Over the years, Stan Ross, chairman of the board at the University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate, has observed an evolution of gadgets. Just by watching the changes in technology that his students carry to class each day, he's been able to keep up with each new step in electronic communication. In the 1990s, it was the laptop computer. Next came the cell phone, which eventually morphed to include text messaging and photo-taking capabilities. More recently, he started seeing a smaller device, one that students not only fixated their attention on with their eyes, but were listening to as well: their MP3 player, epitomized by Apple Computer's ubiquitous iPod.
"One day, I walked into class, looked out, and there they all were with their iPods. As an old guy, I had to find out what these things were," says Ross, 70, who graduated from college himself in 1956. "So I got one of those little iPod Shuffles, and boy, I thought I was really breaking through." Like any good teacher who learns from his students, Ross started quizzing his young tech experts on how they were using the devices, which they always had with them, whether it was an Apple iPod or another manufacturer's product. They were listening to music, of course, but he found they were also frequently downloading other forms of information, snippets of audio and video from the Internet known as "podcasts."
"When I started talking to the students, I found out they're listening to this stuff all the time," Ross says. "It's become part of their database." So Ross decided to connect with his students over that medium. Working with the Urban Land Institute, where he is a life trustee and governor, he assembled nine podcasts based on different chapters from his latest book, Inside Track to Careers in Real Estate. "It's a great direction to go in, because it's being driven by the younger generation," he says.
Multifamily operators are taking notice too. Whether it's through a dedicated podcast designed for download onto an MP3 player, or simply a multimedia presentation that can be launched from a Web site and played directly on a PC, multifamily firms are beginning to use audio and video formats to connect with colleagues, clients, and prospective residents. With the combination of high-speed access and the richer capabilities of today's Internet, many observers say audio and video presentations are poised to become the touchstone for your new residents, going far beyond the still digital photos and virtual tours of today.
What's the big deal about telling your property's story via such a small gadget? The unexpectedly and exponentially large impact.
"A three-minute video on the Internet, with local characters telling the story about a community, is 10 times more powerful than a virtual tour. Video captures the emotional experience of a place," says Brad Inman, founder and CEO of Emeryville, Calif.-based TurnHere.com, which specializes in producing and distributing place-oriented videos over the Internet. "We always say, 'Be there before you go there.' It's a perfect medium for multifamily," says Inman. "The cool thing about it is [that] you can then put it in an e-mail and send it to prospective tenants." With the renter demographic of 20- and 30-somethings also being the most likely prospects to watch podcasts and Internet-based video, the technology and target audience seem a natural match.
At Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Realty Data Trust, whose VaultWare online leasing applicatio
n tracks real-time availability of apartments, founder Mike Mueller regularly sends out his Apartment Internet Marketing Video Newsletter in an email, highlighting industry trends and leaders. A recent edition, delivered directly to subscribers' inboxes, included video of Cecil Phillips, CEO of Atlanta, Ga.-based Place Properties; Laura Snyder, a property manager with Centreville,
Va.-based KSI Management; and John Helm, CEO of San Francisco-based Internet-listing service MyNewPlace.com. There was no need for an iPod or MP3 player, though; the videos launched directly in the Web browser, which is how the bulk of users still receive their content. "Most people don't use an iPod," says Evo Terra, co-author of the book Podcasting for Dummies. "They're just going to a Web site and clicking on the link."
Of course, the real potential for multifamily is giving prospective residents a video tour of a property, something Mueller showed off at his Apartment Internet Marketing Conference last year. With the help of his teenage daughter Elyse, Mueller shot a podcast of a property managed by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Mark-Taylor Residential. Hosted by multifamily consultants Kate Good and Toni Blake, the video highlighted the community's gym, its pool, and its marquis fountain. The video's closing shot was of Mueller, emerging from the pool, margarita in hand. "What I'm waiting to do is the equivalent of 'MTV Cribs' for the multifamily industry," Mueller says. "You've got to be able to experience what the lifestyle is like at that property."
Observers say that kind of short, hip production style is exactly what a good podcast, or any Internet presentation, should entail. "You don't want to make your audience download too much," says Ross. "Podcasting is a short cut, a quick shot. Everything about it is abbreviated. And that's the way it should be when you use it in multifamily. Your inclination is maybe to show every room, but I'm not sure that's as useful as a basic interior and exterior shot." Don't forget to cover the basics of location, price, and amenities, as well.
Producing your own podcast is surprisingly affordable, with the biggest expense being the few hundred dollars for a camera and microphone. "The nice thing about video podcasting is that there's gear on the street right now that's pretty high quality, and relatively cheap," says Terra. Several firms will host your podcast, with a link directly from your own Web site, for as little as $10 a month. If you're going to do it yourself, though, pay careful attention to sound quality. "If you go into an empty apartment with a video camera, it's going to sound like a huge echo chamber," Terra says. "You might want to do a secondary audio track after the fact."
While podcasting and Internet video certainly seem poised to be the future of multifamily marketing, it isn't the status quo in the industry yet. Prima Walker, Mark-Taylor's director of marketing, says Mueller's video shoot at the firm's complex was a fun way to highlight the property, but she's not focused on using video podcasts per se. Her firm's luxury renters tend to be in their later 20s and 30s, she says, and she feels podcasts hit an even younger demographic. "If I were running primarily student properties, I would do it at every one of them," Walker says.
But as tech-savvy renters reach increasingly for their computers–and iPods–for their information, Internet-based video and podcasting should only become more widespread. For Ross, who's been watching the target multifamily demographic from the other side of a lectern for years, the choice of using this technology to reach renters today is an obvious choice. "In multifamily, I think this is where you want to be."
–Joe Bousquin is a freelance writer in Newcastle, Calif.
How to Amp Up Your Podcasts 1– Keep your podcasts short and sweet. Small file sizes and short clips (think three minutes) will sell your property better than a longer presentation.
2– If you do it yourself, remember, you get what you pay for. Pay special attention to sound quality. Professional productions, which have longer shelf life, may be worth the extra cost.
3– Cover the basics: location, price, and amenities.