Making the Most of Social Media
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn together boast 950 million users, while every day, people around the globe view more than 3 billion YouTube videos. It's safe to assume that at least some of your clients or prospects are among those friending, tweeting, linking and watching.
That makes social media a critical avenue for reaching them. "Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube offer a really big pool of engaged users looking for content," says Vinny La Barbera, owner and chief executive officer with imFORZA, LLC, an online marketing agency based in El Segundo, CA.
However, you need to be smart about using social media to build relationships with clients and prospects. For starters, and as counter-intuitive as it may sound, you'll want to avoid the hard sell when venturing into social media, according to Maura Neill, ABR, CRS, and REALTOR® partner with the Gebhardt Group in Johns Creek, GA.
"Social media is about being social, not about selling yourself," she says. Continually asking for referrals or promoting your business is apt to put others off.
Instead, you're more likely to attract positive interest by providing relevant, engaging information, says Matthew Dollinger, vice president of strategic development with @ Properties, a Chicago-based real estate company. Analyze your client base, and develop content they’ll find useful. "Do your due diligence," he says. If you target first-time homebuyers, a Facebook link to an article covering the steps to qualifying for a mortgage is likely to attract more readers than one that discusses the market for luxury homes.
Another way to gracefully promote yourself on social media is to recognize others with whom you do business, Neill says. For instance, if you regularly work with a particular title company, consider providing a testimonial on LinkedIn. If a plumber comes through in an emergency, recognize him or her in a Facebook post. "It's a way to remind others that you’re in real estate, but promote someone else's business," Neill says.
Become an Authority
Developing an expertise on a topic of interest to your target market also can foster relationships. "With social media, you want to show that you're a resource, an expert on the community," says La Barbera.
Neill, for instance, has become an expert on Atlanta, including its real estate market, as well as its entertainment and restaurant offerings. In addition to her career in real estate, she is the founder and editor of 365Atlanta.com, a blog highlighting entertainment and activities in the Atlanta area. Neill also covers the Atlanta real estate market, among other topics, in the blog she writes for The Gebhardt Group.
Working in social media can give rise to some privacy concerns that don't occur in the offline world. While it's reasonable to presume that clients and prospects who have, for instance, accepted you as a friend on Facebook are open to interaction, you'll want to use discretion before posting anything that includes them, Neill says. Many firms require their agents and brokers to obtain clients' permission before releasing information on their transactions, whether via social media or in other marketing materials, Neill notes.
Even if it's not required, it makes sense to check before disclosing what some might consider sensitive information. Most probably will be fine with, for instance, a congratulatory Tweet when they've closed on a house. Some may prefer to keep private its price or exact location.
You also don't want to write anything that could be seen as a criticism of your clients, Neill says. That holds true even if you don't include a name or you’re not linked via social media. If you include enough information that they – or a mutual friend – can identify themselves, your missive may cause trouble.
For instance, a Facebook post complaining that a client requested showings of 25 houses but has yet to consider one, could easily be seen by the client via his or her network. "The likelihood of them finding it is pretty high," Neill says. The upshot? Find another place to vent.
As you might guess, becoming an expert and developing a following on social media typically requires an ongoing investment of time and money. "This is a long-term campaign," Dollinger says.
While few real estate professionals can devote significant amounts of time to developing and maintaining social media marketing campaigns, even dedicating five or six hours each week to social media marketing can reap rewards, Dollinger says. This could mean, for instance, spending 10 or 15 minutes each morning reading industry news, and then using social media to share items of interest with your target market. If you work with an assistant, "this can be a delegated task," Dollinger adds.
The key is to consistently and intelligently use social, print and other media to connect with clients and prospects. "Some people are looking at social media as a silver bullet to save their business," says Dollinger. For most, that is not realistic, he notes. However, it is "one more way to strengthen relationships with close and semi-close contacts."
Karen M. Kroll is a freelance writer from Chanhassen, MN.
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