Monday, March 21, 2011

Persistence: the fifth P of marketing?

The 4 P's of marketing are technically known as product, price, place, and promotion, but if I could be so bold as to suggest an addition, I'd have to tack on a fifth P: persistence. (Note: Before you start yelling about how the 4 P's have been the same for decades, and who am I to suggest a change, stop and think about it for a moment. How many hundreds of marketing campaigns might have fallen flat, if not for a brave soul or two who championed the cause? Besides, this is my blog, and therefore I can propose whatever strikes my fancy. Okay, moving on...)

Like many other marketers, I am not one to throw in the towel easily. True story: my stubborn streak actually landed me a dream job back in 2005. I saw a marketing manager position posted online and begged the recruiter to send me to interview for the role. Even though I gave my best effort, I was denied a shot at an interview; the recruiter said I simply wasn't experienced enough for him to even consider forwarding my resume to his client. Deflated, I went about my business, and then lo and behold, I saw the same position posted again a few months later. I immediately called the recruiter, and said, "Listen, all you have to do is get me in the door. I can do the rest." Several interviews later, I had the role. Call it persistence, or call it pig-headed stubbornness, but if I truly believe in something, I am loathe to call it quits under any circumstance, personally or professionally.

And so the true subject of this post: I'm very excited to say that after nearly a year and a half in my current role at Dolben, we are finally ready to take the plunge into the wild world of social media. I've been pitching this since the summer of 2009 (even before I was hired: social media was discussed during the interview process), and until last week, other initiatives have taken precedence. I fully understand and appreciate why we've needed to take things slow; we've had a mountain of projects to tackle over the last eighteen months, and a one-person department can only take on so many things at once. Still, even with a mile-long "to do" list, I've been pushing social media on a constant basis. Why? Based on what I've seen and heard, I'm convinced that it will enhance our marketing and resident retention efforts. I also feel pretty strongly that the longer we wait, the more our teams will have to play catch up when we finally make our entrance.

Interestingly, my most recent campaign to "go social" succeeded thanks to one of our advertising partners. Through an exclusive relationship with Oodle and Facebook Marketplace, For Rent Media Solutions is giving clients an advertising boost by listing properties on Marketplace at no charge through the end of the calendar year, and building Facebook Pages for clients who don't yet have them. The icing on the cake? They have a "social media hotline" for on-site teams needing advice. I'm well aware that there are several companies in the multifamily industry who will build out Facebook Pages, manage content generation, and even act as the virtual voice of the property in responding to comments. But as social media newbies, that type of full-scale solution wasn't really what we were looking for: we wanted help getting started, and then wanted to roll up our sleeves and engage directly with our residents and prospects. Thanks to the For Rent team, I don't have to walk our on-site teams through the page development process, and if for some reason I'm not available to help our properties navigate through a sticky situation, they have access to a whole team of people who can help. Plus, our Marketplace ads will connect to our Facebook Pages, allowing the pages to serve as both as a marketing tool and a resident retention tool. Genius.

Throughout the course of this whole process, I've made a few interesting observations that I thought would be worth sharing. If your company is hesitant to adopt social media (or any other new initiative, for that matter), keep these points in mind:

It's not about you. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am a social media evangelist: I could sing the praises of Twitter and Facebook all day long. You know what? That's not a good enough reason to engage on a corporate or property level. Figure out why you need a business presence, and you have a case to be made. And no, "everyone else is doing it" doesn't cut it, nor does the fact that you think you're a social media rock star. It's been said (many times) before, but it's worth repeating: Facebook for business is vastly different than Facebook for fun.

Creative thinking is key. So your first proposal didn't fly? Figure out why, and tailor your next try to meet those specific objections. For me, that meant holding off until we could figure out how to build Pages without pain, and to find some way to access experienced social media resources in a budget-friendly manner. There is always more than one way to get from Point A to Point B.

Keep talking. I can't tell you how many times I've brought up social media in conversations with our regional managers, my manager, our on-site teams, vendors, and industry friends. Why? Technology is constantly changing. And until you jump in the game yourself, you never know what might be on the horizon that could influence your next step.

Be prepared. More than a year ago, I wrote a set of social media guidelines and picked a list of "pilot properties" to test Facebook for resident retention purposes. Call me over-eager, but I had no intention of navel-gazing on this project when it was finally blessed. My thinking was: if I could come to the table prepared, the conversation would move that much more quickly. And so it has.

Even with the resources available to us, and the work we've done to date, we're approaching social media with caution: we're starting with just two properties on Facebook. We'll gauge the response, try out some different ideas, and then determine on a property-by-property basis whether social media is a good fit for each one of our communities. I don't know that we'll ever tweet, or blog. But our first step is definitely a step in the right direction, and I couldn't be more excited to get started. Persistence really does pay off.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Learning to fly (solo)

This week marks a first for us as a family: Sunday morning, my husband left for a four-day business trip...and so C and I have been flying solo all week. (In case you're wondering whether we're all a bunch of hermits, the answer is no: since C was born two years ago, we've actually had several stretches where I've been away for that length of time, but my husband's job doesn't usually require that he travel. Yes, I know I'm incredibly lucky.)

In any case, I am happy to report that C and I are doing just fine.  However, over the course of the last four days, I've learned a couple of things that I wanted to share for working parents who are entering this unfamiliar territory.

1. Take it easy. We (still) have baskets of clean laundry that need to be folded. Sorry, not a priority this week. (Besides, isn't that why they invented irons?) As long as everyone in the house is clean, well-fed, and well-rested, and we all get where we need to be in a quasi-timely fashion, I've made an executive decision: everything else can wait.

2. Make it easy. C and I loaded up on yummy frozen delights from Whole Foods only hours after my husband left the house. Chaos reigns in our house during the week...and that's on a good day. For better or worse, making dinners from scratch is not in the cards most nights, and certainly not this week. Waffles for dinner? You bet.

3. Make it fun. We've been waiting for months to introduce C to the Play-Doh Fun Factory, and on a whim, I decided to open it. I have no idea why we waited, because C loved it, and we got a good hour of fun in before lunchtime rolled around and it was time to pack up the purple "spaghetti" she'd made. I don't know many things that will entertain a two-year old for twenty minutes, never mind an hour...but believe me, I won't hesitate to let it happen again.

4. Burn the midnight oil. True confession: I am generally one of those people who likes to take my sweet time in the morning. I don't dislike mornings, but I hate rushing in the morning. However, this week I've learned that if we are to have any hope of getting out the door before nine o'clock, and I'm the only parent in the house, I need to do everything the night before: make lunches, iron clothes...even wash my hair. (The whole washing-and-drying hair fiasco just takes too darn long before the natives get restless. Hence, I've embraced the professional ponytail this week.) This whole routine means that I've fallen into bed, exhausted and with wet hair every night this week, but the mornings are SO much easier as a result.

5. Stay in touch. We've made a point to talk on the phone as a family every morning and every evening: C loves it, and has started to hug the phone when she knows that Daddy is calling. (The phone-hugging makes it a little hard to answer said phone, but it's very cute nonetheless.) And of course, my husband and I have made a point to check in with each other, too, with phone calls, emails and text messages. Those little check-ins have made this week fly by, actually: we got an invitation to a party, C used the potty at school (!), and he still needs to pick up his glasses from the eye doctor's.

My husband gets home late tonight, and while I can't wait to see him, I have to say that I'm pretty darn proud of myself for managing so well this week. Parenting milestones are very exciting things...especially when you're on the other side.