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?
Andrew Fink recently wrote an interesting blog post on Multifamily Insiders about creating social connections between apartment residents, and he mentioned that the very point of living in the same community was a great initial start. I completely agree with him, but it truly is only a start. Having the same community only goes so far, and residents need to find other things that are common between them, such as stage of life, hobbies, lifestyles, etc.
I would say this is similar to online dating, such as Match.com. There are only a certain subset of people that will ever try online dating, whether it’s a function of their personality type, their interest in spending money on a dating site, or some other reason. So the population of a site like Match.com all has a common bond of actually being a member of the same site. However, it takes a lot more to find a real match within that community. Looks, hobbies, job or no job, etc all play into whether two people find a “match”.
The way I see it, the common bond of community is a great lead-in, but if it was truly a difference maker, our residents would already be great friends! So what that indicates is that there is a huge gap between that initial common bond and an ultimate friendship. The main problem is that unless you are successfully trying out a niche community like an uber pet friendly apartment community, you are likely a “diverse” community like all the others. So what you have is a large group of people with a decent starting commonality, but they are still very different:
So take the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese, for example. All the balls are in the same pit (i.e., our community), but the balls are one of several different colors, which would represent a slightly more specific level of common interests. For example, having young(er) kids is a huge common bond for people. That element in itself can bridge the gap and allow people to talk forever about what their kids have done, their own experiences with parenting, and similar topics. The same is true for “dog lovers” or fitness fanatics. These could represent interest groups that are large enough to encompass a good amount of your residents, but are not too encompassing (i.e., people who like to breathe) or too specific (i.e., people who like to wear yellow shirts with purple dragons on them).
You have all these larger interest groups at your property, but the problem is that your community is probably spread out in some way, so not all the red balls live near other red balls, and the yellow balls live next to other yellow balls. So if those groups with similar interests don’t happen to live right next door to each other, they will likely never meet! So while having the common bond of living in the same community is great, I suggest your social plan and apartment parties includes strategies to help your residents seek out their fellow green balls!
A few weeks ago, we had Dan Oltersdorf of Campus Advantage speak on creating “Community” in student housing. He had a ton of great thoughts, but one interesting comment was this: If only 5 people showed up for an event, it was still a success for those 5 people. That is assuming, of course, that they had a good time or otherwise got value out of the event, but I found that sentence to be extremely important. We get so caught up in the numbers, trying to reach every resident, that we sometimes forget that smaller events that have more focus can be much more powerful to that small audience.
I remember back to my college days where every goal for a party was to drive the numbers – we wanted the biggest and craziest party that weekend, and if only a few people showed up, it would have been considered a failure. But at the same time, I noticed that sometimes, people would be busy, and it would just be me and a handful of people hanging out, and those nights tended to be a lot more entertaining and interesting than a large group would have been.
A big factor was the “tone” of the people who did end up showing up. If they spent the entire time looking at the door waiting for the party to really start, then it was a painful night. But if everybody decided that the numbers didn’t matter, and they were there just to have a good time, then our little band ended up having a blast.
This is especially true for events at an apartment community where people don’t necessarily know each other that well, if at all. A smaller group essentially means there is nowhere to hide. A less social person can be a wallflower in a big group, but in a small group, they don’t have that escape, and besides, they have less pressure because of the smaller group.
In this case, it is just as important, if not more so, that you have a strong social person to lead the event and get people talking, but that seemingly failed event can make a very big difference for those small number of people. There is a much better chance that those five people will form residual bonds beyond the event, compared to a larger party.
Although 5 people is still probably logistically too small to do on a regular basis, consider the benefits of smaller events at your community where people can really get to know each other in a less pressurized situation!
What do you think?
A few weeks ago we discussed how to promote your apartment party, and I think I missed one: Put some effort into it! I am friends with a lot of apartment communities on Facebook, which means that I get invited to random apartment parties throughout the country every week. Of those, I would sadly say 90 percent are mediocre invitations that do only enough to inform me of the event and add a small amount of detail. Of the remaining, half are absolutely great and make me actually want to travel to Wisconsin to attend their “Busy Bee Bake-Off”, while the other half make me wonder why they are even bothering to make an event notification at all.
Without rewriting my previous blog about why you should bother promoting your apartment party, I want to remind that you shouldn’t be throwing a resident event just to say you threw it. The goal is NOT to simply check it off the list! So that means you actually have to entice people to actually show up! Do you think this is very enticing?
This event invitation really just makes me want to scream at my computer, “SERIOUSLY??” In the few words they bothered to put down, I know they are serving breakfast to potentially a large amount of people (assuming anybody actually showed up). Food is a pretty expensive item, whether in actual cost or labor for preparation, so this is not going to be a cheap apartment party. And yet, even with the expense already sunk into the event, this is how they are sharing it with their residents?
Breaking it down:
- They didn’t bother getting a picture. Unfortunately, pictures are often one of the most overlooked and underutilized element in any promotion, but they are often one of the most important aspects! It draws interest from the reader and significantly improves the visibility of the event. So no matter what you do, include a picture! I use Dreamstime, which provides images for as little as a dollar.
- Their time goes from 10am to 5pm! This is a breakfast event, which means that they are not going to be serving past noon. This just reeks of laziness to me.
- The description, oh the description. One line was really all that they could muster? Plus, “until we run out” is a necessary concept, as you don’t want to prepare food for 300 and have half of it spoil. However, how unfriendly does that sound? They could definitely have created a better way to present it. Even five small minutes would have done wonders for this event description.
In the end, the biggest upgrade to this resident event listing is purely caring. I can tell without a doubt that the person who posted it simply didn’t care about what they were doing. Likely, their boss told them to put it on Facebook and this is what happened. So, if there is a moral to this story, don’t spend tons of hours and money preparing an apartment party, only to drop the ball when you promote it!
(Note: If the person who created this event was just having an "off" day, I sincerely apologize. We all have days where our best does not shine through, and this blog was pretty scathing! Although I would still suggest leaving this important task off to when you have your "A" game, I apologize if I was overly ridiculing.)