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Using Facebook to Grow Your Business

by Karen M. Kroll

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More than half of Americans spend at least an hour each week on Facebook, the 2011 Chadwick Martin Bailey Consumer Pulse reports. Among respondents under 35, more than one-third spend at least six hours each week on the site. 

"Given the priority consumers are giving Facebook, it's become an essential business tool," according to Wendy Forsythe, senior vice president, network services with Better Homes and Garden Real Estate LLC. 

Users head to Facebook to connect with both friends and families, as well as the businesses they patronize. While only four percent of those surveyed interact with their favorite brands via Twitter, 34 percent do so on Facebook. 

Amy Chorew is a REALTOR®, as well as founder of technology coaching company TheTechByte.com and director of training and education for the Social Media Marketing Institute. According to Chorew, a growing number of companies now send consumers to their Facebook page, rather than their website. The reason? "They want a conversation," Chorew says. 

Given the inroads Facebook is making into the relationships between consumers and their favorite brands, real estate agents and brokers will want to maximize the effectiveness of their Facebook presence. In fact, having a Facebook page is becoming as expected as having a personal website, says Kathleen Allardyce, the woman behind www.BuildRealEstateResults.com.

A Platform

Facebook offers several compelling benefits when compared to other forms of networking and marketing. As a starting point, it provides a platform most REALTORS® lacked even just a few years ago, when their marketing options were limited largely to ads on billboards or in local papers. "With Facebook, when agents develop a value proposition, they have an opportunity to reinforce it every day within their sphere of influence," Forsythe says. Moreover, the only investment required is time.

In addition, Facebook allows for targeted networking and marketing, Chorew says. "No more shouting to tons of people hoping to reach a few."

Guidelines

Following a few principles can make Facebook an even more effective marketing tool. To start, consider your strategy, Chorew says. For instance, do you plan to use Facebook primarily as a networking tool or as a way of demonstrating your knowledge of the local market? Choosing one or the other will influence your posts. 

Once you’ve developed a profile, you’ll need to consistently invest time in creating posts and commenting on other people’s posts. "You can't just set up a page and walk away," Allardyce says. Like any network, those through Facebook require time to develop and maintain. 

However, you can take advantage of tools that make using Faceboook more efficient. Hootsuite, for instance, allows you to post to multiple social networks, including Facebook, through the HootSuite dashboard. You also can schedule messages to go out at times when you’re not at your computer. Another tool, Roost.com, is geared to individual professionals such as REALTORS® and can help you develop social media campaigns. 

Content

Given that Facebook posts may be available to both friends and colleagues for an indefinite amount of time, you’ll want to use discretion when composing posts and comments. For instance, Chorew has made the decision not to engage in political discussions occurring online. 

Similarly, it makes sense to avoid posting anything that reasonably could be seen as derogatory, Forsythe says. Even if you omit identifying information, a comment like, "I'm waiting for my client who was supposed to be here 20 minutes ago," conveys a negative message.

At the same time, vague status updates – say, "I'm at the coffee shop," – are unlikely to capture interest. They simply offer little that's engaging. 

To use Facebook as an effective marketing tool, you’ll want to provide information relevant to your profession as a REALTOR®, yet avoid posts that appear self-promotional or of little interest to most people. For instance, just posting new listings is unlikely to gain attention, as only a segment of your network will be in the market. 

However, many people are interested in real estate trends, Forsythe says. "They see them as a barometer of the overall economy." In addition, many people are interested in goings-on in their communities. One way to develop a Facebook following is to let others know of upcoming community or charity events. 

A number of sites can help you efficiently develop content. Both www.inman.com and RIS Media provide real estate news. Sites that cover general business news can be valuable, as well. For instance, Forbes.com provides a number of lists, such as best cities for singles, which have a real estate angle. 

Finally, you'll want to abide by the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the National Association of REALTORS®. Article 12, which covers truth in marketing, as well as Article 15, which prohibits making false or misleading statements, are particularly applicable for Facebook, Chorew says. Facebook has its own set of advertising guidelines, as well. 

How Often

Once you’ve decided on the content, the next question is: when? As a general rule, you’ll want to avoid extremes. Once a week typically isn't enough to develop your network, Allardyce says. On the other hand, several times an hour probably is too frequent.

You'll also want to consider the schedules of typical Facebook users. Usage tends to rise in the morning as people arrive at work, over the lunch hour and then again in the evening, Forsythe has found. Keeping this in mind when posting may boost the number of readers.

Used intelligently, Facebook can be a valuable marketing and networking tool. "You want your brand to be top of mind, and Facebook allows this," Forsythe says. 

Karen M. Kroll is a freelance writer from Chanhassen, MN.

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