Building Connections: How Student Housing Property Managers Can Engage with Residents More Effectively

Only 22% of students enrolled in US colleges and universities live in campus dormitories. Most are required to live on-campus during their first year of study, some throughout their second year. While student housing is always in demand, today’s residents expect more from off-campus student housing providers than Wi-Fi, fitness center access, game rooms, or laundry facilities. Most students who vacate the dorms after their first year or two of study still want to feel that all-important sense of belonging to a safe, secure campus community.

In today’s most sought-after locations, the buildings are active and vibrant. Common areas are busy with students relaxing between classes, studying in groups, and socializing. Their halls are bustling with residents who feel informed, connected, and included. 

In areas where student housing availability outpaces demand, the steps you take to achieve that level of tenant satisfaction could be more important than ever. Since unleased spaces may remain vacant until the beginning of the next term, student housing property managers need meaningful ways to keep residents engaged and help ensure their building remains a popular hub of student activity.

What Assurances Do Students Want Before Signing a Lease?

Whether the property you manage is at the center of all the action or off the beaten path, it’s important to know what students are looking for as they compare housing options. While there will always be students who choose their accommodations based on price alone, others will carefully weigh their alternatives and choose between locations that offer the most value for their dollar. 

As you’re showing prospective tenants some of the most inviting features of your facility, you’ve likely had more than a few asking detailed questions about internet access, connection speeds, cell phone reception, or secure rooms. It’s clear that students no longer consider digital connectivity a luxury; reliable access is essential to their personal and educational well-being.

For many, you’re providing their first-ever introduction to the realities of living on their own. Contemplating significant change can leave many college and university students feeling a bit overwhelmed. Students feeling understandably hesitant to move beyond the security of dorm life are sure to appreciate knowing your facility is managed in a way that ensures they’ll feel less isolated. Ideally, you’ll want to strike a balance between providing the autonomy they crave and the engagement opportunities they need to feel connected and involved. So how do you make this happen?

Building Connections and Ensuring Effective Engagement in Today’s Student Housing

Successful student housing complexes typically accommodate students who want a room of their own, as well as those who might prefer the advantages of living with roommates. Most have common areas to allow for group study and community-building socialization. Simple furnishings are easily arranged to accommodate scheduled and impromptu occasions. 

But attractive furnishing and accommodating spaces alone may not be enough to ensure your students will return from one semester to the next. You also need strategies to help build brand loyalty. That’s where effective engagement fits into the equation.

At its core, resident engagement is non-transactional. It requires a consistent, well-thought-out approach that goes a step beyond ensuring basic consumer satisfaction. This consumer-centric practice has been successfully adopted by businesses across multiple industries to build brand recognition, improve consumer loyalty, and distinguish their business from the competition. 

Although most student housing residents lease for a limited number of years, your reputation for helping students create lasting memories could be just what your location needs to ensure every room is leased in an industry where overall profitability is determined by students looking for a home away from home experience

Related: Property Managers: Maximize Your Time to Provide a Greater Tenant Experience

While there’s no single engagement opportunity known to appeal to every student, you may want to consider how some of the following suggestions could help you create an atmosphere college and university students are sure to appreciate.

Hosting Resident Events

The key to boosting engagement with group activities requires hosting events that will appeal to a vast number of students. The possibilities are endless. But anything involving snacks is sure to please the masses. Consider investing in (or renting) a popcorn machine and hosting a weekly movie night, card game tournament, or a simple mixer. Spice things up from time to time with the help of a pre-packaged murder mystery or karaoke machine. Your residents may also be interested in getting together for a craft night, trivia contest, or holiday-themed party. Having a central location where students know to look for information about upcoming events will help ensure your activities have an impressive turnout. Your resident engagement efforts don’t have to be overly expensive. Students appreciate having a reason to gather and a place they can socialize that won’t cut into their budget.

Offering Referral Incentives

Resident referral programs are incentive-based initiatives that offer perks for bringing student applicants to your doorstep. When students know they have a financial interest in promoting their living space, your cost of recruiting tenants could drop dramatically. How you implement the program will likely depend on how many vacancies you anticipate for the upcoming semester. 

If you have ample space to fill, consider offering a cash bonus, gift card, or one-time rent reduction to residents who encourage their peers to submit an application and sign a lease. Several sources suggest limiting eligibility to tenants who are up-to-date on their rent payments. It’s a tactic that helps ensure higher-quality prospects. If you’re looking for a fun way to kick-start your new promotion, consider hosting a mixer for current tenants and potential applicants. Then take advantage of your opportunity to provide a tour of your facility and explain how the referral program works. Be sure to leave plenty of time to cover your terms and conditions and answer questions.  

Providing Educational Resources

Providing opportunities to socialize is just one of many ways to encourage resident engagement. Many students also appreciate having opportunities to learn new skills outside of the classroom. As the person taking responsibility for resident engagement, you might want to consider bringing in guest speakers for workshops designed to help students navigate some of the complexities of life on their own. You’ll find that topics ranging in everything from managing personal finances to practical advice about nutrition, sleep, and emotional well-being generate considerable enthusiasm. 

If you don’t have the resources to bring in guest speakers, consider reaching out to the off-campus division of student services or your university campus life ambassador to arrange group participation in upcoming events. You could also consider coordinating with tenants who might be interested in leading a book club or sharing a hobby. If you prefer keeping things simple, look into providing online access to educational content or setting up a display of informative pamphlets.

Installing Digital Screens in Common Areas

Indoor and outdoor LED screens are popping up just about everywhere, and give the buildings that install them a modern, upscale feel. They’re increasingly popular with property managers and their tenants—so popular that many multifamily apartment complexes list them as amenities. They’re the same type of screen you’ll often see in airports, hotels, and office buildings. Not only do these digital displays ensure your residents are always aware of upcoming events, maintenance upgrades, and new amenities, you can also embed scannable QR codes for students to RSVP to resident events, participate in surveys, and more. 

Related: Guide to Digital Signage | Your Questions Answered

With the right service provider, your announcements are featured alongside content selected to create an engaging viewer experience, like weather updates, entertainment news, health reports, real-time transit data, and more. Depending on the provider you choose, you can incorporate property branding or customize your background. Most student housing property managers partnering with this type of digital service provider appreciate how easy it is to create and publish propertymessages, whether they’re responsible for a single building or multiple locations.

See How Digital Screens Can Elevate Your Student Housing and Build Connections with Residents  

Information that isn’t reaching its intended audience is of little value. Today’s students have been raised on digital devices. Now that you know the value of keeping your students engaged, it’s easy to understand why so many student housing property managers are investing in technology that presents information in a format their residents respond to—in a creative way. 

Intrigued by some of the many potential benefits of investing in one of the fastest-growing sectors of engagement technology? Visit Captivate to discover how our turnkey, curated, content network can provide a valuable service to your residents while helping build a sense of community in your building.

At Captivate, we’ve partnered with more than 150 publishing partners. Our impressive level of access to relevant, value-rich content helps ensure community managers can keep students engaged and feeling connected. When you partner with our team, you can count on an elevated student experience that enhances your building’s appeal. Contact us to get started.

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