By Monique Guion-Kimball
If you’re not already immersed in web culture and familiar with the many new
communication tools out there; then it’s important for you to know that a wildly growing
number of your residents and future residents—of all ages and generations—are. For this
reason alone, you should know what it means to podcast, blog, or video chat. But just
knowing the terms isn’t enough. Sure, it’s important to speak the language of today’s
tech-savvy residents; but these technologies are much more than the toys of today’s
tecchies. They are the next hot thing in marketing your community, leasing apartments,
retaining residents, and fostering a sense of community. They represent nothing less than
a new media revolution, and because these tools represent the ways in which an
increasing number of people elect to receive information, it’s a revolution you can’t
afford stand by and watch.
Is it really a revolution? Judge for yourself. On June 30, 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 Google was probably very
wise to sink $1.65 billion into YouTube.
In this article, we’ll discuss each new media opportunity in terms of what it is and what it
does. We’ll discuss the implications: what they can do for you, with real world
examples. And finally, we’ll talk about the actual application of each technology,
providing you with how-to links so that you can learn how easy it is to put them into
action, yourself, now!
The word podcast (and it is an official word, having been 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 new-media “radio” show, easily created and shared, personally crafted to
deliver your own message, and accessible at the recipient’s convenience.
A podcast can contain literally any audio information that can be conveyed digitally and
played on a compatible device, with the only significant limitations being the capability
of the user’s player and keeping the file to a reasonable download size and play length.
Don’t let the newness of the technology scare you—podcasts are extremely easy to create
and post out there on the web. You’ll need a microphone, and a sound card / audio
interface for your computer, and if your machine is fairly recent, it’s probably already
ready to roll. To create a vodcast, you’ll need a digital video recorder (or digital still
camera with video capability), or an on-board webcam. You’ll also need some recording
software, and there are a few perfectly serviceable audio recording programs available
online as free downloads, or you can opt for a more sophisticated program that handles
both audio and video like Adobe Audition which retails for around $300.
Other varieties of podcasting include mobilecasting (broadcasting audio to an MP3-
compatible mobile phone) or vodcasting (podcasting with video). The user-created
streaming videos available on YouTube or Google Video, with which most of us are now
familiar, can be effectively classified as vodcasts. Realtors are already jumping on the
YouTube bandwagon, and we’re frankly surprised to have only found one promotional
video on all of YouTube for a community here in the Unites States, though we saw a few
for rentals available in Europe and Asia. But if you want to see an excellent example of
streaming video for apartments, check out ForRent.com’s Community Theater listing for
Elliott Bay Plaza in Seattle.
In the case of vodcasting, you’ll want to bear in mind that not everyone’s portable player
is video-capable. Consumers tend to favor the more affordable non-video-enabled
devices like the iPod Shuffle and Nano as compared to the more robust but comparably
expensive capabilities of video players like the Video iPod, Microsoft Zune, and ZEN
Vision. For that reason, most people access video-casts via computer (on YouTube or
Google Video) rather than on a portable device.
Some ways that you might put podcasting or vodcasting to work for you include:
• Create a self-guided tour of an apartment or your community (not that a podcast could
ever replace the personal guidance of a leasing professional, but such information
could be a handy way for a prospect to “re-live” the tour experience).
• Take your prospective residents on a walk through your local neighborhood, stopping
for instance at that amazing bakery, charming restaurant, or cozy corner café, and
showing the way to the other convenient businesses that are within walking distance.
• Deliver regular news and information relevant to your residents and future residents.
For example, you might make an announcement about an upcoming event in your
area, or report “live” from an event.
• Share “how to” information, like preparing for a move, arranging utility service,
registering at local schools, etc.
• Show your residents in action enjoying life at your community, and present
testimonials in their own words and voices, to prospective residents.
Learn how to podcast at:
Learn how to vodcast at:
Sample podcasts and vodcasts:
• Apartments 24-7 also broadcasts availability for its clients via
podcast. For several examples, visit the iTunes podcast
directory at http://www.apple.com/itunes/store/podcasts.html
and search podcasts for the term “apartment homes”.
• ForRent.com Community Theater:
Some sample apartment community videos on YouTube:
A new mobilecasting resource especially for our industry:
The word blog comes from “web log”, and it refers to an online
journal or diary where an individual (or occasionally a group)
posts news and information for other interested parties to read,
and often add commentary to create a dialogue. Blogs can be
personal, political, thematic, promotional, or any/all of the above.
They’ve evolved from text-based bulletins with photos and other
illustrations to full-blown multimedia outlets featuring embedded
video, flash animation, streaming audio, and more. With the number of blogs online
reaching well into the tens of millions, you’d be surprised to know how many of your
residents and prospects are already regular participants in the “blogosphere” either as
readers or as actual bloggers themselves.
A well-executed blog can serve as a “home base” for all of the other forms of media
we’ve already discussed including serving up podcasts; streaming video; a forum for the
sharing of news, opinions, and testimonials; posting videos and photos, and much more.
Where your main website is the online representation of your community itself, a blog
can serve as a representation of your residents, providing them a forum for sharing the
experience of actually living in your community with others (making it a great marketing
tool) as well as for communicating with each other (making it a great community-
building and retention tool).
Adding a blog to your community’s web page is a relatively simple proposition; but when
it comes to generating “word of web”, there are distinct advantages to being an active
part of an established online blog 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 very easy to use. In either case, you can create a blog for your
community in only a matter of minutes. In fact, you should devote the next few minutes
after reading this article to creating a MySpace page account and begin to explore this
resource, today. Seriously folks, it’s not just for kids … your residents and future
residents are on MySpace, and not being there where they can find you (and “friend” you,
and thus share your community with all of their friends and site visitors) might prove to
be a big mistake. We have more important reasons for you to want to explore MySpace,
but we’ll get back to that shortly.
The keys to blogging success are simple: post often to your own blog and comment often
on the blogs of others. Posting often will keep regular visitors coming back for more.
Commenting on others’ blogs (particularly those that are relevant to your local area and
community’s lifestyle) will very often lead the owners of those blogs (and their visitors)
to visit yours in return. Remember that the blogosphere is first and foremost a
community and not an advertising medium; so make your comments on other people’s
blogs relevant to the information on which you’re commenting and not overtly
Some of the examples of how you might use a blog include:
• To share information and create a pre-lease “neighborhood” while a new community
is under development. Such a blog could provide the latest news, up-to-date photos
and video tours; generate excitement about the community’s grand opening among
residents and prospective residents alike; create a place for residents to get to know
each other before they’re even officially neighbors; and form a strong foundation for
your community’s online presence before the community is even open for move-in.
• To create a place for residents to get together online and discuss life in your
community including local happenings and pertinent news; the roles, participation,
and achievements of your residents in the local community at large; as well as sharing
photos, videos, announcements, etc. While we believe that there is certainly still a
place for traditional newsletters, we see community blogs becoming a more prevalent
and interactive means by which management can share information with residents
and vice versa.
• To 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, anywhere.
Typically, blogs serve as interactive forums where participants not only consume
information, but also provide feedback and commentary. The prospect of allowing
residents to talk about you in a completely open forum is certain to be a frightening one;
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
seen through. Instead of trying to hide imperfections, showcase your ability to provide a
satisfactory resolution to every issue. You won’t win the devotion of real-time
information consumers by being perfect. You’ll win it by being real: really fast, really
responsive, really communicative, really caring, and really aware.
Learn how to blog at:
Apartment community blogs we’ve found:
A Special Note About MySpace
We searched through 500 pages on MySpace that contained both the terms “apartment”
and “homes” and found the ones listed below. These represent a broad enough range of
profiles for you see what works well in the typical MySpace format and what doesn’t…
we’ll leave it to you to decide:
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 for yourself, and that’s to
have full access to the site’s search capabilities. While searching for the examples listed
above, 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 language, images, and audio
with which those companies and communities would certainly not choose to have their
I urge you to establish a MySpace account if for no other reason than to search the
domain for mention of your company or community name and take whatever measures
are appropriate to protect your reputation. Remember that the medium is still relatively
new, so give your employees the benefit of the doubt that they may not have considered
how the content of their site(s) might reflect poorly on the community. Also, please
remember that we’re not legal experts, so when it comes to determining your rights in
such situations, please consult your own legal counsel.
If you have not yet established a policy regarding appropriate representation of your
company or community name in the personal web spaces of your employees, the time
Those of us who grew up with The Jetsons saw this one coming; but we are nonetheless
still exploring creative ways to put this amazing technology to best use.
Videoconferencing, or “video chat”, refers to communicating through a computer
webcam interface, and it eliminates the whole communicative ambiguity of email and
even some of the limitations of telephone conversation by allowing individuals to see
each other’s faces while they hear each other’s voices, and effectively communicate
almost as well as they could face-to-face.
Webcams are amazing little tools. In fact, I know someone who uses one when she
travels, to have dinner with her kids every night no matter where in the world she may be.
Imagine how useful they could be to you when it comes to communicating with
prospective residents at a distance, whether in your own town or whole cities, states,
countries, or continents away!
Some of the ways you can use video chat include:
• The obvious whole world of distance training possibilities. It’s no accident that web-
based training is becoming prevalent.
• Video interviews, in which more than the immediately available 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.
• Video leasing, in which the leasing consultant communicates live via webcam while
also sharing multimedia information including audio and video in real time with the
prospect. For example, you could walk a resident through a video tour, completing
an online application, and more, over a convenient real-time web connection through
which you’re both audible and visible.
The effective use of a webcam requires a somewhat quiet environment, so we foresee a
near future where leasing centers include dedicated video rooms, equipped with
multimedia computers and peripherals, where leasing consultants can go specifically to
engage in video leasing.
Find out how to video chat at:
The Skill Set
Applying the technology tools we’ve just discussed will require some degree of skill; but
not as much specialized training as you might think. The most important thing to realize
is that any even slightly tech-savvy member of your team can be trained to put these tools
to best use; and train them, you must.
Naturally, the more tech-savvy your team members are, the more capable they’ll be to put
these remarkable tools to use; so look for computer acumen when you hire and spotlight
the members of your team who are likely podcasters, bloggers, or video leasers and arm
them with the tools they need to successfully communicate with information consumers
in these bold, new ways.
It may seem odd that I’m waiting until the end of the article to tell you about who’s out
there using the internet, and thus available to listen to your podcasts and read your blogs;
but I want to leave you with serious food for thought.
In an industry that’s traditionally slow to adopt new technology, we feel passionately that
these are not mere “fads” that you can afford to have pass you by. These capabilities are
legitimate trends that are not only here to stay, but will only become more prevalent; and
the desire and demand from information consumers to receive data in these forms will
only increase. Failure to adopt these new technologies will place you at a distinct
competitive disadvantage as compared to companies and communities who choose to act
on them now.
Realty DataTrust, the makers of, VaultWare, published its free 2006 Market Index Report
on Feburary 5, 2007 along with statistics showing soaring use of the Internet among our
industry’s consumers. The report, combined with other current Internet statistics, shows
people are spending more time than ever online and depend on the Internet more and
more for moving and rental housing information; and some of the report’s highlights
• A 95% increase in people viewing current apartment availability online from 2005
to 2006 and a 307% increase from 2004 to 2006.
• A 66% increase in online apartment reservations from 2005 to 2006, and a 262%
increase over 2004.
• Nearly 4.5 million renters in 2006 checked availability online via VaultWare-
Powered "Check Availability" buttons on both Internet Listing Services and
apartment community websites combined. That number is nearly twice the 2.2
million renters who did so in 2005.
• In 2006 nearly 60% 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% of renters made sight-unseen reservations at apartment communities, up from
19% in 2005. This notes a significant change in the influencing role the Internet is
playing in that now many times 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% of users did not visit the
community prior to completing a lease and 39% visited the community only once.
The report also notes that general Internet consumer behavioral observations tracked by
mainstream organizations and technology companies also supports these same trends
seen in our industry. In May of 2006, USA Today reported that 77% of individuals
wanting to move went online. Additionally 78%i of people said that the Internet is the
most useful source for rental housing information. And, in an announcement in January,
United Dominion Realty Trust, one of the nation’s largest REITs announced that over 1.1
million unique visitors went to its website in 2006, up 71% from 2005 and that 36% of
their leasing was done online, which was up 20% from the previous year.
Special thanks to our friends at Realty DataTrust for sharing the report, and we hope
you’ll take the time to read it in its entirety, as well as to explore the various how-to
information and other links provided here in this article.
Best wishes for successful podcasting and blogging, and welcome to the new media
revolution where everyone can broadcast themselves!
Frank N. Magid Associates, July 2005
About the Author: Monique Guion-Kimball is the Director of Making Stuff Work at Multifamilypro,
Inc. and can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.