Sunday, September 30, 2007

Marketing In Social Media? Try To Fit In

Harvard Business School recently published an interesting academic paper about marketing in the social media environment, which includes sites that offer consumer reviews, social networking, trading and user-generated content. The paper -- written by John Deighton, professor at Harvard Business School, and Leora Kornfeld, research director at the Mobile Muse Consortium in Vancouver -- reviews five emerging models for marketing in these environments, and concludes something that might seem a bit obvious: that the "locus of control over meanings" is moving from the marketer to the consumer and is rewarding "more participatory, more sincere, and less directive marketing styles."
Harvard Business School: Working KnowledgeThink of it this way: In peer-to-peer environments, the marketer should be more talked-about than talking. At best, the marketer's role is to "provoke conversations among consumers." At worst, you become the enemy, "attacked with invective or parody." The report goes on to, quite correctly, state that "as marketing strategy grapples with the question of how to work with social media, old paradigms die hard. Marketing may be less a matter of domination and control, and more a matter of fitting in.”

I typically cringe when I see marketers trying to insert themselves into the context of social media, primarily because so many of them are incredibly bad at it. Multifamily has a distinct advantage because you're in the business of creating community... have been for years, even decades. You know when to insert yourself into the conversation and when to get out of your residents' way. Take those same concepts into consideration if you're marketing in online communities and other social media. Take it from Harvard: the best thing you can do is try to fit in.

You can read a longer summary or download the full paper from here.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Links for the Kids: Web Tools for School

It seems that every property with a resident portal provides a section for links, which are usually local retailers and services.

Well, here are a few more to add for your student communities -- Mashable has posted a list of over 60 links for college students, with categories such as buy/sell/trade textbooks, homework reference & work sites, organizational sites and social networks. Most are great resources for both incoming and returning college students.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Experiencing a Halo Effect

Don't be surprised if you get a few more complaints than usual about slow bandwidth this week -- on Tuesday, Microsoft began selling “Halo 3”, their acclaimed (and highly anticipated) alien shoot-'em-up video game for the Xbox 360. Take special note if you're operating a student housing community... I talked to one ISP exec earlier this week, and he admitted his company was expecting a considerable "spike in bandwidth for the next several days."

The game's launch was much like the premier of a Harry Potter book or the iPhone. If you're not convinced it's a big deal, think about this: the third installment of Halo made more on its first day than Spiderman 3.

Photo: Microsoft XboxProperty managers should take advantage of opportunities like this to create related events, as long as they fit the community's demographic... popular video games often provide the chance to put together parties or tournaments. You might think that Halo-type games will typically only appeal to the young men, but the Nintendo Wii and new games interest a much wider range of "casual gamers." Whatever the idea, you'll have plenty of time to plan an event this week if your Internet slows to a crawl... thanks to your Halo enthusiasts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Not-So-Entertaining Thought

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 73% of new home builders offered home theater as an option to their buyers last year. 74% said they offered multi-room audio.

The survey wasn't broken out by property type, but my guess is that the numbers are far lower in multifamily properties, for sale and rental alike.

In-home entertainment options are simply not priorities for many multifamily developers... At most, they're often passed off as upgrade options that are handled by a local electronics installer. Yet these are features that many residents are willing to pay for and will use almost on a daily basis.

Consumers have come to expect entertainment technologies in their home... Shouldn't you be offering them?

If you are offering these options, what has worked and what hasn't?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Broadband Properties? Yes.
Broadband Applications? Stay Tuned...

Broadband Properties SummitI had the opportunity to moderate a panel at the Broadband Properties Summit earlier this week... more on that later.

After attending a number of the other educational sessions, I left the conference with three overriding impressions:

1. There are a relatively small number of technology companies that are truly innovating and providing great new services in this industry, and an even smaller number of property developers and owners that are paying any attention to them.

2. Everyone wants someone else to pay for the technology. No one has really figured out the right business model yet.

3. The U.S. is way behind Asia and Europe when it comes to broadband policy, deployment, and usage.

I was truly amazed by the general disconnect between service providers and real estate companies, not to mention that applications developers were nowhere to be seen at this conference. It's important to discuss how network infrastructure is designed, installed and funded, but until we advance the conversation about new services and applications (other than HDTV), the need for more bandwidth and more infrastructure really won't increase that much.

So, if you're a web application developer looking for a huge opportunity, look to the housing market... out of 60+ exhibitors at the show, only two were offering consumer applications beyond the typical phone/TV/Internet triple-play services.

Which brings me to my panel. I moderated a panel titled "Applications as Amenities in the Digital Home." Neil Olshansky from Steeplechase Networks spoke about premium broadband services, Brent Williams from AptConnect made the case for social networking as a community-building tool, and Kurt Scherf from Parks Associates addressed the rise of the digital lifestyle and the growing need for quality technical support services.

The conclusion we came to during our debate was that some very interesting applications are starting to become available, but there is a real lack of direction when it comes to providing applications for residents beyond the triple play. Download the slide presentation here. (PDF)

Other industries are finding ways to use digital tools to make physical spaces more productive, more entertaining and more convenient... The time is right for community developers to do the same.

What applications could you provide to your residents?

Saturday, September 08, 2007


If you're not paying attention to Apple, you're missing a lot.

Last week, Apple's big news was their introduction of a new iPod lineup, and they dropped the price of their popular iPhone.

But that wasn't the most interesting part of the story.

Apple also announced a partnership with Starbucks that will soon introduce a chain of highly-customized digital entertainment stores.AppleBucksAt Starbucks locations, Apple will offer a Wi-Fi version of their iTunes music store that will feature custom music selections based on each store's recently played songs and other featured content. This gives Starbucks the opportunity to turn its coffee shops into digital music and video stores.

This is just the tip of the iceberg... I think we'll soon see similar deals that will give digital media a much greater presence in physical locations. I also think it is another indication that consumers expect to be able to access and control their media anywhere, without the need for their PC as a middleman.

For multifamily property owners, it certainly is further evidence of three major lifestyle trends:

1) Consumers expect broadband Internet, and they expect to be able to access it from almost anywhere.

2) By providing more opportunities to buy music, people will simply buy more music. There is an almost insatiable appetite for digital content, especially when presented in a fun, easy-to-use format.

3) The connection between mobile devices and physical locations is becoming increasingly important.

As the Wired article states, "If Starbucks installed compact, terabyte-size media servers with [a fast local network connection], a 1-GB movie could be delivered to an iPod in seven minutes," instead of the 90 minutes required using a typical Internet connection. Apply this idea in an apartment community, and this is something that could easily be done from the Main Communications Room (MPOE) at a typical property. And don't you think more folks are downloading movies at home than at Starbucks?

When working with your service provider or other third-party technology companies, property owners should be creative and aware of what is available to consumers through other outlets. Understand these trends, and look for unique ways to play with popular devices like the iPhone... or else you might soon find all your residents down at the local Starbucks.