Resident Engagement: Apartment Communities Get Creative During COVID-19


Asked about resident engagement during COVID-19, one savvy apartment manager says she doesn’t believe in social distancing. It’s physical distancing that’s needed, she explains, not social distancing. Why not use this crisis as an opportunity for an increase in community socializing – even if it’s only virtual?

Unable to see friends or family easily or go out to restaurants and movies, apartment dwellers are looking for things to do at home. Many have been furloughed, and even those working from home are getting stir-crazy. But in apartments all around them are people equally trapped and isolated.

To solve this problem, smart communities are leveraging their resident portals with fantastic results, building loyalty and garnering more reviews while boosting retention.

Modern Message and ActiveBuilding: rewarding involvement

Steve Ostipow, director of marketing for Drucker + Falk, says his communities have been extremely successful in fostering resident engagement using RealPage’s ActiveBuilding portal in conjunction with Community Rewards, which rewards residents for getting involved in various activities.

“They earn points for taking part in activities sponsored through the portal,” he explains. “Residents can accumulate and cash in these points for a wide array of gifts from all sorts of vendors. The rewards are very modest and don’t cost the communities much, but we are all wired to love earning rewards and it’s amazing how motivating they are.”

Ostipow says activities being promoted through the resident portal include virtual talent shows, virtual scavenger hunts, resident polls and trivia contests.

He says the payoffs for getting residents involved are numerous. Most obviously, it keeps them happier, and properties like having happy residents. But it also connects them to other residents, creating a sense of community that’s vital to retention. Plus, Ostipow says, all this activity generates terrific content and reviews about the properties via social media and Google search.

Ostipow cites a 645% increase in portal page views and a 180% increase in resident engagement at properties using Community Rewards during the COVID-19 crisis. He is confident that although activity might slide back a bit when things return to normal, much of this increase in portal usage will stick, permanently improving the properties’ aura of community. Many of the residents using the portal are turning to it for the first time.

 The ActiveBuilding portal at Drucker +Falk has seen a huge spike in messaging activity

In addition to residents joining in mutual activities, there’s the facilitated communication with staff to consider. Residents are no longer regularly interacting with staff in the front office. But now, they’re staying informed and entertained via portals, and staff are right in the middle of this. It’s a great opportunity to build bridges.

Properties are finding their portals vital for keeping residents informed about COVID-19 policies and procedures, such as guest visitation policies, usage of amenities and changes in rent payment policies due to financial hardship. But they’re also using them for personal messaging, one-on-one with individual residents, with great effect.

Mike Gomes, Chief Experience Officer at Cortland, says the effect of the personal touch from staff has been profound: “What we found is our residents are going to social channels to say ‘wow, my apartment manager reached out to me; like, they actually care, and they check on me, and they want to make sure I’m okay and my family is okay’.”

Gomes gave an example of a site team that learned one family had to travel and leave their dog behind – and volunteered to visit and feed the dog for the days they were gone. “This kind of thing goes a very long way towards building loyalty, particularly when others are hearing about it on the portal and social media,” he says.

John Hinckley of Modern Message says many communities are nurturing activities around food. “People haven’t been able to go to restaurants, so naturally they’re thinking about food a lot,” he says. “Many communities have been using Modern Message to reward residents for engagement in food-related activities. They’re building relationships with local restaurants offering food delivery and rewarding these orders, offering points for posting photos of good food that’s been delivered from nearby venues, that sort of thing. One community even polled residents offering to drop off a free Chick-fil-A sandwich and got a huge response.”

Hinckley is confident that properties leveraging first-class resident portals during COVID-19 will come out of it with much more loyal, engaged renters who feel they are part of a community of residents and staff who care about one another, rather than a building full of strangers. “This inevitably spikes your retention rate and supports your rent pricing,” he says. “People are a whole lot less likely to move somewhere else when they feel at home among their neighbors, and they’re willing to pay more for this feeling.”

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