Visit Twitter any time of the day or night, and you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by streams of fast-flowing conversations on topics large and small. Pop culture, news, sports, networking, information sharing, consumer advocacy, marketing—they’re all constantly trending on Twitter, which was founded in 2007 and now hosts more than 230 million active users, who post and share 500 million messages daily.
The richness and immediacy of Twitter made it a natural medium for our annual “Conference Call,” a feature of our Spring Technology Supplement which covers the ongoing opportunities and challenges in multifamily technology. Instead of our traditional, yes, conference call by phone with a handful of multifamily leaders, we held a Twitter chat Jan. 28, opening up the discussion via the hashtag #mfetechchat.
Multifamily Executive @MFEmagazine: What do you think were the best multifamily tech developments of 2013, and why?
Mark Juleen @mbj: Nothing memorable in my opinion. :(
MFE: Why nothing memorable?
Mark Juleen: I didn’t see anything we haven’t seen in other industries.
Kwelia @kwelia: Analytics, generally.
Mike Whaling @30lines: What were the big advances in analytics that you liked?
Kwelia: Business intelligence, advances in data science and storage, lightweight systems. Portfolio and property-level systems.
MFE: What was the most helpful multifamily technology for you this year?
Holli Beckman @Apartmentalist: Using social media to find and talk with prospects—instead of just resident communication—was the most fun transition in 2013.
MFE: Where do you see tablets and mobile apps being more useful—for attracting residents or streamlining back-office processes?
Vesta Corporation @VestaRes: Both, but particularly helpful for streamlining back-office processes.
Advances, Obstacles to Open Data
Mike Whaling: I would say the move to open data sharing with the PSI/Entrata API was a pretty huge step for the industry. (Editor’s note: In 2013, multifamily technology firm Property Solutions launched a beta version of Entrata, a property management system that would allow for third-party integration and apps.)
Mark Juleen: I somewhat agree, but unless other companies jump on board with open API, we’re still WAY behind.
Mike Whaling: Gotta start somewhere. I’m glad to see someone forcing the conversation.
Mike Whaling: When vendors can share data seamlessly, you’ll be able to use the best tool you want for the job.
Mike Whaling: So how do we get others on board?
Mark Juleen: @realpage and @yardi need to play, in my opinion.
Tamela Coval @TamelaCoval: This is the “No Digital Island Zone”—“@30lines: When vendors share data, you’ll have the best tool for the job.”
MFE: What technologies haven’t lived up to their promise?
SyndicIT @SyndicIT: The legal questions surrounding the use of esignature technology are slowing processes.
Mike Whaling: What legal questions? Haven’t esignatures been valid for years?
SyndicIT: Significant questions! Wet signature requirements on leases are still prevalent, and there is the inability to submit eforms to government.
MFE: Many people still seem skeptical of e-signatures. What about Gen Y renters and leasing agents?
Mike Whaling: Just depends on whether clients ask for it. The banking industry is far more open than multifamily.
MFE: That seems like a bad sign when the banking industry is more innovative and progressive than us.
Holli Beckman: I think the touchscreens catering to multifamily have a long way to go to catch up to the ones in other industries. A real prospect would have given up. The last thing you want to do before taking a prospector tour is frustrate them.
MFE: How could multifamily touchscreen technology be improved?
Holli Beckman: At base, they just need more touch points. The ones I’ve used in leasing offices have been pretty unresponsive.
MFE: Other than data not talking to each other (which is a biggie), what continues to be challenging in multifamily technology?
SyndicIT: Multifamily needs a secure document-exchange service to streamline property turnover. Technology can untie documents from property management software.
Mike Whaling: Can we get online software programs that work in browsers other than Internet Explorer?
Residents, Ratings, and Social Media
MFE: What continues to surprise you in terms of how residents and prospects use technology?
Village Green @village_green: The growth of online-reputation and review websites, such as @aptratings and @Yelp.
Michael Ivey @mike_ivey: The disconnect between how apartments use social media versus how it was intended to be used continues to surprise.
MFE: How do you manage your online rep at @aptratings and @yelp?
Village Green: We’re active in responding to online reviews. It’s a source for feedback and customer service.
MFE: Seems like a big investment of time.
Village Green: It is, but it’s necessary. We work with each property to create a response. It’s for residents and prospects.
Holli Beckman: You have your properties respond?
Mark Juleen: It doesn’t take that much time to respond.
MFE: Do you respond to all negative online reviews?
Mark Juleen: At one time we did respond to all, but we’ve changed our strategy. Not because it’s time-consuming, though.
MFE: Which ones do you respond to? Which ones do you ignore?
Mark Juleen : It’s a judgment call for each. No rules ,really. We respond to both positive and negative [comments] deserving engagement.
MFE: Some biz are fighting back against negative online reviews. A D.C. area contractor is suing a Yelper for $750,000.
Privacy and Data
MFE: What about privacy concerns? Multifamily firms collect and connect with a lot of personal and financial data.
SyndicIT: Privacy concerns are major in 2014. Owners can expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $50 per tenant for data-theft notification.
Tamela Coval: Risk management is huge.
MFE: @SyndicIT: How are these data thefts happening?
SyndicIT: Check out the story of Michelle Brown online. Someone stole her identity after taking her paper lease, and it cost her more than $50,000. Editor’s note: For more information on Brown’s situation, visit http://identitytheftmichellebrown.blogspot.com.]
MFE: And that was just paper.
SyndicIT: Exactly! Don’t be like Coca-Cola and leave laptops and mobile devices unsecured!
Editor’s note: In January, Coca-Cola disclosed that a former employee had stolen old company laptops, putting 74,000 people’s personal data at risk.
SyndicIT: Make sure SaaS—software as a service—systems are third-party audited.
SyndicIT: Protect resident privacy by storing information in a secure repository; ensure that on-site printers have access controls; and have “bring your own device” oversight.
You probably know that you can find us on Twitter at @mfemagazine, but here's the 411 on the rest of our #mfetechchat participants:
• Holli Beckman (@apartmentalist) is the director of marketing for WC Smith, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate and development firm.
• Kwelia (@kwelia) develops pricing and revenue management tools for multifamily properties.
• Mark Juleen (@mbj) is the marketing director for the Indianapolis-based J.C. Hart Co., which builds, owns, and manages multifamily properties.
• Michael Ivey (@mike_ivey) is the co-founder of Modern Message, which uses social media to connect residents, properties, and prospects.
• Mike Whaling(@30lines), a social media and tech consultant, is the founder of 30 Lines, an online branding firm based in Columbus, Ohio.
• SyndicIT (@SyndicIT) is a technology vendor that helps multifamily owners and managers move to more digital, rather than paper-based, operations.
• Tamela Coval (@TamelaCoval) is a business strategist with Sparta300 who also works with Multifamily Executive magazine.
• Vesta Corporation (@VestaRes), which is based in Connecticut, develops, owns, and manages affordable housing.
• Village Green (@village_green), which is based in Michigan, manages apartment properties in 13 states.