The approach to apartment marketing on Facebook has evolved in the past year or two, and marketers are changing along with it. Some are quitting, some are adjusting to Messenger and others continue to see it as an effective channel.
Mike Whaling is President of 30 Lines, a firm specializing in online marketing.
“Those who are still posting to their pages using a strategy that looks at all similar to what they were doing in 2015-2016 could be seeing diminishing returns from their efforts at this point,” he says. “Those shying away from Facebook ads are doing so, in part, because of the ‘Why are you seeing this ad?’ targeting information consumers receive in their newsfeed,” he says.
“Even if a company is doing everything 100 percent by the book in their ad targeting, there’s still an opportunity for consumers to be shown information that can be perceived as targeting by specific ages and other protected classes,” Whaling says.
It’s something that has the potential for legal challenges.
In September, Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) and a class of potential renters filed a lawsuit against seven national or regional property management firms, alleging age discrimination in advertising in violation of local fair housing laws in the Washington, D.C., metro area. This case is the first fair housing complaint against rental housing owners and operators, challenging their advertising practices on Facebook.
In general, Facebook still has one of the larger overall audiences across almost every demographic, but it’s typically not a place where people go to shop or research (although that is shifting with Gen Z), Whaling says.
“For most, Facebook is a place to connect with friends, likeminded people and celebrities—they’re there to escape and be entertained, not to shop,” Whaling says. “Based on how Facebook is prioritizing content in their feed today (friends, group and private messaging), we’ve seen that it’s far more difficult to get your community's content in front of your audience without paying for reach. The average organic reach for a business page is about 6 percent of their audience, and that’s declining.”
Weidner Apartment Homes made the decision based on issues associated with Facebook including user privacy, data breaches, frequently shifting advertising practices, and a lack of transparency. As a result, the privately held company that operates 56,000 apartment homes will stop using Facebook by Jan. 1. The action is not in response to any previous data breach but is a preventive measure to ensure better privacy for its business operations and residents, according to a company release.
The decision affects Weidner’s business use of the social media platform for marketing and advertising. The policy will obviously not restrict Facebook to residents for their personal use. Weidner’s marketing vendors will not be allowed to utilize Facebook for Weidner property marketing.
“Some Facebook business practices have come into question and we reevaluated whether to continue using Facebook to market our properties,” says Jack O’Connor, its Chief Executive Officer, in a release.
“We have withdrawn from Facebook based on factors such as the unpredictability in how it applies its policies, privacy protection for users, and tactics used in selecting data to share with others,” O’Connor says. “This action demonstrates how Weidner refines and improves our efforts to create meaningful engagement, while elevating our ability to conduct business in a thoughtful and trustworthy manner.”
Kate Good, Principal, Hunington Residential, says she rarely invests in Facebook ads.
“We do use Facebook at our communities in Houston. It would be hard to justify dropping it altogether because it was and is an excellent communication tool and resident forum when we were in a state of emergency during Hurricane Harvey two years ago.”
Good says her community received more reviews on Facebook than other platforms.
“We also like to see our residents tag the community in their posts,” Good says. “We invest our time into Facebook with a high-touch approach and not autoposts, and that seems to make a difference for us. Our interaction volume is not consistent; we seem to have highs and lows.”
Good says she uses an artificial intelligence feature via the Facebook chatbot in conjunction with her community website and social media to answer questions from prospective residents and to set appointments.
“The chatbot alert was set up so that conversation threads also came to my phone,” she says. “There were nights when I was bored on the couch and would take over for the AI function and directly responded myself. I would ask the prospect if they wanted to chat live on the phone. Potential residents were always amazed that they could interact with us 24/7. I personally closed five leases in one year with this hands-on approach.”
Good says Hunington is breaking ground on an all-micro development soon and will be focusing its marketing to Gen Z. “For that, I don’t expect Facebook to be a part of our marketing/retention campaign.”
Whaling is seeing improved performance with Facebook Messenger, Marketplace and Instagram.
“Our clients are seeing that lead conversion rates on Messenger are higher than on their community website. Companies need to evolve their marketing strategies to keep up with their customers and the evolution of the platform.”