Over the last several weeks I have been talking about group pictures for your apartment parties, and how they can impact a sense of community. Not only do I think that taking a group picture bonds residents together, but I also think seeing the final product can have a huge impact on both residents and prospects. For residents, they can either pick themselves out of the crowd, or inspire those that couldn’t make it the last time. For prospects, they want to find people who they can connect with. Without some sort of visual, all the residents who live in the community are an unknown. But seeing a ton of smiling faces shining back at them makes a prospect feel more comfortable in their decision.
But event group pictures are really going to only cover a portion of residents – those that could make the party. So I think it would be fun to buy a green screen and ask each new resident to take a picture in front of it. For those who don't know, taking a picture in front of a green screen allows you to isolate just the people without a background a lot easier, like they do for the weather forecaster. Then, once a month add all new residents to a composite group picture! That picture would grow and grow over time, and will be a neat time capsule of all the residents who had lived at the property.
Note: if you do this, make sure you ask every single new resident! By not asking one resident, you could open yourself up to Fair Housing issues.
When planning any apartment community party, it is really important to not only plan for the best case scenario, but also plan for the worst. During one of the first parties I ever hosted, we decided to let people self serve on food. That was a monumental mistake, as suddenly people acted as if they were storing up for a long winter. The residents didn’t care that because they took 3X the amount that would have been reasonable, others may not get any. Within fifteen minutes, we were out of food, and I was sure I was getting kicked off the property by the property manager. Fortunately, they were very understanding and none of the residents got too upset about the lack of food. But it did bring up a very important aspect: Always plan for the worst.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you plan the event:
1) What happens if way more people show up than what I planned for in food?
2) What happens if too few people show up to do a certain game?
3) What happens if only a few people show up at all?
4) What if a game needs an even number of people but you have an odd number of guests?
5) What if a certain game doesn’t play out in the way that you thought it would?
6) What if your DJ, caterer, or other supplier doesn’t show?
Obviously, these questions will be specific to your party circumstances, and you don’t necessarily need a written plan for every eventuality. Simply taking a few minutes to think about some “plan B’s” will help if you have to go in party crisis mode.
Good luck with the resident event planning!
Last blog we talked about how group pictures can impact a sense of community, so today I want to discuss actually taking the picture! These pictures are not just to record who was there – they can be extremely effective marketing for future events. And besides, although we can all do the nice “say cheese” smile picture, it’s more fun to get creative and create a GREAT group picture!
First things first, let’s remove the awkward option! I don’t believe there are many things more awkward than the photographer say “act silly”! What the heck am I supposed to do? Not many people are quick enough to think of something interesting to do, so it ends up being this horrible mess of a picture that everybody hates. So here’s a different approach – give them some basic parameters that anybody can build upon. For example, if you ask them to act silly, they won’t know what to do, but if you ask them to act as if they are being crushed by a giant rock, you’ll get a whole bunch of people suddenly putting their hands up in the air warding off the imaginary rock. If you give someone a start, they can usually build upon an idea that isn’t so vague as “silly”, so try something like these:
When I count to three…
- Act like you just won the lottery!
- Look as serious as you possibly can. (This is fun because you either get a really intense picture of serious faces, or people end up actually laughing because looking serious on cue is difficult!)
- Act like you hate the person next to you. Yes, this is a “negative” idea, but it’s all play acting and I think people will find it funny to see all the scowling pictures afterwards.
- Give your best “high fashion” look (You might have to mime this out for them)
- Everybody is on Charlie’s Angels
- Muscle flex
Advanced Idea: Do a simple smiling shot, but have them carefully turn a quarter turn after each picture. Make sure you keep the camera still and you should be able to combine them into an animated image where they are all spinning in circles.
So in a sense, these are all “guided silly” picture options that allow your residents to have fun but not feel the pressure of creative inspiration.
Any other great picture ideas?
My last blog a few months ago was a cursory look at group pictures, but as I recalled my own experiences with group pictures, it occurred to me that they can play a much more important role in developing a sense of community than I had originally thought.
When you go to a typical apartment party, you often sit at a table, maybe chat with a few others, but overall you are just an attendee at your community’s party. It’s not your party – it’s their party that you happen to be physically at. And if someone were to come by with a camera, it always seems more about documenting the party, rather than being a part of the party. And those individual shots, still highlight the divisiveness of the party – Here is a picture of table one, here is a picture of table two, etc. There is nothing cohesive bringing the residents together.
But group pictures are different somehow. For some reason, taking a group picture has a different, subtle effect: People change from being simply attendees, to actually being a part of the “group”. In other words, it mentally establishes that this isn’t some random assortment of people, but rather a true group that is tied together and connected, even if it is just a simple picture. I realize that sounds like a bit of abstract psychology, but as I think back to my own experiences with group pictures, I now realize how effective that group photo was in establishing us as one big, cohesive group.
Maybe it is the simple act of people having to participate – literally having to walk to an area where everybody is converging together. Or maybe it’s the physical contact of people standing side by side that creates that sense of belonging. And then, when the camera goes off, everybody is bound together in that one symbolic gesture and shown together on the picture itself. The picture itself is like a members list – these are the people who are a part of one large entity.
In the end, the whole concept of a “sense of community” comes down to finding the key ingredients to making residents feel a part of the community and to feel connected with their neighbors. Up to now, we’ve taken more of a brute force method to sense of community, where we try to get as many residents into one area at the same time, and simply hope that they will somehow connect. But I’m beginning to think there are ways that are more subtle that psychologically tie people together beyond simply being in the same place at the same time.
What do you think?
If you've seen a lot of pictures of apartment community events, you undoubtedly seen a lot of sad looking pictures. It's just a tough thing to do, considering many times the people simply don't know each other, so they don't look connected in the picture. The problem is that those pictures are your marketing materials for your next event! So sharing a whole bunch of sad looking pictures will not help drive excitement down the road. So instead of the normal picture of a table with four people talking, try these options:
1) Make them stand up! Pictures of people sitting down just seems less exciting, no matter how you frame it. Plus, they are always spaced out funky, so they don't look cohesive. Instead, ask them to stand up and take a mini-group photo together.
2) Taking this a step further, have everybody at the community get together for a giant picture! Plan this ahead of time, so you know where people will be facing and how they can stand, so it won't be awkward for too long. But instead of just saying "cheese", make it a contest! Tell them that whoever makes the craziest pose or face will get a $20 gift card as a prize! You can even pull your social media program into this by sharing the picture on your Facebook page and asking for "votes" for the craziest person.
In the end, this is a great way to spur on conversation and people getting to know each other. They are now bonded together in that picture, and you can even blow up the pictures and showcase them in your leasing office.
As we mentioned last time, creating a party planning committee is a great way to get your residents involved. But for some communities, they simply aren’t ready for that, so let’s take an intermediate approach! A great way to get residents to feel like they had a hand to play in the event is to let them vote on the party idea!
This is probably best for the basic theme of the apartment party, so have an internal party planning session with your on-site team to think up some unique and fun party ideas. Then, browse Resident Events and find some other ideas, paring the entire list down to the top 5 event ideas.
The next step is to get your residents to vote on which they like best! There are countless ways to have people vote on something, but I would do a mix of email and Facebook. With email, you can send out a list of all the ideas/links to the ideas. They can either reply to the email to vote, OR set up a “question” through your Facebook Fan Page that allows them to vote there, as well. You might get some duplicate votes, but this isn’t a life or death situation, so it won’t be a huge issue.
I’m a big fan of having residents take more ownership over their apartment community, so rather than simply throwing them a party, form an events committee where they help plan the events themselves! Obviously, they should not be asked or expected to plan the entire event themselves, but there are plenty of people who would love to get more involved if given the opportunity. This is especially true for new residents, who tend to be the most exuberant of all your residents.
The biggest challenge to a resident party planning committee is the same as the office hours question overall – how do you plan a committee meeting when everybody can attend? Realistically, you need the meeting to be in the evening so the residents can attend, so consider letting an on-site team member arrive to work late in order to be the event coordinator that evening.
Next, create a plan of attack to organizing the resident event. You need to determine the overall theme and a list of all the activities that will go on during the event. You need a list of all the vendors required and a rough plan for decorating. Some of the more difficult things need to be taken care of by the office staff, but this is a great time to get recommendations for caterers, etc. In general, you need to have a list of all the questions that need to be answered, and a list of all the to-do’s that the residents can help out with, including deadlines. Without planning ahead for these items, your committee meeting will likely be chaotic and unproductive.
Remember that these are volunteers, so don’t surprised if they don’t follow through completely! But do keep a list of to-do’s ready, and set a time for following up with each with plenty of time if someone drops the ball.
Lastly, make sure each committee member has flyers/etc to share when they are out in the community to help get the word out! Hopefully, they will take pride in the fact that they helped plan it and drive up attendance!
During the event, when you thank your guests for attending the party, make sure to take a moment and acknowledge your party planning committee! Everybody loves recognition, and that is a perfect opportunity, as well as a great introduction between residents.
We ran across this video posted by an apartment community on "Tips For Throwing a Successful Party". It is actually a video posted for their residents to announce their resident event! So while the video itself doesn't share any incredible secrets to throwing a great apartment party, the video itself is great! Are you creating a simple video to help drum up interest for your party? As we mentioned before, you have to actually publicize your apartment party for it to be effective, and this was a fun little way to do that.
When you plan your apartment parties or your resident retention program in general, you need to think about the psychological aspect to how your residents connect, and why they connect. One of these types of connection-builders are large, unique events that cause large groups of people to come together. Growing up, I always remembered how interesting it was to see how people came together in the neighborhood after a storm. This was a single family development, so it isn’t exactly apples to apples, but after a big storm, especially when the power went out, suddenly everybody would be in their front yards, chatting with their neighbors they hadn’t spoken to for years to discuss what had happened. Did anybody know when the power was coming back on? My roof was damaged, how did yours fare? These were people who literally hadn’t said a word to each other for 2 or 3 years, and suddenly they were pulled together by this common issue.
When it comes to creating common-threads among neighbors, there are both positive and negative types. The storm would be considered negative, obviously, as well as how an increase in crime will make people “huddle up” more. But obviously, we do not want to wish a storm upon our property to inspire some sort of connection building, so we need to think of positive elements that can inspire this type of activity.
I think some of the best events and situations that facilitate this type of connection building are competitive programs, such as sports. For example, this year the Texans football team is going to the playoffs for the very first time. People who would never talk to each other previously can now talk endlessly about player injuries, amazing rookie performances, and other nuances of the game. This experience brings people together and allows them to make connections where they otherwise might not be able to. Plus, sports creates somewhat of a defensive posture that requires everybody to become closer – kind of an “us versus them” mentality.
But also what could your community do specifically to create camaraderie? What about an intramural sports team? It doesn’t matter that they aren’t pros, they can represent your community, and you can hail their successes or pat them on the back in defeat. They are the community’s team, and everybody can rally around them. I also wrote an Olympic style apartment party that could definitely inspire the “us versus them” mentality.
In the end, however, you must remember that these are just building blocks that can easily topple. In my neighborhood, after the power came back on, after the roofs were all fixed, the “support beams” of this new community vibe disappeared, and just like before, we were alone in our bubbles.
After seeing countless Facebook apartment party listings with no picture, a one line description, and wrong hours listed, it's easy to get a little discouraged! But today, I was pleasantly surprised by Enso's Grand Opening Block Party! You can click on the image below to see the full-size version:
1) Everything is filled out. Such a simple thing, and yet so many communities drop the ball on this in their resident event listings.
2) They have a picture! How excited are you going to be about going to an event, when the picture area is left blank?
3) There is actually a plan. Have you seen an apartment party listing where it seems like all they have done is called a caterer and hoped for the best? I read this event listing and I want to attend! Who is Captain Green? I want to see the Smog Monster!
4) Prizes! Most of our parties have some sort of prizes, but here they have taken the time to actually tease them a little! Granted, most apartment parties can't afford the prizes they are giving out for their grand opening, but you can still get creative.
5) Partnership Marketing! They are working with 11Alive, All the Hits Q100, and local artists to offer different elements to the event. Each of these groups provides different aspects that will bolster the event, plus they will help spread the word.
6) Their "more information" link actually has more info. Again, having a dedicated website specifically for your party is not practical, but the important element is that it is a link to somewhere with more information. This could be a link to your fan page, a link to a special page on your website, anything.
7) Video!! Now, at first glance you might think that creating a video just for your party is too much, but it really isn't! There are free online tools that allow you to create videos similar to what they provided, by adding pictures and music into the mix.
8) Interaction. Already, the event has people commenting on it. Granted, this isn't something you can add yourself, but really this is a function of the work they already put into the resident event listing. If it had been a typical apartment party listing with a one sentence description, it wouldn't have inspired any comments. Plus, the creator of the event took the time to "Like" one of the comments, showing she is actually interacting with the audience, not just shoving information at them.
What do you think? Did you like the apartment party listing?