John Hinckley: A Systematic Approach to Resident Engagement

by Katie Sloan

The adoption of recent emerging technologies coupled with a growing focus on delivering a great resident experience presents new opportunities for driving resident retention, connectivity and community engagement.  And it is now more essential than ever. More and more apartment communities are investing time and effort in identifying programs to enhance community engagement such as community events, communication, feedback and incentives programs. Factoring the high turnover both by residents and onsite staff requires you to implement an engagement strategy that scales. Let’s discuss how. 

Become systematic in how you engage with residents. Knowing an engaged community is a more valuable community, genuine interaction with residents can create significant value for the property manager, the community, management and ownership company. A primary objective of the onsite staff is filling up an apartment community, retaining residents, and generating an overall good experience. Resident engagement should be a proactive strategy to support these objectives and it must be nurtured and managed regularly, not reactive or as a one-off occurrence. 

We understand every apartment community will have residents that undergo bad experiences. It’s a simple fact, issues will happen. However, these unhappy residents will be highly motivated to engage online and post about their bad experience, even though they represent a small percentage of your overall community. In many cases, those stories can sadly become the online story of your community for prospects to read about. On the other hand, the remaining 90% or so of residents that enjoy a good living experience, have the collective ability to share the most accurate story about the community. They are the key. With a systematic engagement program, you can change your online story by automating communication with existing residents and connect with them when they are most likely to respond.  

Who better to be a storyteller about your community than the majority of your residents? Based on five years of testing, experimentation and hypothesizing at Modern Message, we are finding the data to be consistent across the U.S. When you have a purposeful and progressive approach to resident engagement, more residents will eventually share experiences online and the better your story becomes. This can play out as a supporting role to the community managers, and when done right, you can drive amazing content from your residents without overwhelming dependence on the onsite teams. Automated efforts through email, apps, sms, contests and rewards programs are all communication tools that can be used to accomplish your engagement goals.

A systematic approach can also start by focusing on resident appreciation. People like to feel heard and acknowledged, especially apartment residents. Making your residents feel valued and appreciated while asking them to share feedback is key to success. We know that reviews are a powerful tool in leasing, especially in competing markets. For example, if you had two very similar communities with the same amenities, same rates, same location, it really comes down to what the current residents are saying about their overall experiences. Online reviews can tip the scale, in the mind of a prospect, to the community with the best online reputation. An apartment community is more likely to become irrelevant or passed over during the search process if current residents are not talking about them online. You have to get residents to talk about you! Encourage your residents to write honest reviews, but of course, never give an incentive for a positive 3rd party review. Lastly, don’t let fear of a few negative resident comments get in the way of utilizing one of the biggest megaphones you have for your community. Your advocates will always overpower the noise.  

Resident reward programs are another strategy that tends to draw people with more favorable feelings – the more residents you can engage with the program, the better the results. Rewards can capture the attention of our busy residents, create an opportunity to connect and ultimately convert them to advocate the community. When residents are engaged with the community, it’s just another chance land a renewal, increased referrals, feedback and valuable resident content. Increasing engagement through reward and referral campaigns can improve community satisfaction and produce excellent return on investment.

Ultimately, harnessing the advantages of an engaged resident base can be highly cost effective. And in the current environment, annual turnover is a financially straining challenge for student housing. Connecting with your residents is imperative so you can maximize value from them while you have them. You can’t just “make residents” engage with you. You have to strategically capture the attention of residents and draw them at the perfect time. Then residents will give you phenomenal content, feedback and hopefully become your advocates. It all changes with a systematic approach to engagement.

John Hinckley, CEO at Modern Message, has spent the past 10 years pioneering new web-based solutions for the multifamily industry. Currently, Mr. Hinckley spends his time leading Modern Message which is best known for its resident engagement platform called Community Rewards.  With a proven track record in building a number of successful startups, he remains committed to the advancement of new ideas and concepts in the world of real estate tech. Mr. Hinckley graduated from Baylor University with a degree in Business and currently resides in Dallas, Texas with his wife and two children.

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