It's a mantra some of my ILS vendor friends are getting a little tired of hearing. I can't really say that I blame them.
No one could have predicted 6 years ago that Craigslist would become the prime choice for apartment internet listings in 2010. After all, at that point in time it wasn't all that well known, and was mostly used to list owner managed places, rooms for rent, or sublets (and even then, it was a little creepy). Today, it's difficult to find a property that isn't managing an ad presence on Craigslist. Traffic from there for many properties has been so successful, in fact, that they are starting to drop traditional ILS services like Rent.com, For Rent, Apartment Guide, Apartments.com, and Move.com. After all, they've found something that's "free" and it works, so why keep paying for those other sites?
Well, it's never quite that easy in the multifamily world. There are a lot of downsides to putting all your eggs in the Craigslist basket, just like there are a lot of downsides to depending totally on social media.
- Professionalism- While VFyer and Postlets create pages that are attractive to the eye, you have to remember that you are still on CRAIGSLIST, a traditionally text based environment. No matter how great the layout on your CL ad is, you're never going to have the same level of professionalism that a traditional ILS offers. The thing I find entirely frustrating when looking at CL ads is that people are trying to turn the format in to something that it isn't, and, in my experience, that sort of move never goes over well with consumers.
- Credibility- Okay, so your ad looks great, but here's the thing: It's still on CRAIGSLIST. If your key demographic is late Genxers and younger, then great, you should be okay. However, if you're still trying to get some of that sweet baby boomer pie (and there's a LOT of it out there), they are far less likely to find you on Craigslist over something more traditional like a For Rent magazine or Move.com. My parents are pretty much cookie cutter boomers, and when I've mentioned CL to them, their initial reaction is always something along the lines of "Can you really trust that?"
- Security- This goes hand in hand with credibility, but remember that ANYONE can post and ad about your property on CL. Your residents, disgruntled ex employees, etc. Because of the semi-anonymous nature of CL, it's an ideal platform for scammers.
- Qualified vs. Unqualified Traffic- The major complaint I hear constantly from properties is that, yes they get a ton of hits off of CL, but the traffic isn't always qualified to live at the property. There has been a lot of work done to maximize the targeting of the traditional ILS, and while there are ways to do targeted CL ads, it costs you a lot in time, which brings me to my next point...
- It's not really free- Lisa Trosien and countless other speakers have been telling you all this for years, so I'm just going to echo their statements. It might not hit your budget directly, but it does cost you time, and it costs you constant innovative thoughts to look different than everyone else on the list now. I'm all for the innovation, but I think too much time is spent trying to make craigslist work better when there are stronger tools available.
- Tracking - It seems that every time we find a tool that allows us to track our CL hits, Craigslist just as quickly goes out of their way to shut it down. Traditional advertising platforms aren't things that you have to "Fight" since they're supposed to be working for you.
Am I anti Craigslist? Not in the least. I think that, despite its weaknesses, it's a tool that's still making our work easier. But it's a tool that you should work with as well as keeping your relationships running with the traditional ILS systems, because each service provides something different. I do think that traditional ILS systems need to step up their service and get their heads back in the game, because a lot of people can't tell you folks apart. People always are able to say, "I found you on Craigslist," but when it comes to the ILS, they say, "It was one of those sites, I don't know which one," which appears to the folks on site that CL is a stronger brand.
I know budgets are tight this year, and I know it's tempting to cut out some of the ILS money that you're spending. I suggest before making a broad slash, examine each platform on its own merits and see what each one can deliver for you. Talk to your reps, and ask them to show you everything you need to make an informed choice. I'm sure they'll be more than happy to, and they might even bring you some cookies for the meeting.