that's how you should be using social as well.
I think it's really important that we focus on the desired business outcomes rather than the output, especially as these algorithms are changing and as social media evolves. We see that the quantity of posts that people are sharing is almost irrelevant. Success is not based on producing more content. Success is based on producing better content that is more valuable to your audience.
Maybe that is providing better customer service through Twitter or maybe it's kind of onboarding those new residents and welcoming them to the community through Facebook or through some Pinterest boards that show them goings-on in the neighborhood. Those are the things that are aligned with business outcomes rather than "Hey, we're going to post on a daily basis because we want to have that content on our page."
If there are two things that people should focus on, it's one, why as a consumer, not just as a user, do you use social media? And what are you expecting to get out of it versus some other channel or something I'm going to go to Google and search for?
What does that mean for your content? Your content should be interchanging, or it should provide some kind of escape. Maybe that escape is some kind of motivation. It should be informative or it should provide some kind of utility value, so that people actually get something out of it.
We don't have to worry about going viral and those kinds of things. Is it entertaining? I think that we see some, especially apartment marketers, who take that a little too far and their entire feed is just like puppy memes. There's not really a lot of value. Sure, it will make you smile for a second, but it's very fleeting in terms of value to anybody who sees it and value to the business.
Q: You mentioned video as a burgeoning trend. Are there any best practices for videos? My first thought goes to having some sort of tour showcasing the apartment community, but are there other suggestions that you've seen that have worked for apartment community members?
A: As all of the sites go more visual, then, as a marketer, you need to keep that in mind. Just be thinking about "How do we take more pictures? How do we capture more moments visually? How do we shoot more video as we go?" And you don't necessarily have to share all of it, but have that mindset of capturing those moments so that you do have something you can share later on.
Apartment tours work great. That's the stuff that people want to see when they're buying. You can have some stuff in a Facebook gallery of all of your tours, but that's not stuff that you're going to be posting to your page every day. [And] we definitely see resident testimonials work really well.
If you have any kind of partnerships with local businesses, absolutely find ways to highlight them — maybe interview the store manager, the coffee shop owner or something like that. See if there are some ways to highlight some things that are happening in the neighborhood ¬— act like that neighborhood concierge and share some of that information. We see that people are interested in the human side of the business.
So can you share more behind the scenes? Can you share more “meet the team” type of videos? We have one client who did some videos that were almost like human-interest pieces on their maintenance staff. They were incredibly interesting. Those are the people that your residents see every day. If you want to be more approachable as a business, then give them a little bit more about the people that they're interacting with.
Q: What do you see are the biggest mistakes that apartment community marketers make on social media?
I think one thing that we need to think about with social is social is not just us broadcasting. Social is an opportunity for us to put our message in the hands of people that can share our message for us. I don't even know that it's a mistake. It's just a missed opportunity in a lot of cases, but I think we need to be doing more of building advocates and looking for ways [to get] people talking about us. That's always going to be taken more seriously than anything that we're putting out as a marketer.
But how do we get our residents talking? How do we get them creating content, get them snapping pictures and posting to Instagram, and maybe even using one of our hashtags, or checking in or finding a way to get them to share a little bit more about their experience with us? Certainly it's not necessarily social, but it's definitely a part of it.
How do we get more of our happy residents leaving reviews for the property? I think that really aligns with how people buy today. I want recommendations. I want to see reviews. I want to get input from my friends, especially with a big-ticket item like apartments. We need to have that social validation, that social proof out there, so that people know that we provide a great place to live.