By Linda Day Harrison, theBrokerList, Chicago, IL
The answer is yes and no. Newsletters are a vital connecting point between you and your building occupants -- that is, if you do a newsletter. As a property manager, I always felt compelled to reach out to and keep in touch with occupants and tell them what we were doing in and around the property. The newsletter also served as a simple way to provide them with information about the area, property, or anything at all pertinent to their involvement in the community.
I would feel incomplete if I were not able to reach those customers and share something with them at least monthly. My attitude was that customers needed to be kept informed in some way.
The trick is to make sure the message is short and to the point. Everyone is inundated with so much to read and follow and keep up with. We have work, family, church, hobbies, and where we live and work, all trying to grab our attention. All of these groups want to send us messages, and it's hard to keep up.
As a property manager or leasing agent, we have to walk in our customers’ shoes and understand what works and what doesn't. Times are changing for all of us in property management, and newsletters have been such a big part of our operations and marketing, and way to reach our customers. For many, the newsletter is a longstanding part of a resident or tenant retention program.
So are newsletters old news today? Or are there ways to improve on this long tradition of resident and tenant communication? What is the best way to get our customers to read those important messages we send, and is the old-fashioned paper newsletter obsolete?
I think the term newsletter is old news, but I still believe communication that is consistent and effective remains vital. It's not a good idea to think what works at one property works at all properties. Why? Because the profile of a customer changes from property to property and in different markets. In some markets, the single-page, slip-under-the-door newsletter may still be viable, while in other markets or properties a Tweet, Facebook post, or blog post may do the trick. Today the sky is the limit on how to deliver the communication. But you can't assume that everyone has high-speed Internet, and you can't assume that everyone has a computer either!
When making the decision on newsletters and communication, the first thing to consider is your customer profile. Do your customers use the Internet? That sounds like a crazy question, but many communities that are active-living or over-55 communities may require a hybrid approach. Communities of families, students, and under-55 profiles are likely more accepting of Internet communication. Again, depending on the profile, you need to decide what communication works best.
For instance, if the property has entry points or common areas where messages can be posted or where flat panel television screens can be installed, live, up-to-the-minute communication is most effective. If you have elevator lobbies, those are the most ideal locations to install flat panels that can provide timely communications to all residents or tenants. No matter what age, most folks appreciate knowing what is going on, and the entry area is the most appropriate location to post a communication to your customer! How it looks or how it is delivered will depend on budget, physical limitation, aesthetics, and manpower.
As far as using these technologies, it is important that your database programs have fields set up to collect all of these touch points. For instance, be sure there are e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and cell phone numbers collected on all resident profiles. With a cell phone, you can also send text messages. Text messages are an effective way to communicate as well.
If you set up a system of collecting these methods, and you keep it up to date, pushing messages out can be very effective. Now the message can include a hyperlink that takes the customer to a blog, or it can be a message in itself. Either way, it is still relevant to communicate with customers and make sure the communication is effective. Do you have a plan today for communicating to your customers? Are you currently collecting e-mail addresses, Twitter, Facebook, and cell numbers? If not, I suggest you start. At least you can collect the data so you are ready to convert your paper newsletter to an online and electronic message in the future. Once you are ready, it will be ready for you!
As far as using online, digital options, websites, blogs, Tweets, e-mails, texting, and Facebook can all be used today for both brief communications and timely messages that communicate important announcement or updates to your customers. The great thing about websites and blogs is that your customers can be added to an e-mail distribution list, and those messages can go out to all via automation each time an update is posted. Wordpress, for example, has built-in tools that provide subscribers. The process would be added to your move-in of each new customer. When you add the lease, you also add their e-mail address to your distribution list. The resident will get an e-mail that permits them to accept the opt-in as a subscriber. It would be part of the orientation to the property to educate the new customer on how you communicate so they are aware.
Twitter is much more advanced technology and is not ready to be used on a widespread basis today, but hopefully someday it gains more use with the masses. If the group is a student profile, Twitter can be used to push messages out.
The bottom line is that the concept of a “newsletter” is not about the physical document or blog, but about communicating to your customer. You should reach your customers in some way, shape, or form, and today the choices are unlimited. Do not ignore this vital piece of your marketing program.