The #1 Way To Use Facebook to Market Apartments

How to market apartments on Facebook

Facebook is massive, and getting bigger by the day. There’s no denying its reach among American consumers, and myriads of companies are being funded and built solely on the premise that they’re going to help you become a better marketer while capitalizing on the web of connections built by sites like Facebook. These companies are flooding the market with tools; everything from social media dashboards (which help manage your various campaigns) to automation software (which will plan your updates algorithmically, so that they’re released within the optimal time frame to be seen by the largest potential audience of readers).

So what else can you do to enhance your ability to “pull” residents into your community? To start, you can make it look like an incredibly desirable place for prospective residents to live. And what’s the best way to showcase the people, relationships, and activities that make your community so great to the outside world? That’s right … Facebook.

Facebook As A “Pull” Marketing Strategy

Whether lurking on #AptChat or reading the comments section of some of our favorite #multifamily bloggers, I consistently hear people asking for advice on how they can get better at marketing their community on Facebook. “It’s impossible to measure ROI!” “My PM’s don’t know what they should post!” “We don’t see any leads come through Facebook so why should we waste our time?” I’ve got news for you: you’re doing it wrong. I agree, it’s incredibly hard, if not impossible to measure ROI on Facebook, and knowing what to post and when is something that you can only get better at with practice and time. (ROI isn’t the ultimate measurement of marketing performance, either.)

What I most take issue with is the underlying premise: that Facebook should be treated like any other traditional “push” marketing channel, and held to the same standards when it comes to ROI. It’s not, and it shouldn’t be. The biggest opportunity Facebook presents for your community is the same reason millions of people spend hundreds of hours crafting their perfect public profile: Facebook lets you put your best face forward. It draws people into your world. Facebook is your chance to take what’s best about living in your community and put it on display for the world – it’s dynamic, it’s alive, and it’s the closest someone can come to knowing what it’s like to live in your community without actually sharing your street address, if it’s done right. Which begs the question – what does apartment marketing on Facebook look like done right?

The #1 Way To Use Facebook To Market Apartments

In all likelihood, every other channel you market to relies on a traditional “push” strategy. If you turn off the faucet, the water (or leads) run dry. The reason why many people look at Facebook and see nothing but a heavy time commitment with no measurable ROI is because they expect it to act like any other traditional push tool. It won’t! Can we accept that Facebook may be best used as a means to pull new residents in, simply because they can’t deny the attraction to your vibrant community? In the same way that millions of individuals use Facebook to showcase their best self to the world and draw others into their orbit, so should your community.

Which marketing tactic do you think is going to be more impactful on a potential resident in 2013 — having to choose between one of the 20 text ads they see in a search engine results page, or landing on your community’s Facebook page and seeing the glowing faces of residents who look, talk, act like, and enjoy the same things that they do? Which would have more impact on you?

The Opportunity is Now

Your competition doesn’t get it. In two years, 98% of these same companies still won’t get it. That’s unfortunate for them, but it’s great news for you — it means there’s an unprecedented opportunity for you to stand out in a highly competitive and crowded marketplace. If someone told you how big SEO, PageRank, and search engine results were going to be back in 2004, wouldn’t you have thrown a large portion of your resources into managing your presence on Google? Imagine the benefits you’d be reaping now, 7 years later!

This kind of long term thinking requires discipline, short term investment without measurable ROI, and smart staffing choices, but if executed correctly your company can establish an almost insurmountable lead over your competitors in a few years time. When you reset your expectations of how Facebook works as a marketing channel, your perspective widens to include the new possibilities that a successful pull strategy can offer. Your level of success depends on how willing you are to commit.

We’ll dig a bit deeper into what a successful Facebook “pull” strategy looks like in a future post, but for now I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the topic. How does your company view the Facebook opportunity? Do you have an example of a particular community which shines as a best practice example for the industry? Do you think my interpretation of the market opportunity is totally off-base? Let us know in the comments!!

12 thoughts on “The #1 Way To Use Facebook to Market Apartments

  1. Nice post Matt and some good questions. For any business model I have looked at Facebook pages as communities. The most successful pages in the apartment industry I have seen are those who showcase their offline efforts for the community on their Facebook page. Where most fail is when they have no content strategy and no definable reason in the first place to even have one. If a sense of community goes both ways then it is easier to see results overall.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I understand it’s tough for many communities to develop a strategy in the first place, because there’s no tried and true methodology for getting started. However, I think the fundamental expectations of how Facebook can perform are skewed, and if people don’t change the underlying assumptions about what to expect, they’re doomed to fail far before they ever set their strategy into stone.

    I hope to dig into this a bit more in a later post.

  3. Do you see Facebook as a hybrid of a traditional web site and a Yelp type rating and comment approach combined?

    • Bob,
      I personally see Facebook as an opportunity for communities to transcend ratings or review type sites. Since everything on your Facebook page is public, if you have an active presence it should be the truest representation of what life in your community is like on any given day. Review sites are always going to have a variety of positive and negative reviews, but they’re generally written by residents AFTER they’ve already moved on from your community. As an example, if I go to Yelp and read a review of a restaurant, some people will love it and some will hate it. Who should I trust? The restaurant may have been having an off day, or the customer had a uniquely bad experience. However, if I had the ability to see what the people who were currently eating dinner in the restaurant, at this exact moment, had to say about it, I would have a much more accurate representation. Does it look like they’re enjoying themselves? Are there lots of complaints? I see Facebook as a community’s best opportunity to communicate the present living situation to potential residents – if your page has a lot of positive interaction from current residents, that far outweighs any potential negative reviews written several months ago.

      Thanks for the comment!!

  4. Pingback: Facebook Marketing; Is The Effort (Cost) Worth The Return | The Urbane Way

  5. Matt, Hello
    I would agree with you in principle about pull verses push, however I am not sure many apartment facebook pages are loaded with conversations and interactions.

    Perhaps a different question is How Much Effort Do We Put Into Facebook Marketing For Given Result. We manage (25) plus Facebook Fan Pages for our clients. Clearly, by far and away, the pages where we put in the most effort have the highest result. The question becomes, at what cost does it make sense.

    Our Lab Results:

    -) Property Management Co A, (Minimal Effort) Our effort has been minimal, 2-3 posts per day to achieve the result listed. Note that 2-3 Facebook posts per day may seem excessive to some
    (387) Fans
    (10,912) post views in the last thirty days
    (9) interactions in the last thirty days
    -) Urbane Life, (Moderate Effort) We have put in moderate effort to achieve the result listed, lots of interaction, contests and small give away’s
    (2,310) Fans
    (87,940) post views in the last thirty days
    (119) interactions in the last thirty days
    -) Retail Client A: (Significant Effort) We have by far and away spent the most recourses on this account, Lost of posts, contests, sweepstakes and significant give away’s
    (1,862) Fans
    (73,604) post views the last thirty days
    (764) interactions in the last thirty days

    So, The question is, of these three case studies which have varying degrees of effort, and therefore cost, what is the value of their result, of which none really track to sales or rentals. So in two cases we are having lots of conversation, which I would agree has some value, but at what cost?

    So, although I like facebook, and will continue to market there, it just doesn’t produce a result of say a blog post for example,

    • Eric,

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment – you understand this market better than most. Those are impressive statistics, and even though you might not be able to track measurable returns, I think the numbers themselves speak to the effectiveness of your efforts. You provide a good example of why I think people need to reset their expectations – maybe Facebook just isn’t cut out to be the traditional marketing channel (at least for the MFI) that many people think it is! Here’s another way to look at – properties spend thousands of dollars every year on structural upkeep – let’s use the paint on the side of the buildings as an example. Are you able to measure the exact impact a freshly painted building has on new resident move-ins down to the specific dollar amount? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume that this type of maintenance is treated as an assumed cost of doing business, and is an effort to put your best face forward to the physical world. Isn’t Facebook the digital equivalent of paint on a building? Isn’t it a community’s responsibility to use FB to put their best face forward online (in addition to their website)?

      I agree with you on your key point – Facebook does not perform like a traditional marketing channel and therefore is unreliable when it comes to producing measurable results. I believe that maintaining an active and engaging Facebook page should be looked at by many companies as a cost of doing business. Just like the paint on the side of the building, you’ll never know if it’s what won over your newest resident. But you’re certainly not gonna let it start to peel so you can find out.

  6. Read Razorfish’s recent white paper “Liminal.” They did REAL research on what consumers want and expect–for a big name vibrant company (Virgin America). The results will surprise you. As an example, based on this detailed anthropological study (study methodology is in the report, so you can judge if it’s valid), even GenY prefers email as a means of communicating with companies, not Facebook. Facebook is a SOCIAL site, not a commercial one. I don’t like companies interrupting my family dinner, so why would I want my social site to be loaded with commercials?

    There’s not an ounce of actual analysis or a single bit of real data in the blog post. It all sounds good; and we may want it to be true. But wishing something or intuitively expecting something to be true doens’t make it so. The analogy to SEO is a red herring. Back in 2004, Google had real numbers, and you could TRACK hits to leads to sales. You could calculate an ROI. So if anything, that experience proves exactly how weak FB is. Today. It could change in the future.

    Marketing often does not have a seat at the table with senior execs. Maybe it’s because when we can’t bulid a business case for something, we plead and beg for the resources anyway? ROI doens’t have to be calculated to the percent to help drive business decisions. And if we keep dodging the ROI question, then we keep telling our execs that we really don’t want to be at the table when the real business decisions are made.


    • Donald,

      Thanks so much for contributing your insight. If I hadn’t made it clear before, this is merely my personal opinion on the matter as a marketing professional, and as a relative outsider to the property management business I’m sure there is a level of operational context I’m missing. I’m not sure if you saw my reply to Eric’s comment, but I believe I’m addressing the question of ROI head-on, in stating that no, in fact we cannot measure ROI from Facebook and therefore we need to stop expecting it to be there. To extrapolate from that point, the question for mgmt. then becomes “OK, now that we accept that there’s no measurable ROI from Facebook, do we still pursue an FB strategy or not?” For many companies that answer may be no – and that’s fine. But if the answer is yes, than what’s the best way to pursue an FB strategy, knowing there will be no measurable ROI? I’d argue that my strategy from the article makes sense. My analogy of FB to the fresh paint on the side of the building suggests that a well maintained and active Facebook page could be treated as a cost of doing business for many companies – you’re not going to let the paint start to peel, but at the same time you don’t expect that the $$ you spend to paint the buildings every x years will demonstrate a corresponding uptick in new residents. (Disclosure: I could be wrong here – please let me know if your business is able to measure the return, in $, that money spent to maintain good looking buildings has on new resident move-ins and I will retract my assumption.)

      If the argument is “does FB provide a measurable ROI?” than I’m with you – it doesn’t. Does that mean it should be abandoned completely? I don’t think so. It still likely provides an unmeasurable boost to your companies marketing efforts. My general point is that people need to reset their expectations of what FB means to their business.

  7. The biggest benefits from Facebook and other Social Media opportunities aren’t really tangibles that should be measured using traditional methods. A carpenter doesn’t calculate the ROI on screws over nails, he just puts both of them in his the tool box.
    These are surely similar issues that blacksmith’s had about their products and services when the game changing horseless carriage started replacing the horse. Only a few forward thinking business were able to adapt and survive.

    Smart apt management companies realize that Social Media is a game changing tool. They should take their cue from Sam Walton’s playbook and buck tradition. Look for ways to skewer their traditional marketing with Social Media for brand building, list building and other internet marketing tools to stay abreast in a global marketplace.

    • EJ,

      Great analogy! I really think we’re living through a great shift in the way we all conduct business, and as time goes on, the expectations for social media and its’ associated campaigns will become much clearer. Your only point I disagree with is the suggestion that only smart apt. companies “get” social media – I think there’s many companies out there with incredibly bright individuals leading them who just simply haven’t figured out how to best apply social media to their business – but that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future or that they aren’t stellar at running the rest of their operations. The main difference is, the ones who figure it out the soonest will have the chance to build a big lead on their competitors.

      Thanks for the comment!!

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