Social media selling real estate…a case study

This blog post on gotomyapartment.com got me searching the web far and wide for examples of successful social media strategies in real estate. As Miriam points out, social media has so much potential for the real estate industry, yet where is it?!

It turns out I didn’t need to look far to find an amazing real estate social media case study. Actually, I found one right in my back yard. The Laurel Apartments, in downtown St. Louis, is a top-of-the-market luxury redevelopment project that got rehabilitated from a historic department store into a mixed-use gem. After a long development process, it was completed in Fall 2011 with a mix of multifamily, hotel, and retail. The property started leasing in a difficult market and had several competitors open their doors months beforehand. Yet, partially due to a clever social media strategy, the 205-unit property is currently leasing at levels well above expectations.

 Check out the building’s website here:

It’s a tremendous building that is transforming a vital piece of downtown.  Yet what I’m really intrigued by, at least for this post, is this:

Lovin’ the Lou. This simple phrase is central to The Laurel’s social media campaign and is creating a sense of community while making a tremendous impact on absorption rates and rent levels.  While on a tour of the building with a real estate development class I’m assisting with, the property manager said that they scrapped all print, billboard, and radio media in order to focus entirely on social media. The strategy is being executed at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising media. And here’s the best part…it’s working! The Laurel has outperformed similar properties, has beaten experts’ expected absorption levels, and is renting at levels well above pro-forma projections—fantastic work!

The marketing staff initially tested traditional print media ads; spending several thousand dollars in the process, but didn’t see a noticeable reaction from the market. To borrow an Eric Ries coined phrase, it’s PIVOT time! That’s when the marketing team shifted efforts to more social media focused measures. Here are the main highlights about how the marketing staff created the social media strategy that is helping them outperform the experts’ projections:

  • The social media campaign focused on a mix of semi-traditional and innovative marketing methods—a truly holistic campaign.
  • Semi-traditional online tool: Craigslist was fully utilized and regularly updated. This online tool allows the marketing staff to reach their targeted customer base—people actively looking for new apartments—yet has no cost for advertising (besides the labor cost for managing each post). Check out a sample Laurel craigslist ad.
  • Semi-traditional online tool: The property created a great website to promote itself and highlight its key attributes.
  • Semi-traditional online tool: The property created a blog to promote new events, important local information, and content related to the property and community.
  • Social media tools: Lovin’ the Lou contest and website.  By spreading the word through Facebook and Twitter, The Laurel simply said: “You love your city. Show us why in two minutes or less and you could win a year of free rent at our beautiful and luxurious new apartment community.” Brilliant! According to the marketing team, responses were overwhelming, fantastically creative, and built a “buzz” around the contest, the property, and the neighborhood.

Check out the winning entry:

  • Social media tools: Facebook and Twitter. The Laurel uses Facebook and Twitter to get connected with and build its community. It does this by providing interesting and valuable content to its followers. Check out both profiles here: Facebook profile + Twitter profile. The property uses both platforms to actively promote its community.  By following local businesses, posting about new local events, and creating interesting content for people to follow, the property builds a strong brand around itself and its community.

What’s great about this strategy? Let’s break down what a few things that click.

1) The social media component of the strategy—the Lovin’ the Lou website, free rent contest, Facebook, and Twitter—doesn’t try to push anything on the viewer. Someone could simply forward the links and profiles to friends, tweet about them, follow them, or post them on Facebook and show the world how great the content is—no upfront selling involved! The moment someone senses that they’re being sold something, they are likely to get turned off and move on.  By creating an engaged community through the multiple social media platforms, the property indirectly brands itself and promotes itself.

2) The campaign focuses on getting people actively involved in new events around the city (not just the property).  The free-rent contest started the buzz with new events and contests growing the community.

3) The strategy feels genuine and personable.

4) All of the platforms, from the craigslist ad to the video contest, have a consistent message and offer multiple ways to get involved.

5) The contest, profiles, and websites create a useful set of tools that people can use, promote, and spread amongst their friends, family, and social network.

A key lesson that I learned from this social media case study is that it is cohesive, provides depth, and allows the viewer to decide how involved they want to be—all ingredients for successfully running the campaign.  A tremendous amount of planning and work likely went into rolling out the social media campaign. So while the initial costs of social media platforms are far less than traditional media, successfully using them doesn’t come without time, money, and effort.

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