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Social media–how people perceive your brand and what they say about it–is more important than ever before. Although social media started as simple conversations between individuals, it has evolved to conversations about companies and emerged as a significant driver of new business.

Experts say businesses should face reality: there’s no way to stop the conversation. But ignoring it can be costly, and participating in it is the best way to help control the message. In the past few years, an increasing number of apartment developments have embraced social media.

Eric Brown uses social media to market 14 Urbane Apartment & Luxury Loft complexes in metro Detroit. To keep residents connected and informed, Brown and his team launched a virtual community–Urbane Lobby; a blog–Urbane Blog; and a microblogs, on Twitter. Brown said Urbane dropped traditional marketing in 2005 in favor of an Urbane MySpace site, an Urbane Facebook site, an Urbane You Tube site and an Urbane flickr site.

“Urbane Apartments and Urbane employees twitter regularly,” he writes. “To further integrate we started the Urbane Lobby, where residents can meet and greet, trade pictures and videos and socialize on line. And we manage and power a blog aimed at our residents, all designed around our target demographic local brand recognition.”

Not every multifamily developer is as committed to the concept. But many are adopting bits or pieces of social media.

Earlier this year, Chicago-based Apartments.com, another rental listing site, acquired Austin, TX-based Apartment Home Living, a social media site which mixes classified ads with staff and user generated content on apartment living. The move was designed to broaden its audience and provide “an even more desirable solution to advertisers,” says Kevin Doyle, senior vice president and general manager of Apartments.com.And there’s more:

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