Ask Rent.com, Callsource, Lead Tracking Solutions, Vaultware, RentWiki, and MyNewPlace what the past year has been like. Mergers, acquisitions, and rebranding have been the theme. The top of the sales funnel has never seen such turmoil before.
It’s a sign of evolution within the industry. RentWiki represents a good case study. Back in 2009, their mission was to try to get residents to engage with each other and share their experiences. It’s a good concept. The problem? Residents and prospects aren’t passionate about apartments. Apartments are boring. RentWiki has noticed the shift to ratings and reviews and are rebranding themselves as RentAdvisor soon.
So what do people want then?
When shopping around, they want to read comments from other people who have lived at a community. They want to hear their experiences, and get crucial decision making feedback. The evidence for this is compelling. According to the “Getting Inside the Head of the Online Renter” survey from 30 lines and Satisfacts conducted late in 2011, the #2 source used during an apartment search isn’t Rent.com, your website, Craigslist, Apartments.com, MyNewPlace, or BSitko.com but word of mouth. Where does Facebook rank for sourcing? It’s used only 1% of the time – that’s down by the way from 2010. Even in that sweet 18-24 age bracket, Facebook is not a place people go to find an apartment. 79% of all respondents in the survey used an ILS to find information about an apartment, 13% used a social media networking site. The key then is not to get people to find you on Facebook but to utilize the power and reach of Facebook to help them find you.
RentMineOnline has some success doing this but they are lacking a key component. They aren’t an ILS (and would tell you they aren’t trying to be). For RMO to work, property management companies must get their message started and hope people continue to share it. This is certainly great for resident referrals but what if you don’t know anyone that lives there?
Facebook is the largest social networking site on the internet with well over 800 million users. There’s no better channel to get people talking. Apartments are boring conversation pieces but word of mouth has been proven to be the most effective source for finding one. It’s high time we find a better way to utilize it.
Newest generation of the ILS
Yield Technologies, creators of RentSentinel, fired the first shot in the changing world of the ILS. Called a Social Renting Site, RentSocial is more than just apartment listings. According to Andy Hamilton, Chief Technology Officer for Yield Technologies: “We don’t simply provide apartment listings. We do quite a bit more than that. RentSocial is a mashup of: Apartment Listings; Ratings & Reviews; Resident Experience (pay rent and maintenance requests); and Social (meet your neighbors, share your searches, message your friends, etc…)” It’s a slick site and although it will take patience and time to try to break into the ILS dominated world of the organic Google front page, this model is the next generation. Here you can get recommendations from your friends using the power of Facebook and can read reviews by verified residents. ApartmentGuide has also released a deep Facebook integration where prospects can see what their friends are saying. Reviews and recommendations from friends and non-anonymous residents. That is where you’re going to see the biggest evolutions in the years to come.
51% of apartment hunters find out information about your community from a review site. We, of course, still loath the anonymous rants posted on ApartmentRatings.com. Lots of prospects are also turning to Yelp for reviews mainly because people must have an actual account to post. Either way you look at it, reviews are here to stay. The ILS of the future is one that can eventually turn a search engine query into a listing view where a prospect can see a branded property page, a friends recommendation while reading a review from a resident, without having to go elsewhere.
Computers are connecting people better than ever before but the tried and true ways of getting people to rent are still the most effective. Hopefully things will continue to evolve to better tap into it.