Archives for the month of: October, 2010

As the son of a university administrator, my formative years were filled with a healthy dose of academic and campus life. Over time the cultural milieu which characterized the campus and neighboring area became a strong influencing factor in my choice of sociology as an academic major. Through these experiences it became apparent to me that while the primary mission of academic institutions is that of a quality education, their presence is also inextricably linked to the urban fabric and economic barometer of its surrounding community.

So it stands to reason that local colleges and universities are increasingly being recognized as stable anchors of local economic development. This is particularly true for downtown central-cities as they regain momentum after years of population flight and industrial job loss. With their long history as key partners in the intellectual, cultural, and social ethos of a community, academic institutions are often the epicenter for civic connection. From the arts to spectator sports, academic institutions provide a rich experience that contributes to a community’s identity and essence.

Our nation’s academic institutions are characterized by dense clusters of people, the agglomeration of which can serve as a catalyst for economic growth. These campus communities can have an enormous impact on a center city,  boosting retail sales and adding to the area’s tax base. And as is the case with West Philadelphia, a city whose revitalization efforts were jump-started by the University of Pennsylvania and its former president Judith Rodin, whole neighborhoods can organically morph into uniquely defined university districts, fueling redevelopment efforts and community espirit de corp.

Downtown organizations charged with fueling local economic development would be wise to build on this nexus between university communities and city center vibrancy. Collaborative efforts  supporting housing, retail, and other local amenities can serve as a springboard for a comprehensive redevelopment effort, bringing life to moribund sections of downtowns  experiencing an excess  inventory of abandoned buildings and underutilized space. These bricks and mortar assets can be repurposed for a variety of uses, including research and development incubators and classroom space for continuing education offerings.

The impact of colleges and universities in close proximity to downtown center-cities can be reflected in myriad ways:

1. Research produced by academic institutions can be a driver of economic activity in a downtown core.

The Evanston, IL-based Technology Innovation Center (TIC), a not-for-profit business incubator supporting emerging tech-based businesses, is an example of a powerful university-civic partnership. Established in 1986 through a joint effort between Northwestern University and the City of Evanston, TIC houses over 35 companies and has cultivated more than 300 companies in the last 20-plus years. The university’s reputation as a world-class leader in the research and education of business and engineering and information technology attracts visitors to Evanston, many of whom, hotel and shop in the downtown area.

2. Expanded business activity can be a precursor to revitalization efforts for fading downtowns and central cities.

This can serve as the seed for the next generation of emerging companies in areas like biotech, generating jobs and commerce, directly or indirectly, for downtown corridors. Again Evanston serves as an example, having been recognized as one of the top-50 best small cities in the nation for startup business.

3. Downtown universities attract students who want to live in close proximity to the campus.

Housing near dense, walkable downtowns with nearby housing appeals to millennial-generation crowds seeking access to restaurants, coffee houses, wifi, and nightclubs. Schools such as the University of California at Davis, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Iowa are among the many campuses that offer the advantages of close downtown proximity. Further evidence of this appeal is presented by a 2008 study by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which noted that over 2,900 students lived in the Steel City’s downtown, and more than 5,800 chose to live in the central core.

4. University-sponsored activities, including civic events and the collegiate sports scene, can serve as huge traffic generators to nearby downtowns.

With staff estimated at 22,000, the University of Texas in Austin is the region’s largest employer and a major economic stimulator for both the nearby downtown and the region. The campus, located just past the capitol building on the fringe of the center city, provides a unique urban space relationship for the City of Austin. Each home football game attracts about 36,000 out-of-town visitors who converge on the downtown before and after the event, benefiting local hotels, restaurants and retail establishments. Other findings estimate that the university’s 50,000-plus student population, along with its staff, produces an annual economic windfall of about $837 million to the local economy.

The University of Texas in Austin

5. Universities conveniently located to downtowns offer civic efficiencies that can save costs and provide continuities of scale for popular community offerings.

This is true for San Jose State University, which is located on 154 acres and 19 city blocks in the downtown area. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, shared by the San Jose Public Library system and San Jose State University, is a model of this type of collaboration and one of the only arrangements of this type in the nation.

The potential impact of universities as engines of economic, intellectual, cultural, and social prosperity should serve as a siren call to leaders seeking to boost the vibrancy of their downtown locales. Effective university-downtown partnerships can spur job growth, improve a city’s demographic and environmental character, boost area amenities and attract staff, students and visitors with discretionary incomes — all of which are keys to long-term sustainability of a downtown grid.

Michael Scott is the editor of Urban Engagement Webcity and an associate at the Denver based Centro, Inc. He can be reached at michael@becentro.com

Barb Anderson, principal and president of Anderson Marketing Solutions, is here this month to share some thoughts on social media trends in the real estate industry. Barb’s experience spans over 20 years and encompasses marketing for real estate development, resort/destination real estate and new home product marketing. Before launching her own marketing company, Barb’s work included stints with industry leaders such as Vail Resorts Development Company, Laing Village LLC, and Village Homes.

 

 

Barb Anderson

 

1. There is so much chatter these days in the public relations and marketing worlds  about the importance of creating buzz. How does this apply to the real estate industry and what sorts of trends are you seeing in terms of the applicability of social media as an attraction generation tool?

Over the past several years, PR and marketing has gone through a dramatic change in terms of engaging and communicating with individuals  through social media. This medium allows both large and small businesses the opportunity to reach out to a larger audience as well as create brand awareness and consumer loyalty through an online community. With over 500 million Facebook users, you can see how social media has impacted our world.

Social media is essentially a new medium (it technically was launched only a few years ago), so the jury is still out on how it applies to specific industries such as real estate. These online platforms seem to work well with residential real estate for home builders and resale brokers, primarily because of the relationship aspect between friends and family. However, I think that we have yet to discover the long-term benefits of using social media in economic development and urban renewal projects across this country. We all saw the enormous impact that social media had on the presidential election in 2008; I think that same discipline could engage city planners, businesses and constituents to work together for the greater good of residential and commercial environments.

2. In what ways are residential and commercial markets adapting these tools so that they’re relevant to industry objectives?

Clearly the residential market has an upper hand when it comes to social media because it deals with the relationship between people, more so than commercial. The days of big advertising budgets are long gone, so marketers are looking for ways to get their message to their target audience with a limited budget. The residential market has embraced this new media and shifted their perception of how people communicate through online community. This includes leveraging PR sites such as PRWeb to deliver the message to a greater audience through Search Engine Optimization. Facebook seems to be the best platform for residential real estate because of the relationship component, which allows people to join easily or refer others. There is also targeted advertising and online coupons/promotions available that can be customized to attract “like-mined” friends and potential customers to the site, through relevant content that can be easily shared. Other sites such as Twitter, YouTube, Stumble Upon and Digg are also good resources for residential real estate, and in many cases, all of these network sites can be automated to send relevant messaging from one to another to create a greater following.

Nevertheless, while commercial markets may be a little behind their residential counterparts in terms of its social media adoption, they tend to use more B2B platforms to deliver their message. For example, LinkedIn is a logical vehicle for commercial brokers, developers, and economic and urban renewal groups to engage in discussions and promote real estate opportunities. However, if there is a retail/business component to the commercial offering, then using a location-based social network such as Foursquare and Gowalla would be the way to go. These sites offer the ability to track followers via mobile downloads, as they travel from business to business and post online. This application is a great way to offer cross-promotional opportunities with various retail vendors and anchor stores.

3. But how relevant is a social media platform such as Facebook in terms of hitting the right target demographic for a successful residential marketing campaign.

Even though there are a number of social networks, Facebook is the most prominent (sort of the big Gorilla of social media). The reason it’s so successful, is because the applications within Facebook allow marketers to engage the target market through Facebook ads or promotional coupons. The magic here is in the way Facebook targets “like-minded” individuals of the family and friends that are already fans of the page (thus targeting more of the same demographic). In addition, Facebook now has the ability to gauge the profiles of others and determine the correct demographic through analytics that are built into the site and can track the interaction of specific groups through various metrics. Marketing campaigns of the past were never able to offer this type of tracking mechanism to determine the success of a campaign. This is why the analytics built-into Facebook are a refreshing tool for marketers.

4. Can you briefly speak to the importance of strategic marketing plans as a launching point for social media initiatives?

Like traditional campaigns, which incorporate print advertising, direct mail and collaterals, a strategy must be established in order to determine the audience, when to launch a campaign, as well as the message and frequency of that message. Social Media and online PR strategic planning is no different. Objectives must be set to incorporate the same initiatives as a traditional campaign. In fact, it’s probably more important with social media, because these platforms are viral and based on real-time messaging that may require a quick response. All this suggests the importance of having a plan in place before launching a campaign.

5. So how does, say, a new resort residential community development, go about setting metrics to assess the effectiveness of a social media campaign?

Most resorts include specific programming that enhances the experience and those are the metrics that you can track with social media. For example, if you have a residential resort project in a ski town, your metrics could track social media promotions such as lift ticket or ski equipment discounts that are only posted on Facebook or Twitter, or shared (re-tweeted) on these sites.  This approach seems more exclusive to participants, making them more likely to refer other potential Fans or followers which can also be tracked. Additionally, if your website is set up with analytics, it is also tracking the sources from these referral network sites or promotional codes, information that may be valuable for potential sales.

6. Is there any indication that real estate niche markets such as hotel properties are jumping into the fray as well in terms of “Facebooking” and “Tweeting.”

The hotel industry is starting to jump in, but it’s primarily those hotels associated with tourism or other recreation. For example, casino’s associated with hotels have definitely embraced social media and recognize the benefits of having a huge following, because they are constantly promoting discounts and packages to get people back in the door. Some branded hotels (i.e. Hyatt, Marriott) are using it for customer retention – a points earned system to keep consumers happy and loyal to the brand.

7. With these technologies changing all the time, what are some ways for a busy property owner or developer to keep abreast of the evolving social media landscape in real estate?

It’s definitely a lot to keep with– I would suggest following “Fan” pages that are relevant to either the real estate  industry (i.e. ULI, NAIOP, and Builder) or communities (i.e. Local Chambers, City municipalities). I would also suggest subscribing to various RSS feeds that forward industry related updates from various blogs and publications as a way of staying informed.

8. What three suggestions can you offer to real estate professionals as they move towards greater adoption of social media tools in their outreach efforts?

First and foremost, stop denying the viability of social media and the impact it has in the real estate industry. This is not a faze, but the reality of how people are and will continue to communicate in the future. Take advantage of the momentum and cost effectiveness of social media to reach your audience. Look at competitor’s sites to see how they’re utilizing their social media efforts. Secondly, take on a little at a time. The potential of social media can be overwhelming, so plan how you’re going to engage and build community – and do it consistently! If you’re an absentee responder or blogger, people will know it and leave. If you’re having trouble keeping up, hire a professional to help with your daily posts and content. Speaking of content, my last suggestion is to make it relevant. Nobody cares what you’re doing, but they do care about how it impacts them. Keep it real, but relatable.