Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Survey Says: Renters Shy Away from Social Media During Their Apartment Search?

"More Than 70% of Apartments.com Users Are Active On Social Media,
But Only a Quarter Use It to Shop for a Place to Live"

Apartments.com recently conducted a survey of 850 visitors to their national website to find out how active those apartment hunters are with social media, how it affects their apartment search and where they choose to live. (My first reaction: I'm not sure how many people are searching for apartments on Facebook or Flickr. But I kept reading.)

According to the survey, "71 percent of Apartments.com visitors are 'active on social media,' but only a quarter use it during their apartment search." (Actually, assuming similar survey methods, this number is up significantly considering the data presented by SatisFacts back in March.)

Now, there's no real qualification of what "using social media during their apartment search" means (or even how "social media" is defined), but it stands to reason that most apartment hunters are likely starting their apartment search on Google or Craigslist, rather than Facebook or Foursquare. However, I could easily see apartment hunters sharing a link or simply asking their friends for opinions or feedback about a specific property that has made the cut to their short list. (More on this in a bit...)

In any case, the majority of renters indicated they are not checking out social media websites to find a place to live. (This makes sense.) That said, renter search behavior is always a moving target -- 70 percent of the survey respondents who said they do not use social media during their apartment search indicated they would either consider using it or are on the fence.

Why apartment hunters use social media as part of their search
The survey found that most renters consult multiple online sources before choosing where to live. (Who wouldn't, right?) Of the 71 percent of apartment hunters already active with social media, obtaining supplemental information including recommendations, visuals and special offers topped the reasons they tap these websites during their apartment search. (OK, now this is starting to make sense...) The respondents ranked the top five benefits of using social media during their apartment search as:
  1. 1) Finding additional apartment community information and recommendations (58.1%)
  2. 2) Seeking photos and videos of apartments (54.7%)
  3. 3) Searching for apartment listings (52.7%)
  4. 4) Hunting for special incentives and offers (46.8%)
  5. 5) Sharing apartment information with friends and seeking feedback (20.7%)

Social Media: For Prospects or For Residents?

In addition to the absence of social media during the apartment search, more than 90 percent of survey respondents said they are not "connecting with their current apartment community via social media." As Apartments.com states in their release:
Reasons for why this number seems high can be attributed to the lack of apartment communities participating in the social media space, or not getting the word out to residents, and the growing number of new renters hitting the market.
Nearly half of all respondents said either their apartment community does not have a social media presence or they simply do not know about it. (More than 40 percent of the respondents also said they do not currently live at an apartment community, so take that for what it's worth.)

While this might seem like an epidemic, I hardly think it's an issue that is exclusive to the multifamily industry. Ask that same 90 percent if they're connected to their local grocery store, or plumber, or family restaurant "on any social media website," and I'm guessing that the answers would be very similar. People largely participate in social networking to connect with friends, not to receive marketing messages from businesses.

Of those who are connected to their apartment community on one or more social media sites (8.2% of the respondents), here were the reasons why:

Where do we go from here?

Here's what Chris Brown, Vice President of Product Management at Apartments.com, had to say:
As social media continues to evolve online communications, we believe more apartment communities will follow suit and become more visible in this space. Residents will likely be receptive to interacting with their apartment communities in this way, especially if the content is meaningful. Our survey tells us that residents want to connect with their apartment community through social media to receive special offers, gain access to other residents and to keep current on community news and events.
He's exactly right about meaningful content, and that can go well beyond offers and updates about community news.

While nearly two thirds of all survey respondents said they are social media users, most are only active on Facebook. Nearly 35 percent indicated they check Facebook as often as every couple of hours and 32 percent visit at least once a day. This is a sharp contrast compared to their activity on any other social media websites. On average, more than 65 percent of survey respondents have never logged on to Yelp or Foursquare (Do you need to login to Yelp to benefit from others' reviews?), and more than half have never visited Twitter or MySpace. Now you can start to see why it's important to define what we mean by "social media" for the purposes of these discussions.

So what are the takeaways for apartment marketers?

  • * Embrace reviews (and open dialogue in general). People want them. Apartment Ratings isn't going away. Deal with it and make it work for you.
  • * Go multimedia. People don't want 2-D floor plans. They want video tours, interviews with property staff, photos of decorated model units, common amenities & resident events, and resident testimonials.
  • * Syndicate your deals. This one's a little dicey, because the content still needs to be relevant to a large part of your audience that may not be searching for an apartment right now. That said, if prospects are looking for reviews on Yelp, wouldn't you also want them to see your current special there?
  • * Make it easy to share your content. Do you have features like the ShareThis widget and the Facebook Like button on your property website? Prospects want the opinions of their friends; making it easy for them to share your content and get feedback about your community provides a service to your prospect and exposes your brand to more people in the process.

You can see more details from the Apartments.com survey here, and Brent Williams already has an active debate on this data over at Multifamily Insiders.

What do you think? Does this match your company's experience with social media? Will social media grow in importance as part of the apartment search process? Are we still asking the wrong questions, as some commenters have suggested over on MFI? I've presented the data (with some commentary along the way) ... the comments are yours.

To receive a copy of results from future surveys like this, please contact Tammy Kotula at Apartments.com.

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