Social Media, Say What? AF Talks with Mack Collier

Author: Alecia Pirulis  

Part 2 of our series on “Multi-Family Insights.”

We recently covered best practices for blogging well. But, if you know anything about social media, then you know that publishing a blog, as important as that is, is just the first step.

Picture 28I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Mack Collier, who is not only a fine human being, but a successful social media consultant, trainer and speaker who publishes two highly rated and active blogs: The Viral Garden and his consulting blog. Mack has been actively immersed in social media since 2005, and in that time, has helped advise, teach and consult with businesses of all shapes and sizes on how they can better connect with their customers via these amazing tools and social networking sites. In fact, we collaborated on a project for my client Citi that was incredibly successful, and squarely planted in the social media space.

Mack is passionate about helping people understand, as he did for me when we worked together, that your focus shouldn’t be on the “tools” but more on the “connections” that the tools help to facilitate. I picked Mack’s highly developed social media brain to get some insight on how the multi-family industry can be as effective as Dell, Citi or Starbucks when it comes to using social media to help build a company’s business. Here is an excerpt from the interview, which I hope you will find has valuable take-aways for your social media strategy :

Q: The entire apartment industry is beginning to embrace social media more, and it appears that folks at the property management level understand that if they leverage the tools available to them, then they can see tangible benefits in their business, such as SEO for their property’s website, and new channels to retain their residents, or bolster referrals. In your opinion, Mack, can you help de-mystify the importance of social media for those that are just getting started?

A: Social media has been getting a lot of hype the past couple of years, and I think that many people are ‘overthinking’ social media, as a result. At the end of the day, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, these are all tools that people are using to communicate with each other. They are tools for creating and sharing content. Ten years ago we called them ‘message boards’ and ‘IM’, but the exact same dynamic was in play.

Bulls Eye Bullseye Success Royalty Free Stock PhotosI think the main difference today is how quickly ideas can spread via social media. Ten years ago we had ways to connect online, but it was still fairly constrained, in that you could reach people on a message board or an online service such as AOL or CompuServe, but it wasn’t as easy to share content from one source to another. Now, it’s so much easier to quickly connect with large networks of people, and share content from one source with your network, or other people’s networks.

So basically, social media has given us word of mouth on steroids. For any company, that means it’s going to be much easier for their current and potential customers to be talking to and about them. If a company has customers that are online and talking to and about them and their competitors and industry, why wouldn’t they want to interact with them? Doing so correctly can only improve your customer’s opinion of your company!

Q: Many onsite property managers are the ones who become responsible for the apartment property’s day-to-day social media activities. Any advice for how they can explain to their boss why these activities — blog posts, Twitter feeds or Facebook pages — have value, or are a good use of their time?

A: First, I think the property managers need to decide if their customers are using social media. If they are, then obviously it makes good sense to connect with their customers via the same communication tools they are using. They can then use social media to provide customer service to their customers, to increase awareness of their business, and to highlight their customers! I think it also makes good sense to survey your existing customers to see if they are using social media, or if they would like to connect with you via social media. Would they like to see you create a message board or social network (via a site such as Ning) just for them?

[We couldn’t agree more, which is why Apartment Finder conducted proprietary research on the social media habits of apartment shoppers and property managers.]

Q3: Do you know of any examples of a company that was reluctant to engage in the social media space but then had tremendous success once they did?

Picture 31A: Dell is the perfect example of this. They are often used as an example of a company that does social media well (and they do!), but many people forget that up till 2005, it was Dell’s policy to NOT respond to bloggers! They went from that, to today having an excellent social media department, one of the best corporate blogs on the planet (Direct2Dell), and a wonderful customer-feedback platform, IdeaStorm. I asked Richard Binhammer once how he and his team sold Michael Dell on using social media, and he said ‘We didn’t, he told US to do it!’ Because Michael could see that his customers were using social media, and if they were in that space, that Dell had to be as well. So they went from being standoffish toward bloggers and others involved in social media, to embracing the space with open arms. If I remember correctly, the percentage of negative online mentions about Dell was around 50% before they launched a social media strategy, now it’s around 20%. That’s a HUGE change in opinion about Dell, but it’s happened because Dell has made a sincere effort to interact and engage with their online customers, and the change in opinion speaks for itself!

Q: We want to help the apartment industry have the best odds for success when they enter the social media space. In your opinion, where do people often make the most mistakes?

A: I think most companies view social media as being ‘free’, and they don’t consider the time commitment involved. Social media isn’t something that you can start using and stop after 2 weeks when you decide you don’t have the time to commit to it. If you launch a blog, for example, then you need to be able to commit to blogging from now on. Your blog doesn’t have an expiration date.

Another problem I see for many companies is that they feel like they have to ‘do something’ with social media. They see the hype and, I think many companies feel pressured to start using social media, or get left behind. I think it’s great to experiment with social media, but you still need to have a strategy in place. You need to say ‘We want to start using social media because we want to…..increase sales, improve customer opinion, create a new customer service channel’, or soemthing. You need to have a goal in mind for how you use social media. Then once you have your strategy in place, you can talk tactics (blog, Twitter, Facebook). But, and not to be redundant, before you get to that point, you need to know WHY you are using social media.

As always, just hearing Mack say it that way, it all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Figure out your WHY, then your HOW, and your residents and prospects will be interested in hearing your WHAT.

Mack Collier is available for social media speaking and consulting services, if you’d like more information about him, visit http://www.mackcollier.com.