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Planning During A Pandemic: Social Media During Social Distancing

By Ed Finkel

The social distancing restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic naturally have altered the types and sizes of events that apartment communities have been able to plan since March, and will be able to hold during the next several months, at least.

Fogelman mostly has engaged with residents virtually, Yeargan says. The marketing teams have pivoted to social media, activating a private Facebook group to share ideas for virtual resident events and brainstorm strategies to keep people connected. The company has hosted virtual training sessions for marketing staff, to make sure they all well supported, which have included a session with a seasoned industry marketing speaker, Kate Good.

Other resident get-togethers that Fogelman has hosted in this “new normal” have included food and ice cream truck events, trivia and bingo events, “show your space” contests, and pet contests, Yeargan says. “In addition to these, we have found partnering with local restaurants and retailers to promote opening schedules during this time has provided benefit to our residents, such as unique discounts and rewards,” she says. “In a nutshell, social has been more instrumental than ever with resident engagement, and a space we continue to thrive in.”

Arrive On University and Arrive West End haven’t been able to do many resident events since the pandemic began, Seward says. They did gather residents together to plant two trees, six feet apart on Arbor Day—one in memory of the lives lost due to COVID-19, and the other representing the countless lives saved thanks to social distancing. “We had to get super-creative to keep the six-foot distance between everyone,” she says.

Because the news media did not respond to solicitations, Seward stepped up as the first “property reporter” for Arrive on University News, producing a Facebook video featuring five residents and three staff that one of the residents helped them to edit. “We couldn’t be more proud of how it turned out!” she says. “It was fun to make, and we took several—maybe hundreds—of takes to get the final cut.”

Arrive On also has invited a few food trucks on the property, and held a contest to name the mother and father duck that annually arrive on the site to nest, have babies and leave. The winning resident came up with the names “Sir Quackley” and Puddles.”

Capstone has held socially distanced events like online bingo, or an acoustic guitar performance around the pool so that all residents can hear it from within their units, Blaskowsky says. Within senior properties, staff are dropping off snacks and Redbox movies at people’s doors, “so they have that touch-point and know they’re not alone in this process,” she says.

Capstone has implemented self-guided and virtual tours, with enhanced videos for the latter that point out specific features, although they are continuing to escort prospective residents if requested, implementing masking and social distancing protocols as they do so. And the company has been sending e-mail blasts to residents with the latest tidbits about public health guidelines and how they will be operating in their offices as a result, Blaskowsky says.

As soon as COVID-19 hit, Bristol Development Group knew that it wanted to keep community engagement high but needed to brainstorm creative ways to do so, Gunderson says. At one property in Richmond that has a community mascot, the company held a “Where’s Waldo?”-type contest that involved taking pictures of the mascot in various community locations and giving $25 gift cards to those who were the first to guess the locations correctly, she says.

“It was a way to have fun and play together, but not be together,” Gunderson says. Bristol also took a successful trivia game that had been played in person and placed it online in the Facebook Live setting, “so that people could have fun with each other and not be in the same space,” she says. “Those were a couple things we could implement quickly, with no contact.”

Later in the spring, Bristol started to think of possibilities for outside get-togethers, including pet meet-ups and live concerts on the large lawn of one of the properties, so residents could bring a picnic and safely social distance, Gunderson says. “It’s a way to create community and engagement with our residents,” she says. “We’re always looking for those opportunities, and trying to keep that going in these challenging times. We hope that as we are allowed to reopen, that we’ll find other great ways to connect, before we can go back to hopefully where things were prior to the beginning of this pandemic.”