I have a few thoughts to share on the topic of social media today, and I should tell you up front that I intend this post to provoke conversation, and I hope you’ll participate!

You all know how passionate I am about the need to begin using social media now, because I truly do believe that it will play a major role in not only our relationship/retention efforts, but also our marketing strategies.  I also happen to believe that its value on both of those fronts is already beginning to take hold.

I don’t need to tell you that idea isn’t universally held.  We’ve all seen our share of debate on the merits of social media right here online; and even among the detractors, there are varying degrees of buy-in… some will concede that while social media has a place in resident retention, it’s not a valuable or proven marketing tool; and if not now, *maybe* one day in the far-flung future.  I disagree that it isn’t yet a viable as a marketing tool based on my own experience— I believe it’s possible for any profitable online business, apartment communities absolutely included in that count.

Success is, admittedly, still a very subjective term when it comes to new media.  We’ve all experienced its benefits when it comes to connecting with others; and we know as marketers that connection breeds commitment—a key ingredient to the success of your brand.  It stands to reason that anything that facilitates a better connection with your customers is going to benefit your relationship/retention efforts.  But just as we’ve always had to work a little harder to gain a customer in the first place than we’ve had to work to keep one who’s already experienced the value of our product; it also stands to reason that marketing via social media is going to take more work than just being there.  Now, don’t read me wrong here … I am absolutely not implying that anybody who isn’t seeing the sales benefits of social media just isn’t working hard enough.  I am saying, however, that we’re all still learning the ropes; and perhaps if you’re not seeing the benefits yet, you just haven’t hit upon the right combination of tools or strategy for your brand.  Social media isn’t, after all, any one thing.  It’s a diverse and growing set of opportunities.  Imagine trying to crack a safe when there are a few more numbers on the dial each time you turn it, and you’ll get a good idea of what it can be like.  That’s just one reason why I’m so committed to educating our industry on what’s out there, what’s coming next, and the potential all those opportunities represent.

When I hear the arguments now that social media is important to keep an eye on, but isn’t yet a proven marketing tool and therefore not yet worth implementing or even getting educated on, I frequently laugh; and I’ve been asked more than once how I can be so amused at something I’m so passionate about.  Mostly, I’m remembering when—way back in 1994—we started writing about how important it was for property management companies and apartment communities to have internet access, get to know the “lay of the land,” and begin to build an online presence; because if their customers weren’t on the internet yet, they soon would be.  I can’t tell you how many times we heard “why should I do that when the internet isn’t even proven as a marketing tool?”  Then we watched as the early-adopters began to reap the immediate benefits of great online positioning while other companies and apartment communities struggled to catch up—and heard time and time again that “it’s taking us more time, effort, and expense to adapt than it would have taken us to prepare.”

Yes, great marketing is a science.  It’s important to carefully measure the hard reality of what you put into it against what you get out.  But it’s also an art, requiring at least equal attention to softer ingredients that include creativity, intuition, the ability to spot a trend, and the occasional leap of faith … but I’m not going to ask you to set the science aside.  So here’s what I want to know:  is social media working for you as a marketing tool?  Is it worth the time it takes?  Are you getting rentals that you can track back to your social media efforts?
Let me know your thoughts.