Monday, October 24, 2011

Going social: insights from an epic journey.


Earlier this year, I enthusiastically posted that we were finally moving forward with social media. At the time, I assumed we'd be up and running within a few weeks. I was oh-so-wrong: we just launched our test properties in mid-October, seven months after I thought we'd be live. 

Why the delay? When I wrote that post, I'd done my homework and was raring to go, but before we went live, I had to get our VP of Property Management to bless our guidelines. And our Director of HR. And our head of technology. And then, ownership. All of these people have many, many things on their plates to begin with...and we have four projects in various stages of lease-up...and it's budget season. (You get where I'm going, I think. With so many irons in the fire, suffice it to say that I was Miss Follow Up for a while.)  

Perhaps not surprisingly, while we were reviewing and revising our guidelines, one of the biggest questions from both our executive team and our on-site management teams was, "What do we do if someone says something bad on our Page?" Though it sounds a bit counterintuitive, we have decided that negative feedback is actually a good thing, as it helps us figure out what we need to do better. When it comes to responding to criticism, constructive or otherwise, here's our take:
  • Dissent and discourse will occur when using social media: dialogue should be embraced, and negative feedback should be looked at as an opportunity to have a constructive conversation.
  • If a resident or prospect uses social media as a means to provide criticism, acknowledge it directly and respectfully.

Like many other management companies, we’ve decided to let our on-site teams manage their own social efforts. We view our properties' Facebook Pages as extensions of their leasing offices, and therefore feel the Pages should be managed by the leasing team, rather than at the corporate level and/or by outsourcing our efforts. We think that having "insider knowledge" of the property and the surrounding community lends itself to a more authentic conversation with residents, and by removing the red tape of having corporate employees involved in every exchange, we hope that our responses will be more timely. As time goes on and our social presence increases to the point where it's no longer feasible for our properties to self-manage, we might change our strategy, but for the foreseeable future, we believe that managing our social assets at the local level is the best course of action. 

All that being said, I am a Page admin for each one of our properties. As an admin, I'm able to help track Page insights, and can easily step in to assist if needed (think power outages, community emergencies, etc.). But I am not "ghost posting" on behalf of any of our properties, nor do I plan to do so. Instead, as we build up our fan bases online, I check out our properties' Pages, see how things are going, and then suggest ways to change things up if warranted. 

In the spirit of sharing, I thought I'd list a few points from our social media guidelines that might be worth considering if you're still contemplating developing a policy for your own company. Because we're new to the space, our policy is fairly flexible; it includes guidelines for acceptable use, expectations for how our employees should act online while representing the company, and some general best practices. Some of the below points have been paraphrased for the sake of brevity, but the message is the same.
  • Your use of social media on company time must be managed responsibly.    
  • While representing our company online, we expect that you conduct yourself as you would in front of a fellow colleague, resident or investor. Your manager, reports and peers may read what you write; residents and prospects may read what you write. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want these people to see.
  • Facebook is an informal place, but remember that this is a business page, and you should use the same language as you do at work. Think of your Facebook Page as an extension of your leasing office. Please don't use slang, and never use profanity. 
  • What you are posting is publicly available and searchable, and the Internet never forgets. Keep in mind that as soon as you publish a post, someone, somewhere will see that version. That being said, if you make an honest mistake, own up to it, and fix it ASAP.
  • If you share content from elsewhere on the web, give that person or organization credit for it. 
  • Follow other apartment communities and management companies, as well as companies outside of our industry:  it will give you a sense of what is working and help give you some great ideas to post on your own Page.
  • Your Page is a place for feedback, good and bad. Respond to all comments within 24 hours, and be sure to thank your residents for caring about their community.
  • Keep your content fresh, and post at least three times a week. If you can serve as a helpful resource, especially for residents who might be new to the area, they'll have lots of reasons to "like" your Page.
  • Encourage conversation: ask questions. Where do your residents love to go when they have free time? What are their favorite seasonal activities? If they could be anyone for a day, who would it be? You might be surprised by their answers, and your residents will love learning more about their neighbors and their community.
  • If you have writer's block, refer to an editorial calendar, or ask someone else on your team for help. Your Facebook Page is an extension of your team, and everyone can play a role in helping to manage it. (Note: we developed an editorial calendar very late in the process, but created this key document before we went live. I highly recommend taking a few hours to put one together: it will save you and whomever is managing your online presence a lot of time down the road.)

All three of our test properties are now live, and though the process took much longer than I anticipated, our guidelines are that much better for having everyone's feedback incorporated. Before we created each property's Page, I held a meeting with each of our properties to run through our guidelines and answer any questions that each team might have. And, as each Page has launched, we've added a "Find us on Facebook" icon to each property's website, developed fliers with QR codes announcing the roll-out, and created stickers for use on packages, etc.

How did your "going social" process work? Do your social guidelines differ greatly from ours? I'd love to hear your take on what we've developed. Until then, please consider "Liking" our Pages—our property managers and I would love to have you as part of our online communities. It's been an epic journey, and we're glad to (finally!) be part of the conversation.