Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Earning Renter Loyalty Through Twitter

Two suggestions For Adding Value and Retaining Renters in Today’s Market

By Aaron Kirk Douglas

What are you doing to set your apartment complex apart from all the rest? Even midsize apartments might want to consider these two simple low-cost value-add strategies. Depending on your market, these strategies can help you justify maintaining or even increasing rental rates and keeping vacancies low.

Suggestion #1: Provide A List of Recommended Service Providers Offering Discounts

Rental managers often provide a list of who to call for cable TV, phone service, the power company, etc.

But why not take it a step further? Similar arrangements could be made to provide renters with a list of other local recommended service providers who offer reasonable rates on services. This saves renters the hassle of having to call around, check references, etc. It also adds value and makes it worth paying a little extra to obtain good and possibly discounted rates from reliable service providers. This type of referral system has benefits for the service providers, building managers, and tenants alike – proven reliability and good rates, recognizable vendors, and accountability.

As a renter, here are some things I might like to see on a list of vendors. Even if I never used these things, it’s appealing to have them available for vacations or in case of emergency.
  • An apartment cleaning service
  • A laundry service that does regular laundry, picking up and dropping off in my unit using bags they provide me for a small deposit
  • A building dry cleaning service. Pick up and drop off of dry cleaning on site on a specified schedule, saving me from having to make a special dry cleaning stop
  • If I have a patio or lots of houseplants, a service that will take care of my deck plants or houseplants, either on a regular basis or when I’m on vacation
  • A grocery shopping service that will take orders and deliver to my unit and put perishable products in the refrigerator/freezer
  • Names of at least two management-approved pet sitters/dog walkers
Suggestion #2: Earning Loyalty Through Twitter

A lot has been written about “pushing out apartment communities” to the masses in terms of advertising through social media, but not a lot about how to use social media to retain renters you already have or obtain through social media networks.

As an experienced renter in an apartment tower where the electricity has been disrupted due to a blown transformer, electrical storm, or other reasons, who doesn’t want to know as soon as possible what’s going on?

With social media, there is a great, free and simple system that apartment managers can use to keep tenants up to date on the latest goings-on in emergency situations. It’s super easy to set up a Twitter account for an apartment building, and any tenants with a computer can set up their own Twitter account. Tenants can find and “follow” their own apartment building, and can set it up so that items posted there by management is sent automatically to their mobile phones as a text message any time of day or night.

It’s easy for building managers to update a Twitter status just by sending a text e-mail through a cell phone, no matter where they are.

Many tenants would love to get updates this way. Here’s how a building manager could let a tenant know what’s happening, in 140 characters or less -- the number of characters allowed on Twitter.

Because not everyone has unlimited text messages, Twitter updates should be about important things that have a direct and somewhat urgent impact on a renter. Some examples of “status updates”:
  • Snow clogging driveway. No snowplow for back lot until 10am
  • All dryers offline until 7pm for repairs
  • Office closing at 5pm today due to emergency. Call 555-1212 for after hours assistance
  • Fire alarm testing today 12-5
  • Elevator #1 out all day today for repairs. Car #2 and freight elevator still in service
  • Hot water out until tomorrow for boiler repairs
  • Building social night tonight - barbeque 7pm
These kinds of notices make renters feel connected to their home base. Who doesn’t want to know what’s going on at home? Communication makes people feel part of a community and reduces stress by avoiding surprises. Tenants can thus change their schedules throughout the day and change plans as necessary. For example, if I’m planning to leave work early because I have to get laundry done for vacation tomorrow, and I get home only to find out all the washing machines are offline for 24 hours – if I am a busy professional, that hast the potential to really stress me out -- BUT if I’ve received notice about that and can change my plans accordingly ahead of time, life is much easier.

Twitter updates can also be set to automatically update/display on a wide network of social networking sites including an apartment building’s web site, a building/complex Facebook page, a corporate LinkedIn page, and many others. Providing renters with a easy way to stay up-to-date on what’s happening could well engender the kind of loyalty that leads to easy retention of existing renters and a willingness to pay higher than average rent for such great customer service.

Aaron Kirk Douglas is Vice President of Research and Marketing at HFO Investment Real Estate, an apartment investment and consulting firm in downtown Portland. HFO provides brokerage and investment advice services to owners of multifamily properties. Learn more at http://www.hfore.com/. (c) 2009 HFO Investment Real Estate.