Social media, search engine optimization (SEO), and branded marketing continue to converge in the apartment industry as marketers attempt to streamline channeled advertising and minimize marketing spend while improving leasing traffic, prospect lead, and closure volumes and ratios.

“We’ve determined that it takes five to eight touches to convert a prospect across an average 46-day lead-to-lease term,” said Atlanta-based Gables Residential vice president of marketing Lynette Hegeman, who spoke this week at the 2011 Multifamily Executive Conference on the panel "A Wired World: Capture the Right Prospects via the Right Channels."

According to Hegeman, apartment operators need to increase efforts toward nurturing rental prospects through the leasing traffic funnel in order to gain better conversion results. “What are you doing over those 46 days?” asked Hegeman, who detailed the development of a system at Gables that is allowing the company to identify and link each lease to an appropriate lead and determine where that lead originated and how the prospect navigated through the leasing process. “We look at first email, first chat, first phone call, and have crafted a way to dump in social media, ILS, Level One call center, and all other guest card sources to see how they came to us, because that’s where we want to spend the dollars,” she added.

At Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Sequoia Equities, social media has quickly emerged as a way to communicate with both consumer rental prospects and institutional investors.

“We see a strong correlation between social media, SEO, and branding. We know it is impactful, and social is certainly shifting how consumers are making business purchasing decisions,” said Sequoia director of marketing Lisa Trapp, who joined Hegeman on the panel that also featured Emeryville, Calif.-based Joshua Tree Consulting president and CEO Steve Lefkovits; Dallas-based Pinnacle Family of Cos. vice president of performance Michelle Betchner; and Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Mark Taylor Residential director of marketing and public relations Kim Atkinson.

Atkinson, who came to Mark Taylor from Cold Stone Creamery, emphasized that multifamily marketers need to show more consistency across varying campaigns. “What do your core demographics identify with?” questioned Atkison, who detailed several Mark-Taylor advertising campaigns and revealed internal videos used to excite and motivate staff about outreach initiatives at NASCAR, wine-tasting and barbecue festivals, and other community events. To connect with prospects, “we want to be where the cool people are,” Atkinson said.

For larger enterprise marketing programs and technologies that are connecting site-level employees to the customer, Betchner cautioned operators to pay careful attention to scalability and project management so as not to necessarily overburden property managers and leasing agents.

“Compared to property management in the 80’s, it’s been like standing in front of a fire hydrant and trying to take a drink and dealing with how we manage everything that is coming at us,” Betchner said.  “We simply cannot run on autopilot, particularly when you are talking about project management with 100,000 plus units.  Can the site team continue to carry the load? Are they SEO and social media experts? Or are they becoming so overburdened with our technology and systems that they are giving prospects the nano-sized tour?”