By now, we’ve established that the Internet is becoming the new storefront. For millennials and the upcoming Gen Z demographic, social media is simply another platform for communication.

“Renters want info anytime, anywhere, and they want it at their fingertips,” says Kim Small, Senior Regional VP for Wood Residential. “Their need for info is instantaneous, and digital and social media is the only marketing source that can deliver that.”

Residents are increasingly connecting with properties online throughout all phases of the renting process, from research to retention. As a result, property managers need to be able to do their jobs online, and that requires them to have a certain amount of autonomy. Social media presents several opportunities for leasing, marketing and building relationships. However, it also presents many risks.

A Balancing Act

We’ve previously talked about the power of online word of mouth and how one bad customer experience can taint a brand. We’ve also talked about the need for property managers to be present, helpful, and interactive on social media.

It’s natural for corporate management to want complete control over their properties’ online activity, as doing so would limit risk and maintain consistent brand messaging across all properties. However, this isn’t realistic. The key to success in digital marketing lies within the property managers—they’re the ones who know their residents better than anyone else. They live and work in the communities they serve, and they’re the ones interacting with residents on a daily basis.

So how do we find a balance between brand consistency (corporate-level) and local content / personalized service (property-level)? The answer is quite simple, actually. It just calls for a little training and education.

Corporate Responsibility: Training

Misty Sanford, the owner of North of Creative, draws on several years of experience in corporate property management.

“Resident interactions on social media must be handled at the property level,” said Misty.

“Corporate management simply needs to take the necessary steps to train property managers. They need to provide resources [e.g., content guidelines, tone], which property managers can customize according to their residents. Employees should feel empowered to communicate on social media—that is corporate’s responsibility.”

Property management company, Wood Residential, provides its properties with standard corporate messaging for social media, then allows each property to personalize its content.

Senior Regional VP Kim Small says that they focus on keeping messaging simple and consistent. By providing guidelines for use, Wood Residential is able to strengthen corporate branding across all properties, yet it still allows local social media to take a shape of its own at the property level.

The most important thing to remember, Misty says, is that corporate training should be an ongoing effort. Organizations like the NAA make that easy for corporate management to implement.

The NAA Education Institute is currently rewriting its curriculum for its National Apartment Leasing Professional Program to include proper practices for social media. The course includes six modules, which corporate management can license and provide for employees, either online or in the classroom.

“The skills are the same,” says Maureen Lambe, Executive VP of the NAA Education Institute. “It’s the medium that has changed. Training allows property managers to see how the same rules of resident engagement apply to new mediums.”

The new curriculum, which launched in early 2015, includes everything from monitoring your online reputation to optimizing content for search engines.

“Corporate management should never leave the training mindset,” says Misty. Training never sleeps.

Property Responsibility: Open Communication

Successful training requires an earnest effort on the part of each property and its employees. Without their commitment, an effective digital marketing strategy is impossible to implement.

It’s the property manager’s responsibility to consult their regional or national corporate representative anytime they have questions, feedback, or insight regarding social media use.

Corporate management should serve as a resource for properties and vice versa. Property managers should provide feedback on local marketing efforts (What works, what doesn’t?). They should also be able to ask corporate representatives for help in unfamiliar situations and provide them with insights from their resident community.

Open communication is the key to balancing strong brand messaging on social media with local personality and service.

Tying it all Together

To sum it up, here are some common threads in establishing multifamily brand character: A customer-centric approach is essential to the success of any digital marketing effort, whether that’s differentiating your property/meeting millennial expectations / designing your website, and so on. The most successful multifamily properties are capitalizing on the relationship-building properties of social media and intercepting prospective renters in the places they’re already searching.

Technology is fast-changing the marketing environment, and it’s up to your multifamily complex to respond or risk falling behind.