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College Students Shun Traditional Advertising in Favor of Online Sources When Shopping for an Apartment

I just wanted to share with you some recent insights we gained from a nationwide survey of more than 500 college students in which we asked them about the types of information sources they use when looking for a place to live. No surprise, but Google scores highest among college students as they continue to turn away from traditional advertising – such as ads in campus newspapers – and instead go online to shop for apartments. Fifty-three percent of students we surveyed ranked Google/internet searches as most important in helping them find a place to live. Friends’ recommendations and those from parents followed at 37 percent and 27 percent, respectively. They identified Facebook, ads in the student newspaper, student activities sponsored by apartment communities and online ads/promotions as least important in helping them find an apartment.

Our survey also found that 98 percent of college students use Google Search to find information online, and 71 percent of the students ranked Google as the most important website/application they use. Google was followed in order of importance by university websites and Facebook. The students said they rarely turned to Twitter or Google+, which is still relatively new. In fact, the majority of students surveyed said they never use Twitter. We also found that when looking for an apartment, few students use apartment-specific websites, such as apartments.com or apartmentguide.com. Our survey showed they prefer to simply use Internet search engines to find information about apartment communities. As expected, they also placed greater importance on digital marketing methods that leveraged the social media posts/messages of friends and peers, as well as email messages. This is not surprising as college students are becoming increasingly savvy in how they filter digital media marketing messages. And, like in other areas of their lives, they are using search engines, Facebook pages and comments from friends as tools in their search for apartments. What we did not expect was the percentage of students who found traditional student newspaper ads as being ineffective.

The survey’s findings mirror those seen in college student focus groups we conducted in the fall, and they demonstrate that digital media is becoming increasingly prevalent among college students as a resource when making rental housing decisions. Other highlights from the survey include:

  • Almost half (47 percent) of students surveyed spend four to seven hours online every day
  • The majority of students have some type of smartphone with 42 percent saying they have an iPhone and 30 percent saying they have an Android
  • 61 percent of students say they will watch a video that is on a website they are visiting
  • 78 percent of students surveyed said they would use Facebook to learn more about an apartment community
  • Email (68 percent) and texting (49 percent) were ranked as their most important methods of electronic communication

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John Kerrigan is CEO of Catalyst, an Austin-based marketing firm that specializes in the student housing industry.

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  • John, can you clarify the following?

    Our survey showed they prefer to simply use Internet search engines to find information about apartment communities. As expected, they also placed greater importance on digital marketing methods that leveraged the social media posts/messages of friends and peers, as well as email messages. This is not surprising as college students are becoming increasingly savvy in how they filter digital media marketing messages.

    Certainly, students are starting their search with a search engine, but that's not where they "find information about apartment communities." Did your survey provide any insight into where they're most likely to go next? Are they more likely to click on ratings sites, an ILS or a property website?

    Thanks for sharing this data!