Pod primer

Even if you are not already immersed in today's Web culture, it is important to know that a growing number of your residents, current and future, are.

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For this reason alone, it is important to know what it means to podcast, blog or video chat. But just knowing the vernacular is not enough.

Sure, it’s important to speak the language of today’s tech-savvy residents, but technology is more than a toy. It is the next hot thing in marketing your community, leasing apartments, retaining residents, and fostering a sense of community. It is a media revolution, and because these tools represent the way an increasing number of people elect to receive information, it’s a revolution you can not afford to ignore.

Not convinced? In 2005, Apple announced that in just two days after opening the new iTunes Podcast Directory, customers had subscribed to more than one million Podcasts. Technorati.com, serving up information from blogs worldwide, is currently tracking 68.8 million of them. And history may prove Google wise to have grabbed YouTube for a mere $1.65 billion.

Podcasting
The word podcast (added to the Oxford American Dictionary as the “word of the year” in 2005) is derived from the ubiquitous Apple iPod, and refers to audio/video media specifically created for playback on a portable media device like the iPod and other portable MP3 players, or via computer. Think of a podcast as your own media show, easily created and shared, personally crafted to deliver your own message, and accessible at the recipient’s convenience.

A podcast may contain literally any audio information that can be conveyed digitally and played on a compatible device. The only notable limitation is the capability of the user’s player and keeping the file to a reasonable download size and play length.

To create a podcast you need a microphone and sound card/audio interface for your computer. If your computer is fairly recent, it’s probably ready to go. To create a vodcast, you need a digital video recorder (or digital still camera with video capability), or built-in Webcam. Recording software is also required, but look for audio recording programs available online as free downloads. More sophisticated programs that handle both audio and video like Adobe Audition retail for about $300.

Mobilecasting (broadcasting audio to an MP3-compatible mobile phone) is another type of podcasting, or vodcasting (podcasting with video). The user-created videos on YouTube or Google Video are also vodcasts.

Realtors are jumping on the YouTube bandwagon, yet I was surprised to have found only one promotional video on all of YouTube for an apartment community.

Consumers still tend to favor more affordable, non-video-enabled devices like the iPod Shuffle and Nano, as compared to the more robust, but more expensive Video iPod, Microsoft Zune, and ZEN Vision. So more people access video casts via computer on YouTube or Google Video.

Here are ways podcasting or vodcasting can promote an apartment community:

Create a self-guided tour of an apartment or community. A podcast may not replace the personal touch of a leasing professional, but such a tour allows a prospect to re-live the tour experience.

Take prospects on a video walk through the neighborhood, stopping at that amazing bakery, charming restaurant, or cozy corner cafe. Show the way to the other convenient businesses that are within walking distance.

Deliver news and information relevant to residents and future residents. Announce upcoming events in the area, or better yet, report live from the event.

Share how to information, like preparing for a move, arranging utility service, or registering at local schools.

Show residents in action, enjoying life at the community, or resident testimonials.

Blogging
Blog comes from “web log.” It is an online journal or diary where an individual (or group) posts news and information for others to read. They often add commentary to create a dialogue. Blogs are unrestricted on content and have evolved from text-based bulletins with images, to full-blown multimedia outlets featuring embedded video, flash animation, streaming audio, and more. Today, the number of blogs online reach into the tens of millions, so many of your residents and prospects are already regular participants in the “blogosphere,” either as readers or as bloggers themselves.

Blogs can act as springboard for Podcasts, streaming video, a news and opinion forum, posting videos and photos, and more. Whereas your Website represents your community, a blog provide insight to your residents, as well as provide a forum for sharing the experience of living in your community. What a great marketing tool, as well as community and retention builder.

Blogging on your community’s Web page is simple, and because it is text-based, greatly increases the chances of your site being picked up by search engines. When it comes to tapping into the “viral” value of the Web, there are distinct advantages to being an active part of
an established online community. Two of the most widely used blogging tools online are Google’s Blogger, which provides a very professional-looking and extremely easy to use interface for posting text, photos, and embedding video; and MySpace.com, also easy to use.

In either case, blogs may be created for your community in a matter of minutes.

The key to successful blogging is simple: post often. And comment often on other blogs. Consistency keeps them coming back. Commenting on other blogs, particularly those relevant to your area and community, will lead those bloggers (and their visitors) to yours in return. Remember that the blogosphere is, first and foremost, a community and not an advertising forum; so make your comments relevant and not overtly promotional.

Ways to use a blog:

Share information and create a pre-lease neighborhood while a new community is under development. Such a blog can provide the latest news and up-to-minute construction photos. Disseminating such information provides buzz among prospects, and creates community before anyone moves in.

Create a place for residents to get together online and discuss life in your community including local happenings, news, resident achievements, photo and video sharing, and announcements. While there is certainly a place for traditional newsletters, community blogs are becoming more prevalent in today’s electronic age.

Extend the interactive presence of your community in broadest possible sense. News and information, once posted in cyberspace, extends far beyond the physical boundaries of your community, creating a literal world-wide presence that’s accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

Blogs serve as interactive forums where participants not only consume information, but also provide feedback and commentary. The prospect of allowing residents to discuss a community in a completely open and unabridged forum, is frightening, but it’s important to realize that the growing use of new media hasn’t only created new communication possibilities, but has changed the way people feel about sharing and receiving information. Today’s Web denizens are smart enough to know that no community is perfect, and any attempt to represent yours as such will be immediately transparent. Instead of attempting to hide imperfections, showcase your ability to provide a satisfactory resolution to issues. You won’t win the devotion of real-time information consumers by being perfect. You will win it by being real: really fast, responsive, communicative, caring and aware.

MySpace
Take a few minutes to create a MySpace page for your community.
Seriously, it is not just for kids. Your residents and prospects are on MySpace. Your not being “at the party” might prove a mistake.

Even if you don’t see the value of creating a presence for your community on MySpace, there’s at least one good reason to establish a MySpace account: to gain full access to the site’s search capability. While searching the hundreds of communities already listed, we found
several MySpace members who publicly listed their employment affiliations with property management companies or apartment communities by company or community name. Though the vast number of these sites contained no content that we considered objectionable, we did find a few that contained content with which the mentioned companies would likely find objectionable. Was it your community? You will only know if you look.

By establishing a MySpace account, you can search for mention of your company or community, and take appropriate measures to protect your reputation. Remember, the world of MySpace is somewhat new, so give employees the benefit of the doubt. They may not have considered the effect of the content of their site reflecting poorly on the community. With regard to employee matters, it is also best to consult legal counsel before acting.

If you have not established a policy regarding appropriate representation of your company or community in the personal Web sites of your employees, the time is now.

Video chat
Those of us growing up with The Jetsons saw this one coming. Many are still exploring creative ways to put this amazing technology to its best use. Videoconferencing, or “video chat,” refers to communicating through a computer Webcam. It eliminates the ambiguity of email and even the limitations of telephone conversation by allowing individuals to see each other’s faces while they talk. With the latest video software, it can be as effective as face-to-face.

Webcams are amazing tools. You, too, may know someone as do I, who uses one to share dinner with her kids every night, no matter where in the world she is traveling. Imagine how useful such communication might be when communicating with prospective residents at a distance, whether across town, state, country, or on the other side of the world.

Ways to use video conferencing include:Imagine the world of distance training possibilities. It is no accident that Web-based training is becoming prevalent.

Video interviews, where key members of your team can communicate with a prospective hire. Imagine group interviews but without the physical constraints of having to get everyone in the same place at the same time.

Consider video leasing, where the leasing consultant communicates live via Webcam while sharing multimedia information in real time with a prospect. She could walk a resident through a video tour, complete an online application, and more, over a convenient real-time Web connection.

The effective use of a Webcam requires a quiet environment, so there may be a time in the near future where leasing centers include dedicated video rooms, equipped with multimedia computers and peripherals, and where leasing consultants can go specifically to engage in video leasing.

The skill set
Applying these tools requires some degree of skill, but as technology progresses, it is becoming easier and easier. Even slightly tech- savvy members of your team can be trained to put these tools to best use. Train them, you must.

Naturally, the more tech-savvy your team members are, the more capable they will be to put these remarkable tools to use. Look for computer acumen when you hire, and spotlight those who are likely podcasters, bloggers, or video leasers, and arm them with the tools they need to successfully communicate with consumers in these bold, new ways.

The audience
In an industry that’s traditionally slow to adopt new technology, it is important to note that these technologies are legitimate trends that are not only here to stay, but will only become more prevalent. The desire and demand from today’s consumer to receive data in these forms will only increase. Failure to adopt new technologies will place you at a competitive disadvantage compared to companies and communities who are acting now.

In USA Today, it was reported that 77 percent of individuals wanting to move first searched online. Additionally 78 percent said that the Internet is the most useful source for rental housing information.

In January, United Dominion Realty Trust, one of the nation’s largest REITs put out a statement that over 1.1 million unique visitors had gone to its Website in 2006, up 71 percent from 2005. 36 percent of their leasing was done online, which was up 20 percent from the previous year.

Realty DataTrust’s 2006 Market Index Report shows soaring use of the Internet among renters. People spend more time than ever online and look to the Internet for moving and rental housing information. Some of the report’s highlights:

Ninety-five percent increase in those viewing apartment availability online year over year, 2005 to 2006. 307 percent increase from 2004 to 2006.

Sixty-six percent year over year increase in online apartment reservations, 2005 to 2006. 262 percent increase 2005 over 2004.

Nearly 4.5 million renters in 2006 checked availability online via VaultWare on both Internet Listing Services and apartment community Web sites. That is twice the 2.2 million renters who did so in 2005.

In 2006 nearly 60 percent of all online apartment reservations occurred outside traditional office leasing hours.

Realty DataTrust also reports that statistics show renters’ confidence in the quality of Internet content for apartment listings overall increased in 2006 as evidenced by the fact that 39 percent of renters made sight-unseen reservations at apartment communities, up from 19 percent in 2005. This notes a significant change in the influencing role the Internet is playing. Apartment decisions and the start of the leasing process is preceding the physical visit to the apartment community, as opposed to following it. Archstone Smith noted a similar trend indicating that 28 percent of users did not visit the community prior to completing a lease and 39 percent visited the community only once.

Author: Monique Guion-Kimball