DALLAS — It comes as no surprise that digital marketing — and chiefly, marketing via social media — is one of the best ways to reach potential new renters in the student housing space. Students spend a massive amount of their downtime scrolling through various social media platforms, from TikTok to Instagram.
And while a focus on digital marketing within the sector has been seen for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an even greater emphasis on the space by eradicating opportunities for traditional marketing methods such as in-person events and tours.
In December, a panel of marketing specialists discussed what’s hot and what’s not for social media marketing at InterFace Conference Group’s third annual LeaseCon/TurnCon conference in Dallas.
According to a 2021 survey noted by panel moderator Alison Slager, national business development executive for LeaseLabs by RealPage, 79 percent of marketers used paid ads across social media platforms. With marketing budgets tightening, it’s important to know what resonates with today’s students to ensure all marketing dollars are well spent.
Panelists agreed that the most dominant social media marketing platform is currently Instagram, particularly with its recent addition of Reels, a tool which allows users to post short-form videos.
“Instagram is likely going to be the most dominant platform for the foreseeable future, so it is important that owners and operators understand how the platform is evolving while formulating their marketing strategy,” said Michael Newton, CEO of Swarm.
Instagram is planning for several changes over the next year, one of which is a transition in how the platform displays content. “There’s a huge change coming up where the company is going back to a chronological feed,” said Newton. “That flips your marketing strategy upside down if you’re working with Instagram now, and it will be the biggest change in marketing for the upcoming leasing year.”
As it stands currently, the platform utilizes an algorithm that is written to suppress your posts unless you’re paying money, according to Newton. With a chronological timeline, the best way to get noticed will be to post as much as possible — three to five times a day in order to really create impressions. “This reversion back to a chronological feed is going to allow companies to hustle and get their name out there with a huge reach just by putting in the work,” he said.
Another recent change is that Instagram will now allow any user to post a link in their story, where in previous years links could only be included if you had over 10,000 followers. Matt Pavlick, president at GRO Marketing, recently utilized this tool while launching the company’s new website and was able to garner 380 website hits in a short amount of time.
“It’s a given that if any of your properties are posting anything, you have to include links,” said Pavlick. “Instagram has also rolled out a tool where you can collaborate with another account for posts. If your property has 3,000 followers and an influencer has 5,000 followers, the potential reach is 8,000 followers for a collaborative post, so you can more than double your views. Both are free tools that garner exposure.”
TikTok, a social media platform where viewers can watch short-form personal videos, was noted by the panel as the most up-and-coming marketing platform.
“It really has changed the way we consume content, especially for Generation Z,” noted Newton. “That does not necessarily mean that you need to make TikToks about your property, but quick, short-form videos are how students want to consume your content. Anything that is too long or takes any sort of effort is going to hurt you.”
When posting to social media, Leslie Cole-Gallant, vice president of strategic initiatives with The Pivotal Cos., noted that transparency, creating a genuine connection and having a face behind your brand are the most important considerations.
“Let residents and potential future residents know that you are their resource and that they can really connect with you when they enter the leasing office,” she said. “If residents have seen members of your leasing office in funny TikTok videos, they’re going to dart to those people immediately because they know them and have an established connection. Leasing and marketing efforts need to have a bond.”
Newton agreed, noting that content personalization makes a huge impact when looking to connect with the current generation of students via social media. “There is a strategy that we have rolled out at almost every property we’ve worked with that was willing to try it and 100 percent of the time it works very well,” he said.
“If you are doing any sort of organic outbound marketing on social media where you are finding students and sending them direct messages, try having one of your team members who has a happy, outgoing personality send a 10-second video instead mentioning their name,” continued Newton.
“For example, ‘Hi Ashley, I saw you’re a student at UTK. We’re having a pool party event. You should swing by.’ That’s how Gen Z wants to be communicated with. When we’ve sent out that sort of message, it’s very rarely seen and ignored. It’s often either liked, or sometimes students respond back with a video message, and that’s then a very warm, organic contact.”
And while conversation regarding marketing often focuses on digital, Pavlick of GRO noted that he anticipates the incorporation of in-person events to be very successful for this upcoming leasing season.
“People are absolutely tired of Zoom calls and still appreciate personal touch,” he said. “I believe in-person events are going to work for this upcoming fall. In a sea of everyone scrapping and clawing to get your attention and buying consideration, reaching out personally, like through a video or through an in-person event, is going to stand out from the pack.”