By Paul R. Bergeron III — November 2015
There’s nothing like bringing along 74 interested prospective residents all on one property tour. It might sound like a stressful, logistical onsite nightmare, but Wood Residential Services took on the challenge in April by hosting an online tour for this audience of its Atlanta community Alta Brookhaven through live video-streaming apps.
Stacey Schlessinger, Learning & Development Director at Wood Residential Services, called the effort a success, learned a lot and says she has used the new technology to host more tours this past summer.
The apps Periscope (exclusive to Twitter) and Meerkat each make available free, real-time, live video streaming through IOS or Android smartphones. Both took social media by storm this past spring, spurring the retail, corporate and media world to look for ways to leverage live video streaming to promote products, announce news and drive brand engagement.
Wood Residential Services’ debut was managed through its outsourced social media management company GoToMyApartment (GTMA).
Joshua Swanson, CEO, GTMA, envisioned the opportunity this way:
“Picture this: A prospect calls an apartment community to inquire about a specific unit that they saw in a retargeted ad, on the community website or on a social network. In the past, the leasing agent’s phone sales skills, along with price and location, would be the deciding factors in whether that prospect came in for a tour.
“Now, through this new technology, leasing agents no longer have to use buzzwords or the promise of an amazing view to book that tour. Agents can immediately ‘take the prospect for a tour’ by logging into the Meerkat or Periscope apps and live-streaming the actual apartment home that’s available. In other words, they are letting the product sell itself.
“Not only that, but because the apartment community has built up an audience on several social networks, each time the leasing agent streams a live tour, a tweet goes out notifying other potential future residents who can then tune in and watch.
Now, those three roommates that are all in separate locations, but need a new apartment by the end of the week, can log in together and watch the tour.” Mike Whaling, President, 30 Lines, an apartment marketing consulting firm, says that communities should use their other marketing channels to promote the broadcasts.
“Because you can’t schedule Periscope broadcasts in advance, you won’t have a direct link you can send people to other than your Periscope profile,” Whaling says. “Once you have your time set, promote it on your website and social channels early.
“Use opt-in forms and pop-ups on your website to capture email addresses of interested prospects, then drop them a reminder to tune in at the scheduled time. Run time-based ads on Google and Facebook to capture those apartment hunters who are searching around the same times when you are giving the tour.
“If you start offering regular tours, mention it in the copy on your ILS listings. Twitter is extremely noisy, so organic reach is generally extremely low. By promoting the tour across all your other marketing channels, you will help to ensure the right people are tuning in.”
Ideal Marketing Approach
Schlessinger says the April tour of that 230-unit property lasted the typical 20 minutes. The video was shot by the community’s Leasing Manager Samala Walker, using her smartphone.
Wood Residential Services promoted the event for approximately seven weeks before the event, posting notices on the community’s website, through its social media pages such as Facebook and on apartment listing services and other online sources such as Craigslist.
The campaign was engineered by Swanson.
“We let anyone who was interested in the event know that they should first download the app,” Schlessinger says. “Technology savvy renters understood this. It’s not difficult.”
Whaling says communities that use live-streaming must have a follow-up plan in place before they start.
“People tend to dip in and out of Periscope/Meerkat broadcasts,” he says. “It’s the mobile version of channel-surfing. Make sure you give them a way to come back to you. Include your website link in your bio.
“Mention where people can go for more info—preferably a targeted landing page—with a link that’s easy to remember. You won’t have a direct way to share that link in the broadcast, so remember to explain what happens next and where you want interested prospects to go to contact you.”
Whaling says interest from his clients about live-streaming is increasing.
“Periscope broadcasts can be viewed through any browser, but we try to push people to the app, because that’s the only platform where viewers can directly ask questions during the event,” Whaling says. “For some, viewing via a browser is easier overall, especially for those who don’t have a Twitter account and don’t want to set one up.”
Schlessinger compared live video streaming to doing a tour with FaceTime—another common smartphone function that enables a one-on-one tour via a smartphone.
“This works better, though,” she says. “With FaceTime, we were getting the feeling from prospective residents that asking them to do FaceTime with us was too personal. They weren’t eager to give us their FaceTime account phone number. They felt that their privacy was a bit too invaded.”
She says that with Meerkat or Periscope, that doesn’t happen.
“The prospective resident watches from their own phone,” Schlessinger says. “Personal information is not shared unless the prospect wants it to be.”
Whaling says live-streaming is working for live tours for new developments, too. WC Smith delivered a series of Periscope “hard-hat” tours of Park Chelsea, a new construction project in Washington, D.C., and they were able to showcase apartment views and layouts for the prospects who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get into those areas of the building.
The tours brought targeted traffic to the project’s website, helping drive 97 new signups to the property’s waitlist during the course of the month.
“[With the hard-hat tours,] it’s like they are getting a VIP, behind-the-scenes first look at the property,” Holli Beckman, Vice President of Marketing, WC Smith, says. “It’s a great way to keep them in the game and stay interested!”
Live Texting, Too
Schlessinger says she prefers Periscope over Meerkat because it allows its end-users to text questions to the property during the tour through their smartphone.
Some questions asked during the tour:
• What kind of hardwood floors are those?
• What is the pet policy and is there a pet deposit?
• What is the weight limit for dogs?
• How many of the unit’s walls can the renter paint?
“When the host sees a note pop-up when a viewer messages in a question, they can simply speak the answers,” Swanson says.
Walker brought a colleague with her during the tour who answered questions.
Additionally, Periscope’s end users can comment in real-time during the tours by clicking available emojis.
“If there was a moment during the tour when the prospect wanted to rate or express themselves about a certain floor plan, the amenities or something else, they could just text the appropriate emoji,” Schlessinger says. “Again, it was just so easy for them.”
Periscope stores the video on the users “Watch” tab for 24 hours. After that, it enables the video host to save the video to the camera for future use.
Swanson says apartment communities should ask those interested in participating in a live-stream what the ideal time frame is for them, and then schedule based on responses. Meerkat enables the user to schedule broadcasts in advance, while Periscope does not.
“The leasing team can promote its Periscope or Meerkat capability and ask interested prospective residents to suggest a best time for them to take the tour,” Swanson says. “Or, they can promote a given time for a given tour at a property and then be there for whatever audience wants to log-in and watch at that time.”
How to Hold the ‘Camera’
Appropriate Wi-Fi reception is critical when offering these tours. Schlessinger says there were a few dead spots during the Alta at Brookhaven tour when the agent could be heard, but the video was choppy or frozen.
Some inexpensive solutions to help overcome weak signals are to hook the host with signal extenders or equip them with mobile hotspots during the tours.
Swanson also encourages properties doing these tours to identify camera angles that show the community in its best light.
“For instance, when you walk into a bedroom, usually you’re facing the windows, which are pouring lovely sunlight into the room,” Swanson says. “But this also blows out the image on the camera, so the viewer can’t see anything.
[With Meerkat], hold the camera horizontally with two hands for stability, and make slow, steady movements and always keep the light at your back.”
Periscope currently does not enable users to shoot in landscape perspective, but Whaling expects that to change. Whaling also stresses a well-lit video experience.
“Consider having someone assist with a battery-powered light kit if you make the decision to invest more heavily in video,” Whaling says. “There are some great options for less than $100. Audio is also a big factor. For better audio, consider investing in a good-quality lavaliere microphone that’s compatible with smartphones.”
Beckman says to pre-walk the space and let others who are there know that the filming will take place. “Once you are live, it’s game time.... there’s nothing more embarrassing than finding that a door is locked and you can’t get into an apartment, or a construction guy, unaware the scene is being shot, is yelling something down the hall while you’re live!”
Beckman says she likes to have at least one other person with her if she’s doing Periscope.
“It’s nice to have someone to banter with if the person viewing at the other end isn’t that communicative,” she says.
“And, most of all, have fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be sure to interact with anyone you come across during the tour.”