A good company blog is an extension of the brand experience, and a reflection of the company’s soul. It puts a human voice, or voices, behind the logo, and reinforces what you stand for: your mission, your image, your values, and your goals. But the main purpose of the blog itself is to help foster a deeper, longer-lasting connection with your core audience, and ultimately, build a lively, vibrant online community that not only far extends beyond current customers, but also attracts new ones. If you have decided to establish a blog for your apartment community, chances are you already know the benefits of connecting with your residents and prospects on the social web, referrals and resident retention are the big ones. But, the more you can learn about what blogging best practices are at the beginning, the more equipped you will be to plan well, and blog well, for optimum long-term results.
This article is part of a series of ‘multi-family insights” that we’ll share on a variety of topics to help those just getting started in social media marketing for their apartment communities. I had the opportunity to talk with Eric Brown, Owner of Urbane Apartments, who also publishes a successful blog, called Urbane Life. Many of us have learned early on that content is king on the social web and customer engagement is crucial to a blog’s success. So, we wanted to focus our discussion with Eric around his thoughts on the best approach property managers can take once their blog is up and running, and what happens when people really start to engage with it.
Here’s what Eric had to share:
Q: When did you launch the Urbane Life Blog?
A: We published our first post on January 31st, 2008. We were pretty green back then, and only posted sporadically with little consistency. Around October that year, we recruited guest bloggers, we created a blogging plan and we posted 3 to 5 posts a week, including some video. The blog started to gain traction at that point.
Q: Getting a blog started for an apartment community is a great way to stay connected to your residents, and enhance retention. What makes for good interactions on a property's blog?
Our Urbane Life Blog wanders through and around life in Royal Oak, southeastern Michigan’s hotspot for new urban living. You might find blatherings about the coolest new organizational tool found at IKEA, info on the latest trends in small space decorating, the hottest new artist, restaurant, or boutique in the area. Point being, as with any type of content it must be engaging to the reader and audience. I am also a firm believer that in order for an apartment community blog to be as successful as it can be, the audience is MUCH larger than the apartment community. Meaning, most of the audience may not be renters today, but maybe tomorrow, or maybe they know someone looking for an apartment. Social Media is Word of Mouth Marketing on Steroids. We have (320) units in our small portfolio, but have 12,000 to 14,000 visitors a month to our site.
Q: That’s a wonderful evolution of the blog’s success. And it feels like it’s very active. What do you think contributes to all this engagement you’re experiencing?
Our blog didn’t really take off though until we got residents involved. It seems that posts about local restaurants get the most comments and participation. We have done (287) posts so far in ten months, and have received (1,386) comments. We are doing (5-6) posts per week.
Q: Once residents start engaging with the apartment community's blog, what
is the best approach to take when a resident posts a comment? Also, can you
share an experience you had when you turned a negative into a positive?
Well, until there are comments, there isn’t a conversation. So, we highly encourage comments and interaction, which is really is the whole point of the blog, as it is NOT about advertising apartments. I believe that a bit of controversy and edginess in the mix is good and I encourage that. We have had a handful of topics that have gotten (40-50) comments each. As you can imagine, some of those get heated up a bit. My direction has always been to let it play out, let people be heard. I have only ever removed (1) out of (1,386) comments. Folks are welcome to say what is on their minds, we have very few rules, but we will not tolerate disrespect. I expect folks on our blog to behave as if they were invited into our home for a spirited conversation, just be respectful.
Q: What if the blog receives a negative comment, how should the property or site manager respond?
I am not sure why folks, particularly in the apartment industry are fearful of negative comments. Everyone gets to have an opinion. There are obviously many different buckets that comments fall into, and each are addressed accordingly. I do not subscribe to the theory that the customer is always right. I do think far too many folks have a “need to be right and become much too defensive”. Remain calm, ask and answer questions, start a dialog, create a conversation. I can tell you first hand, that we have turned more negative commenters into Urbane Evangelists. It is our job as leaders to lead, give them a place to engage. When you do that, only grand things happen. I am speaking about this from first hand knowledge. The golden nuggets are ALWAYS hidden in the negative complaints. And, even if we couldn’t convert that complaint into an evangelist, we likely created several others based “on how we responded to the complaint.” Embrace complaints.
Q: In your opinion, what should property managers be aware of as they
begin to engage and connect with their resident and prospects via social media?
First and foremost, you do not get to control the conversation, BUT, you do get to participate in the conversation. Too, in order for your blog to gain traction, you need to reach out into the community at large, other bloggers, events, new business owners, arts and music to name a few. But, this is only a different version of “outreach” which most apartment companies’ leasing folks are already doing. The larger point here is that you must look at and view your operation differently than before, because we are in different times. Folks shop differently, they buy things differently, and we, as marketers, need to change, and engage differently.
At the end of the day, none of this stuff we refer to as Social Media can be viewed as “one more thing for the overworked and under paid site folks to do” They don’t have the time or available energy. However, crafted correctly, there starts to be lots and lots of things that no longer need to be done, which is where the real payoff of Social Media begins to shine.
Q: Speaking of the overworked site folks, do you have any suggestions for managing the social media responsibilities at the site level?
This one is a little tougher to answer. I’m not a rules guy, and think most rules are made for a sliver minority. We kept the rules very simple. (1) My people can blog about whatever they are passionate about, I don’t edit or approve copy, but I pick and choose which post runs when. (2) You cannot blog about Urbane Apartments. (3) Be respectful, and if you start a controversial post, you must hang with it, refrain from being defensive.
Q: What are some ways you marketed the Urbane Life blog to residents? And, the best tip for getting them involved?
Identify the “influencers.” Most property managers will know exactly who they are, get them involved, provide a “space for their voice.” It’s our job to “lead the resident influencers.” The best resident bloggers and content providers LIKELY surfaced as complainers, but got their issue solved. They are the golden nuggets.
The best tip on getting residents involved in your blog? Just ask! They are dying to help, which may sound strange but is the very premise the Wiki’s are built on today.
We hope you found Eric’s advice as insightful and helpful as we did. Happy blogging!