Using Facebook Messenger, one community is improving conversion rates by starting prospective residents off by connecting them with a chatbot.
Despite the recent uproar about Facebook as a data collector, popularity in the world’s most popular social media site has not waned among apartment marketers, some of whom are eagerly exploring its innovative new functions to create leads and drive leases.
Chris Beckwith-Taylor, NALP, Vice President of Marketing, Franklin Johnston Group, Virginia Beach, Va., for the past 18 months has used Facebook’s Messenger platform to connect with potential residents and lead them to his onsite chatbot. The strategy is working and he has the analytics to back it up.
It starts with Beckwith-Taylor spending approximately $150 to place an ad on the Facebook platform, which asks interested users to “message us” if they want to learn more about Audubon Briarcliff Apartments in Atlanta, a 227-unit, Class A property that serves as the project’s pilot program.
Those who click the button are sent to a chatbot -- created by an outsourced partner at a cost of $99 per month.
“We figured this was a low-risk strategy and said, ‘Why not?’ let’s try it,” Beckwith says, speaking as a panelist at the 2018 AIM Conference in May.
“Because the transition to the chatbot is seamless, and the chatbot is available 24-7-365, our response time to leads was reduced to zero,” he says. “Previously, we averaged seven hours to respond—a figure that I’ve heard can be even higher for other apartment operators’ websites.”
Beckwith-Taylor says his conversion rate for a person who has expressed interest to a qualified lead through the Facebook Messenger concept is 14 percent. His cost-per-lead has been $2.17.
“That might not sound like a high percentage, but when you think that traditional website conversion rates are around 1 percent to 2 percent, it is significant,” he says.
Facebook Messenger is a high performing communication channel. Surveys show that 90 percent of Messenger texts are read, cites AIM session moderator Kristi Fickert, Vice President of Marketing and Training, for 30 Lines.
“You don’t have to have a Facebook account to have a Facebook Messenger account,” Fickert says. “And our chatbot can be linked to from anywhere - even the property’s website.”
The average Franklin Johnston chatbot conversation is lasting two minutes, Beckwith-Taylor says. Prospects have the option to quit the chat at any time and be forwarded directly to an apartment management staff person. Because most of his leads are created after 9 p.m. Franklin Johnston uses an answering service with trained operators who take messages and forward them to staff, who answer the next morning.
Franklin Johnston staff -- such as Beckwith-Taylor, the leasing agents and social media managers -- are able to follow along or review the prospective residents’ conversations with the bot to gain positive, targeted communications.
“We can see what interests them and what they ask about the most,” Beckwith-Taylor says.
By reviewing the most commonly asked questions of the chatbot, apartment staff can enhance the chatbots capabilities.
“Maybe you see that a lot of prospects are asking about the pet policy. This could be an indicator that the information isn’t easily available or accessible on the property website, which can create serious friction for the customer during an important part of the apartment shopping process,” Fickert says. “The conversations with the bot can provide some great insight for marketing teams, letting them know when and where they need to update their online content.”
Fickert says one big advantage to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which drives the chatbot, is that the more the chatbot learns, the smarter it becomes.
Apartment communities using the chatbot provide basic information about the property and its available apartment homes. Policies and other details about life at the community are included.
Facebook Messenger can also be used as a channel for a modified email drip campaign. Facebook recently introduced to Messenger its “Sequences” and “Broadcast” functions. With Sequences, the marketer can arrange for a series of timed, personalized messages to be sent to prospective residents the next day, or several days out.
The “Broadcast” function is a one-send method to deliver one message to large group of connected users.
Floor Plan Formula
Beckwith-Taylor, who admittedly likes to explore new technology in an effort to stay ahead and make interaction easier with prospective residents, also invests $450 to $500 per month on an online function that uses AI to determine the preferences of interested parties before his staff responds.
He included an AI-based floorplan plug-in that reviews the prospect’s guest card and recommend a floor-plan based on the data inputted.
“Knowing this information, our leasing professionals become more confident in their pitch to the prospect, making them even more eager to call the prospect back,” Beckwith-Taylor says.
This application led to 13 percent more lead to conversions, he says.
Fickert says the use of the Facebook Messenger method and other AI-based applications is an emerging trend.
“We will be seeing more of this,” she says. “Right now, people hear about it and maybe they don’t understand it or think it’s too expensive. It’s not.”