Marketing in student housing presents some unique challenges. First, you have a very niche demographic target. And second, unlike in traditional multifamily communities, the leasing season for student housing revolves almost entirely around the school year. That means that if you don’t meet your leasing quotas by the time housing decisions for the next school year are finalized, you may wind up with vacant units for the next 12 months. In some markets, this can be a tight window of time so planning ahead can be crucial.
Peak season may be the time when the leases are signed, but prospects are forming their opinions about you long before then. All year long you should be considering your web presence, online reputation, and social media as keys to getting prospects in the door when they are ready to decide. In this blog, we are going to focus on steps you need to be taking to strengthen your brand year-round.
Visibility on the Web
72% of apartment hunts begin online. Nearly 1 in 3 start at a search engine, while almost all prospects turn to search engines during their search at some point. Understanding your visibility here is paramount. Utilize free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to understand how new users are finding you. Take a look at your page rank for different keyword searches. This can give you a starting point for building web content that could improve your visibility. Reach out to your web developer or your ReachLocal representative and ask questions about the performance of your website. While most searches for housing may be happening during peak season, neglecting your web presence for the rest of the year is a mistake. Good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) requires ongoing maintenance and understanding of the search environment. You can’t build a page one website overnight. Your organic page rank is earned, not bought. But paired with an apt focus on your local listings, a long-term SEO strategy can have a huge impact on prospects ability to find you online all year long.
Online reviews are hugely influential in student housing. Apartments are the second industry most impacted by reviews after restaurants. A staggering 87% of prospects would not consider using a business with an average ranking of 1 or 2 stars. Because reviews are not only left when residents move in or out, this is something that needs to be a top marketing initiative for the full calendar year. Make sure you know where online your residents are leaving reviews, and utilize best practices for managing and responding to them. Consider using a service to help you monitor reviews across the many places online where residents can leave them. This includes Google ratings, Yelp, apartmentratings.com, and on social media sites like Facebook. There may even be local review sites that could be affecting your online reputation. In markets where the competition for student housing is high, a difference in ratings between you and your competitor could hurt your traffic. And ultimately your occupancy. On top of that, an effective practice of receiving and responding to reviews can even help your organic search ranking.
This generation of college students is more diverse, and more active on social media than generations past. 81% of US adults in the 18-29 age range are active on Facebook, and 64% on Instagram. Not only can social media be a more cost-effective way of reaching them, it can be a place for you to build an online community for your residents. Take advantage of resources at your fingertips like student events already hosted at your property and make those moments Instagram-able. Create and use hashtags on all your pages. Take advantage of these post ideas. Focus on lifestyle, amenities and stay in tune with campus life. Is there a big game coming up? Or an interesting concert or visiting speaker? Promoting them on your social media provides share-able opportunities for your audience and in turn promotes your property. For little cost you can use social media year-round to generate buzz and establish your brand for incoming freshman. While Facebook and Instagram are both great places to start, don’t neglect platforms like Snapchat.
Making plans for a robust social media presence, staying on top of your SEO and managing your online reviews are just a few ways that you can impact your marketing year-round. Strategies that encompass all of these facets will establish and grow your brand presence among your target demographic (and their parents!). Coming into peak season with a strong brand will help give you an edge as students are making their final decisions on where they want to live next semester.