In August, following an announcement in March and partial implementation in June, social media platforms began radically altering their targeted ad platforms, and student housing got it the worst. Gone are the days of microtargeting specific ages and geographic locations, now you’re stuck throwing darts blindfolded. What happened, and what can you do about it?

What Are The Changes?

The specifics vary from platform to platform, but the gist is this: based on housing laws, real estate companies can no longer advertise their services with the specificity they were once used to.

Regardless of platform, no longer can one target ads solely with defined ZIP codes or specific ages, targeting has become an art form of finding the proper radius and working within the different rules of each platform.

This all stems from the unethical practice of redlining, a once-common act of bigotry lawmakers rightly halt whenever possible. There are reverberations, however. If a student housing company wants to reach ONLY college students for rental opportunities, they are no longer able to do so.

How Will This Affect Your Ability To Reach Your Target Audience?

Let’s use Snapchat as an example here. The messaging app has a minimum 5-mile radius for any ad you would want to run. What does a 5-mile radius look like at a large state university — say Michigan State University?

You know that streaming is the primary way those ages 18 to 24 watch shows and movies. However, it may surprise you to find that their preferred streaming platforms vary, as students take price, quality of content and convenience into consideration. So, what exactly are college students watching, and where?

Sure, you’re getting campus and the surrounding areas, but you’re also getting downtown Lansing and the township over– full of people outside your target market. And, given the fact that you can’t filter by age, you’re going to end up bidding  against everyone else for the 18-65+ demographic, filled with families, professors and retirees.

Is now a bad time to note that Instagram makes you use a 15-mile radius?

What Should You Do With Your Money, Instead?

Given that you’re no longer able to get your ads pinpointed right on campus, does it even make sense to maintain a strong online presence? Of course, but you should seriously consider using your money to develop a presence on the platform, rather than using the platform itself for advertising spends.

What we mean by that is, you should strongly consider using those funds to invest in quality social media content you can use to build an organic following.  Build on Facebook, build on Twitter, but most of all, build on Instagram.

Most housing companies whose feeds we audit are, frankly, horrible at this. These businesses want to reach college students, but litter their feeds with some amalgamation of the following:

  • Boring pictures of their product with uninteresting captions.
  • Promotions (my god…the promotions.)
  • Broad-based filler posts celebrating national events.

Why, exactly, would a college student at any university want to engage with that? What housing brands trying (and failing) to engage with college students fail to realize is that students are endlessly savvier on social media than the brand is, and, in turn, filler content the student can find literally anywhere else isn’t a draw. That’s why you’ll see a housing complex that houses 800 students have 200 followers  and 4 engagements per post. That’s roughly ⅓ of what any feed with 200 followers should expect… and with good branding you should expect more than 200 followers.

Invest time and money building out a platform you can be proud of– one that engages with students on your campus on a day-to-day basis. The process is long, but the rewards are worth it, consistent engagement with your audience allows them to become a marketing channel for your property as they like and share the content you create.

Don’t have the time to build out a feed and need to jump in the game in the middle of the quarter? Consider investing in local micro-influencers on your campus. Identify students at your university with 3,000-10,000 social media followers, an aesthetic that matches your brand, and offer them sweet, sweet cash to promote your product. By using a well-connected, social student, you know you’re getting a high volume of views, and strong local engagement from the community you want to reach.

Or, there’s old-school cool. On-campus field marketing is still an incredibly effective means of speaking to students. 1,000 fliers stapled to 1,000 bags of chips will still get students marching through that door, and lease season is still underway. Think about it– if field marketing wasn’t an effective means of reaching students, it wouldn’t still be around. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

The media landscape is always evolving, we’re here to help you stay ahead.

-The Black Sheep Team

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