Why the tenant survey is reaching its use-by date 

The property industry is basing its decisions on out-of-date data, but Facebook and other social media platforms offer a treasure trove of insights that can help us build better communities.

Anyone with a mobile phone in their pocket is being tracked throughout their day. We leave a digital footprint each time we interact with Facebook, Instagram or Trip Advisor, sensors record our movements throughout the city and Google Maps is now the largest collector of data in the world.

“Digital has disrupted property, but a lot of people in our industry haven’t noticed yet,” says Colette Munro (pictured, left), chief digital officer at AECOM.

Munro, who is heading to The Property Congress in October to argue why “data is the new oil”, says it’s time to abandon the tried-and-true tenant survey.

The property industry is making its decisions based on out-of-date data. Tenant surveys can take so long to compile, complete and analyse, that once it’s time to make decisions based on the results, months have passed. How do you react to that?”

Munro, says our industry needs to get better at working with new, expedient data collection methods, and to use that in real-time to make better decisions.

One person revolutionising data collection and analysis is Jessica Christiansen-Franks (pictured, right).

An urban planner and community engagement specialist for nearly two decades, Christiansen-Franks is co-founder and chief executive officer of Neighbourlytics, a social analytics platform for neighbourhood development.

“The idea for Neighbourlytics came from the frustration of having to stand on the footpath with a clipboard to interview people so that I could find out how they were using a space. I thought there had to be a better way,” she says.

Neighbourlytics analyses big data, particularly from social media feeds, to help property developers and policy-makers understand the unique identity of the places they are making and managing, Christiansen-Franks says.

“There is no shortage of data out there,” she says, pointing to Facebook, Twitter, Trip Advisor, Instagram and Google Maps as rich veins of information.

“People put everything on public Facebook pages,” she says, adding that this allows data mining of everything from preschool fetes and craft clubs to fundraising sausage sizzles to dog walking groups.

“Increasingly, users have their own Internet of Things technologies on their campuses that will give us additional data, such as local governments with smart street lights that count the pedestrians going past,” she adds.

Much of this data is “orphaned” Christiansen-Franks says, “and people don’t know how to use it”. Her team helps to “contextualise it”.

“We don’t forecast. We reveal what is actually happening – what people do with their spare time, the community groups they engage with, where they shop, what they value. And we can compare this data with other competitive areas to see if developers are hitting the target market.”

Christiansen-Franks bubbles with excitement at big data’s potential.

Her work in one growth area outside the Gold Coast tracked the use of a recently-built but under-used community centre in a large greenfields development. Her data mining found that more than 200 community events – from mothers’ group meetings to YMCA fitness classes – had taken place over the course of a year, but few had occurred in the community centre.

“We discovered that it was all happening in the local park. This has helped the developer to allocate funds in the future,” she says.

She points to another project, this time with a shopping centre in Townsville, which was “well-located but struggling to attract customers”. Wanting to understand why its competitor was faring better, an analysis of social media found that “the shops with the best reviews were those that were run by locals rather than chain stores. They were the shops that held a farmers’ market or hosted a string quartet – the shops that built a community culture.

“We also discovered that 15 per cent of the visitors to the centre were tourists, and they wanted more than a collection of chain stores.”

These results may seem intuitive, but the hard data provides customer insights with which old-fashioned surveys simply can’t compete.

Munro says AECOM has its own app in the works, but property owners and developers don’t need to wait to embark on their big data journeys.

The first step is to “map their customer’s or user’s digital experience”, and like the retail sector “determine how to interact and add value to those people that are using your buildings and community spaces”.

Ask questions, Munro urges. What were my tenants or users doing before walking into the building? What did they do after they left? Did they arrive by public transport or car? “These sorts of questions can help you understand your customer or user.”

Munro says we also need to be prepared for “inconvenient truths” revealed within the data, whether that’s buses running behind schedule or buildings that fall short of their energy ratings.

Data mining in the digital era demands specialist skills, Munro acknowledges, and is evolving rapidly, but the property industry must adopt a proactive approach. “No one has all the answers. Everyone is on a journey. We know customers have all these touch points, but we don’t always know how to get the data.”

For Christiansen-Franks, a laser-focus on social data can help the industry better understand how to best maximise its social capital and deliver long-term benefits to communities.

Building places that people love demands more than “getting the hardware right”, Christiansen-Franks says.

“People love their local neighbourhood because of its personality, not because of the type of paving used in the streets.

“Cities are a representation of the personalities of the people that live there – how can we expect the development industry to foster that if they can’t even measure it?”

Jessica Christiansen-Franks and Colette Munro will both be speaking at The Property Congress in Cairns from 18-20 October. Limited tickets are still available.