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Multifamily Executive: Facebook Drives Eyeballs and Purse Strings

August 09, 2010

When looking for a place to live, it’s often best to enlist a little help from a trusted friend. Or maybe 500 of them.

An April report by consumer research firm Nielsen found that 70 percent of people would trust consumer opinions posted online. Apartment communities have taken that to heart and are using next-generation social technologies as a marketing tool as well. ForRent.com is one company using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace to promote itself, as well as facilitate connections between owners and renters. Since the launch of ForRent.com’s “share” tool in October 2009, more than 58,000 apartment listings have been shared via Facebook and 29,500 properties have been “compared.” While ForRent.com declined to provide data on how many postings led to leases, they are an important way to drive traffic, says Erica Campbell, senior manager of Norfolk, Va.-based ForRent.com.

“I think there’s a lot of benefit to having a social media strategy. It’s not just pushing leases but increasing brand loyalty,” she adds.

Matthew Kilmurry, director of marketing at Greenbelt, Md.-based owner/operator The Bozzuto Group, said the firm recently launched the Bozzuto Social Media Initiative, which identifies one person at each of its 100 communities to be a “Brand Champion” and manage that community’s social media pages. “We’ve already begun to see an increase in our referrals from our networks,” he says.

Campbell, meanwhile, recommends asking existing residents to take on this marketing role. “They can be brand advocates and create buzz for events and promotions,” she says.

Which, in fact, may be a better strategy. The Nielsen study, conducted in conjunction with Facebook, concluded that ads using organic exposure led to higher awareness and higher purchase intent than nonorganic ads.

ForRent.com has been on Facebook since 2006, but started putting serious effort into its social media platform two years ago. “The numbers can change drastically day to day,” Campbell explains. “It’s a lot of trial and error.”

Meanwhile, Bozzuto’s Facebook fan page has 276 “likes,” as well as several photo albums and event promotions. “Social media is wherever our residents live online,” Kilmurry says.

However, despite the fact that social media increases ad traffic, a recent resident survey by Houston-based J Turner Research found that 93 percent of renters have never visited their apartment community’s social networking page.

Kilmurry remains positive, though: “For the first time, social media allows us to listen to our prospects and residents like never before. We can now take an honest look in the mirror to see how we’re performing.”