If you have a Facebook account and visit a site such as WashingtonPost.com, chances are you’ll see highlighted articles your friends have “liked.” If one of those articles was tagged by an old high school crush, or even the brainy kid from algebra class, you’ll probably read it. Visit the Facebook page of Zappos.com, the e-tailer that inspires fierce loyalty among its customers, and you’ll see its highlighted “Fan of the Week.” On a recent Wednesday, Emily from Delano, Calif., mugged for the camera while holding up the company’s iconic white shipping box emblazoned with the Zappos logo, a glowing testament for the company that all her friends will likely see. And if you follow @United_Airlines on Twitter, you’ll get timely feeds if a major storm impacts the system and quick responses when the company’s latest travel incident ends up in the news.

And yet, while there are plenty of examples of corporate America getting social media right, after more than three years of intense focus by the multifamily industry, many apartment firms’ presence in the space is still nascent, erratically maintained, and lacking a defined focus. “A lot of community managers really struggle to understand the most effective uses for social media,” says Esther Bonardi, formerly director of marketing at Newport News, Va.–based Drucker & Falk, who recently joined Santa Barbara, Calif.–based multifamily software maker Yardi as a strategic client account executive. “Often, they still consider it somewhat frivolous, so they use it in a frivolous way.”

Take the first apartment community returned in a recent Facebook search for “Sacramento Apartments.” Last updated in January 2009, the page has photos of the community pool, along with a few unit interior shots. In the past two and a half years, the property has racked up exactly 15 “likes,” five “check-ins,” and zero reviews. Aside from those photos, a site plan, and contact info, there’s absolutely no other content on the page. And while simply maintaining that bare-bones presence on Facebook certainly has the potential to enhance the community’s organic Google search results, it completely misses the point of social media’s true killer app: disseminating your brand to exponentially more prospects and tapping into the extended social networks of visitors who come to your page.

Prospects to the Power of N