Reputation is About More Than Reviews: 3 Industry Experts Weigh In
What if I told you that building a reputation is about more than just reviews? While most of us in student housing are already keenly aware of the critical nature of reviews, our research has revealed that, when it comes to Millennials and Gen Z, we may be thinking about it in the wrong way.
A recent whitepaper from Modern Message, based on a nationwide survey of over 1,000 residents, revealed that up to 70 percent of current residents would be willing to promote their apartment community online. Even more shocking is the finding that nearly 4 out of 5 residents rate their apartment positively. Yet less than 10 percent actually take these desired actions.
These findings reveal the opportunity of the largely untapped resource amongst our current residents known as “resident advocates.” A group which represents the key to unlocking wild success online for apartment communities.
Mike Ivey, Cofounder and Head of Product at Modern Message, and Kim Cory, Student Housing Veteran, interviewed several industry experts around this new and important topic to try and uncover some best practices as you prepare you for a successful lease up season in 2016.
Interviewees include Kate Good, SVP of Development and Operations - Hunington Residential Inc, Emily Prevost, Director of Marketing - The Dinerstein Companies, and Laura Formica, VP Operations - Homestead U.
One of the tried and trued best practices in Student Housing is creating a word of mouth movement among college students. We all strive as marketers to have students speaking our praises and telling their friends about the best place to live off-campus! As marketing strategies have evolved, the reason are clear as to why we need to take this positive word of mouth approach and migrate it into a digital space. Read on to hear industry experts weigh in on their approaches to gaining the most exposure for the greatest impact in resident reviews.
Question: What do you think is the percentage of residents who would be willing to promote their apartment community through their own social networks?
Kate Good: 10% if asked to do so; 5% will do it without prompting
Emily Prevost: Assuming that residents are relatively happy with their experience at your community, I think most would be willing to share to some extent. Obviously the actual percentage is going to vary by community demographic. While you might see a higher overall participation percentage at a student property, the conventional properties will have more enthusiastic brand advocates that are willing to post more often. The key to getting them to do it is making it easy and asking them to do it!
Laura Formica: This number is consistently growing, but currently, we have found that right around 20% of our residents will promote their apartment community through social media.
Question: How much of your social media strategy is spent focusing on current residents?
KG: Greater than 50%, We believe that prospects refer to our social streams to see what it is like to live at the community.
EP: Most of our properties are in lease up, so we generally focus on lead generation and awareness when it comes to social.
LF: Almost all of it. We believe that social media is really more of a retention and resident communication tool, rather than a lead generator.
Question: We know that 94% of residents say that a friends' recommendation impacts their decision to lease. What are some online techniques you have found successful in creating digital word of mouth movement?
KG: We created a video that we text to the resident when they lease. It is a funny video that they usually want to post and says they will be living at our apartment community. We have sent it 20 times and it has been posted 8 times and has over 200 cumulative likes. We started this in June, 2015.
When the customer decided to lease with us, we create a fun pic with their participation. Such as, the resident holding a sign, posing with their fav amenity and so on. Then we post and invite them to tag. Great comments always follow.
EP: We encourage residents to share their experiences online. Then, we repost these reviews on the community social platforms. We get feedback from prospects everyday that these reviews are what brought them in the door. Even if they don’t know the reviewer themselves, prospects will generally trust a current resident’s opinion over your typical marketing materials, so this has been huge for us.
LF: We have spent a significant amount of time cleaning up our digital footprint, encouraging positive reviews, and responding to less favorable reviews. A big part of the review game is being knowledgeable about what is being said, responding quickly and positively, and encouraging additional resident comments. We have been able to increase our average rating by 2.5 stars by focusing on these components.
Question: Do you believe social media can be just as big of an outlet for residents to vocalize positively as in person word of mouth?
KG: We believe it is bigger than word of mouth because it can last forever on the internet.
EP: Absolutely, in fact, I think it can be a bigger outlet because of social sharing through second and third degree connections. If one person shares and their friend likes it, that opens up the review to be seen by both networks of friends. Sharing via traditional word of mouth might impact one person, but sharing on social could impact hundreds or thousands!
LF: Absolutely. Millennials spend an average of 8 hours a day on their phones, tablets, etc., so it is imperative to ensure you are garnering positive feedback via social media.
Question: Tell us about the language you speak to your residents and what impact this has created for you communities?
KG: We believe that today’s customer loves down time. But that does not mean they are laying sloppy on their couch. When people have downtime they are very active in doing things that enrich their physical and mental health. We created opportunities to hang with your friends in 5,000 square feet of social space, utilize 4,000 square feet of unique fitness offerings and find special places to toss the ball with your furry family member.
EP: Our messaging is unique to each property and demographic. For instance, the tone we use at an SEC student deal is going to be different than at school without a huge football or Greek presence. The main thing we try to keep in mind is – who is our audience and how do we make content that is going to be relevant to them and cater to their needs. A big part of this strategy is looking at current residents’ likes, posts, and reviews and seeing what is important to them. Then we showcase how living at our property is compatible with that lifestyle.
LF: We keep things simple, classic, and fun. This allows us to have more mass appeal, and increases our engagement.
Keep things simple and fun; we couldn’t agree more! For more information on how to unlock your apartment communities 5 star potential, download the complete white paper at http://bit.ly/unlock-NAA.