Kate Grasso: Student Housing Marketing Trends for 2016

by Scott Reid

The outlook for the student housing sector is bright in the New Year as college and university enrollment across the country continues to rise. When searching for a place to call their home away from home, most student residents look for a community with walkability to campus and retail, high-quality amenities, social areas for studying and spending time with friends, as well as green space for outdoor activities. While your property may offer all of these great features, if you’re not marketing it properly, it’s likely you’ll be facing empty beds in 2016.

To effectively reach prospective residents and engage the ones you currently have, you need to focus your efforts on the channels today’s students utilize most and get creative with your content and offerings. At Campus Apartments, here’s some of what we’re seeing as the top trends in 2016.  

Video Content Rules

Video will play a more important role in prospective and current resident marketing, and is critical for capturing and engaging today’s student. Across every aspect of a student’s life, video is taking hold –your property should be utilizing it, too. Create a video tour of a unit to post to your website, snap a six-second clip of a day at the pool to share on Instagram or even start a video series highlighting life at your community to share on Facebook. Video is certainly at the forefront, but lifestyle and property photography are also crucial for marketing efforts.

Quality of Content Over Quantity

It’s important to provide high-quality content, particularly on social media channels, that engages and is of interest to the student demographic. When highlighting your property, focus on storytelling. Millennials want to hear and read good stories about people they can relate to. Tell stories about how residents are spending their time. Focus on residents who receive academic honors or have great success on the soccer team. Utilize these examples and tie your property into these stories in a subtle way. It’s also important to engage with trending content not related to the property. Buzzfeed quizzes, Pinterest boards and funny YouTube videos (usually featuring cats) are of interest to today’s college students.

Get Creative with Social Media

Social media has been a staple for years, so you need to be creative to stay relevant. Geo-targeted Facebook ads will help get your property content in front of prospective and current residents with limited financial investment. While Facebook and Twitter are still great channels for reaching students, Snapchat and Instagram are also gaining steam and should be integrated into your social strategy. Utilizing targeted social media campaigns, contests and sweepstakes should also be a priority. Hold a contest at Halloween or Christmas asking residents to decorate their rooms and share photos on your properties’ Facebook or Instagram page for a chance to win a great prize.  

Mobile-Friendly Everything  

College students want to do just about everything from their smartphone. In fact, Millennials spend approximately 9.5 hours per week on their smartphones, according to a recent study by Nielsen. The need for more mobile-targeted campaigns that reach student residents directly on their smartphones and mobile-optimized platforms continues to remain a priority. Send out a mobile-only survey to residents to gather interest in apartment events and information about maintenance or security questions. Offer rewards, such as gift cards to nearby restaurants or campus swag, to the first few students who respond to these surveys and provide you with feedback. In addition, if your property’s website isn’t mobile-friendly, it should be. Residents want to be able to pay rent and submit a service request with the swipe of a finger.  

Engage Residents by Supporting a Cause

Supporting a local or national non-profit or community initiative provides property managers with the opportunity to find out what student residents are passionate about. Involving students in the selection process helps to increase engagement as well as gives each property the opportunity to hold events and fundraisers committed to this organization. If students are passionate about cancer research, encourage them to support Relay for Life. Hold small monthly fundraising events such as bake sales and trivia nights in an apartment common space and collect donations. By involving residents in philanthropic contribution, they will become committed to where they live and feel like a greater part of the campus community at-large, which in turn will help to retain them for longer as residents.

Overall, 2016 promises to be an exciting year for the student housing sector and it is important to strategize how to effectively reach current and prospective residents. Although these five trends above are very important, strategies such as word-of-mouth marketing and reputation management will remain tried-and-true in the year ahead. 

— Kate Grasso, vice president of leasing and marketing at Campus Apartments, oversees the development and execution of comprehensive leasing and marketing plans for Campus Apartments’ new development, acquisitions and stabilized communities. Grasso has more than 18 years of leasing and marketing expertise in the multifamily and student housing industries.

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