How much should communities Photoshop their apartment photography?

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It's not unusual when our photographers are on-site shooting photos and videos for a client to ask them about what kind of image editing they will do before the images go on their community website.

It's a hard and entirely understandable question.

From the apartment community's perspective, they're thinking, "We really want to look great online. Can we do some editing so that the photos aren't so grey since it's a grey, cloudy day?" Or perhaps they're thinking that they want to look their best so it'd be helpful to photoshop out those satellites on top of the building or the distressed roof that is missing some shingles?

Again, this all makes sense. Communities want to look their best online for the prospective residents who navigate to their website.

In this post, we want to deal with this specific question: How much should communities Photoshop their community photos? What kind of editing is helpful? What kind of editing should be avoided? That said, to answer that question, we need to back up and talk about some more general marketing principles.

Marketing needs to treat people kindly.

Here's how we think about this: At root, everything we do as a company is done because we believe that people have dignity and even nobility and we ought to treat them accordingly. This is why we do marketing that is all about our clients rather than us.

We don't build listing services that have our branding on it and try to drive people there. We don't show one client's community right next to the other.

Instead, we build community websites that have the community's branding everywhere. We use their branding on our video tours as well. The marketing services we provide are meant to serve and assist our clients rather than elevate our own brand.

Kind marketing is honest marketing.

This same belief about the dignity of the individual shapes the way we think about something as minute as how we Photoshop images for client websites.

Some Photoshopping is great. If our videographer is at a community and its winter or its a cloudy day, we will Photoshop in grass or Photoshop in a blue sky. We do this because we want to help our prospects put their best foot forward and normally there will be green grass. Often the skies will be blue. So we have no problem making those sorts of image edits.

However, some Photoshopping is more of a concern for us. We do not, for example, Photoshop out satellite dishes on top of the community building. If it is a permanent feature of the building, we do not edit these things out of the photo.

Marketing that is kind to prospects is also better for apartment communities.

But here's the important part: We do this for the same reason we do everything else we do for clients. Because we care about them and because we want to do what is best for them.

Imagine this scenario: A prospect looks at your community's website. They watch the video tour. They look over the photos. They get really, really excited. They want to see your community in-person.

Then they show up. And they see satellite dishes everywhere that were not in the photos. They see stains in the carpet in the lobby that weren't there in the photos. And now they're frustrated. But why are they frustrated? It's not actually because of the satellite dishes or the stain; it's because they feel deceived. And now, before they have even spoken to a leasing agent, this person has gone from a warm lead to a cold lead who doesn't even trust you.

To put it simply, if we edit out those permanent features or those issues that, for whatever reason, cannot be easily fixed, we're actually hurting our clients. By allowing prospective residents to see what the community is really like, we're making our client's job easier. We're helping to reduce the chance of there being a bad surprise during the leasing tour and bad surprises are one of the things that kill deals.

If you are honest in your photography, you aren't going to have to sell to someone who feels misled. You aren't going to have to sell to people who feel disappointed on arrival because the in-person experience is so inferior to the online photos and video. You also aren't going to end up with residents who still may not trust the community because of the bad taste left in their mouth by questionable Photoshop practices.

This isn't just about being honest with prospective residents. It's also about the bottom line.

While this is about being honest and respectful of individuals, it's about more than just that. If deceptive visual content on your website is causing leads to go cold when they arrive on site, that has a financial consequence for your community: Your leasing team is less efficient because they're having to work a lot of leads who were good but went cold when they got to the community.

When prospects see what your community is actually like and call you to set up a tour, that's the biggest win you can have for your leasing team. At that point, there aren't unpleasant surprises waiting for the prospect.

The leasing agent doesn't need to have a plan to recover or change the direction of a bad tour. The prospect knows what they are getting. The leasing agent just has to show them the unit, answer any questions they have, and then close the deal. That still requires some work, of course. But it's a much easier process than recovering trust with a lead who feels misled by the way your community has (for understandable reasons) advertised itself online.

Kind marketing is more effective marketing.

One of the things we believe as a company is that treating people fairly, honestly, and in ways that honor them as human beings isn't just the right thing to do; it's also the best thing to do for your business. This is true when it comes to how we edit and Photoshop community photos, but it's true in more ways than just that. If you have more questions about this or about how we think through these kind of decisions, we'd love to talk more. Drop us a line using the form on the Talk to Us page. We'd love to hear from you.


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