Forrest Stuart MacCormack

I’m the oldest of four girls, and my two youngest sisters are 10 and 13 years younger than me. Yes, it’s a significant age difference, but my relationship with them has also taught me quite a bit. For instance, in the past few years, as they became teenagers and now young adults, I have had to change (of all things) my cell phone plan. Why my cell phone plan? Well, my sisters have altogether stopped answering phone calls—they prefer to text only. So I added a text messaging plan to my phone and trained my thumbs to LOL. Then, they stopped responding to e-mails and said they preferred to chat online, so I signed up for an AIM account (AOL’s instant messaging program).

Then came Facebook. And Gmail with its Web-based Talk program. Soon enough, my sisters were only communicating via status updates and Talk sessions. So I created a Facebook profile for myself and downloaded Pidgin (a nifty application that allows me to log into Talk, AIM, and other chat programs simultaneously). But here’s the catch: Next year, this will all be different. There will be some other online communication device that they will choose to make their mode de vie. And for better or worse, I will get on board with that new technology as well—after all, I want to stay in touch with them as well as be able to speak their language.

What’s my point with all of this? When it comes to social networking, viral marketing, and other Web-based applications, if you’re not already on board with these technologies, you need to be. Recently, I’ve been talking to a number of technophiles in the industry who think that social networking and viral marketing may be dead. In fact, some say the movement never even came to a boiling point in the multifamily industry—it just fizzled out and died before getting any real traction with existing and potential residents.

I have to disagree. While social networking hasn’t been the Gen Y-luring saving grace that many property managers and operators believed it would be, I also don’t believe the multifamily industry has been successful in figuring out exactly how to leverage and monetize these new tools. Part of the problem is that the Web can spread us too thin—there are so many enticing, addictive Web-based applications out there waiting to suck away your time and energy that it’s hard to know where to focus your attention.

I don’t presume to know the solution to this problem. And truth be told, I’m not quite sure anyone has yet figured out how to come to financial and operational grips with the Wild Wild Web. Perhaps that’s OK. If there is a gap in the market, it leaves room for a brilliant, innovative company to solve the problem for those of us still searching for the right way to approach technology integration.

Here’s what I do know, however: When my sisters graduate college and enter the rental market, they will not want to call you between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or send you an e-mail requesting additional information. Instead, they will want to ping your leasing agent with a quick chat question online. Or they will want to send you a text message at 11:30 p.m. And they will want an immediate response that provides real-time unit availability and pricing info. It’s fast-paced. It’s changing daily. And it’s what the future of multifamily technology will likely offer. Or at least, that’s IMHO.