One of the tricky parts about using social networking sites for marketing your real estate business is that you don’t make the rules about how they work. For example, one of the most ubiquitous features of social networking sites is "status updates." These are blurbs of text that tend to be updated frequently and let the rest of the social network know what you’re up to.

The length of status updates tends to be limited, usually 140 characters. This is great, except when you want to publicize a link via your status update. Let’s look at how two powerful marketing tactics can collide and then use a tool to do something about it.

One of the tricky parts about using social networking sites for marketing your real estate business is that you don’t make the rules about how they work. For example, one of the most ubiquitous features of social networking sites is "status updates." These are blurbs of text that tend to be updated frequently and let the rest of the social network know what you’re up to.

The length of status updates tends to be limited, usually 140 characters. This is great, except when you want to publicize a link via your status update. Let’s look at how two powerful marketing tactics can collide and then use a tool to do something about it.

SEO vs. the status update

If you’ve been doing a thorough job of search-engine optimization on your Web site then Web addresses for your pages look something like this: "http://www.YourGreatDomain.com/SomethingWithYourSEOKeywordInIt" and your pages don’t have Web addresses that look like this: "http://www.YourGreatDomain.com/p=29." In the SEO world, this is termed "search-engine-friendly URLs" (or SEF URLs) but really, they are people-friendly URLs. If you can read the Web address and have a sense of what the page will be about, then your Web addresses are properly configured to be "search-engine friendly."

OK, that’s the technical mumbo jumbo part. Once your site is doing this, then your Web addresses will tend to get long. So long, in fact, that your link might not fit in one of those great social networking status updates. While it’s fun to watch the SEO experts and social media gurus go into grudge-match-mud-fight mode on their respective specialties, let’s have our cake and eat it to: search-engine-friendly URLs and something we can put in the status updates. We might even make the branding executives happy if we play our cards right.

Easy solution: third-party link-shortening

The most common way around the SEF URL vs. status-update tar pit is to use a third-party link-shortening service. You can find many, many articles about why these are great and who should use them, etc. I like bit.ly as a service. Others like http://su.pr because it’s part of StumbleUpon. Mostly I tell people to just pick one and run with it. Once you’ve used one for awhile you’ll know what you’re looking for in a link-shortener.

Third-party shorteners tend to be most common for the following reasons:

  • They solve the problem: Enter a long SEF Web address from your site and the third-party service will give you a nice short link to share via social networking status updates.
  • No software to install, no information technology department approvals required.
  • If you can operate a Web browser, you can use one of these services.
  • There may be some marketing splash-back from social link-sharing services (like http://su.pr).
  • Consultants (me included) have been saying they’re a great first step to the nirvana of passing links via social networking sites.

Problems with third-party link-shortening

One thing you’ll notice after using a third-party link-shortening service for awhile is that you sure do share a lot of links that promote someone else’s brand: bit.ly or su.pr or cli.gs or whatever. Every time you share a link, someone else’s brand gets a little bigger (you have no idea how tempting it was to write "every time you share a link, an angel gets his wings"). So you’re helping someone else’s brand all the time — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but maybe you would rather be working on your own brand promotion.

And then there’s the social networking user experience side: People reading your status update have no idea where your link goes. The shortening service effectively hides the Web site where they’ll ultimately end up. For example, say you see the following on Twitter: "Great article about condos in MyTown: http://bit.ly/1wKriV." …CONTINUED

In the link above, "1wKriV" is a random code generated by bit.ly that can be called a "link-identifier string." It basically lets bit.ly know where to redirect the link. Sometimes you can change that to something more meaningful. But given that each of those link-identifier strings has to be unique, chances are that you’ll end up having to get pretty creative to be able to choose it yourself.

If the link above, cloaked as it is by bit.ly, goes to the New York Times or the local paper or some other source that is perceived as objective, then you might feel like it’s worthwhile. If the link, cloaked as it is by bit.ly, goes to the poster’s blog post that is cheerleading a specific set of condos in your town, then you might feel a little bit ripped off. It’s a minor annoyance, I suppose. But it’s an annoyance. And audiences don’t have time to be annoyed.

If the link somehow let people know that they would end up at the poster’s cheerleading blog post, then at least they wouldn’t feel ripped off — they’d go into it knowing what they were getting.

The slightly less easy solution: your own link-shortening service

So what if you ran your own link-shortening service? Then you could share links via social network status updates that would have your Web site/brand on them. Also, you might be able to add more information into the link itself. This has a couple of advantages:

  • When you share a link, you’re also promoting your own URL.
  • You are tying your credibility to the content to which you are linking.
  • You are more likely to be able to pick a meaningful link-identifier string.

Setting up a link-shortening service on your own domain isn’t done as often as just using those simple third-party solutions. I bet you can guess why: It involves some technical mumbo jumbo. Here’s what you might want to consider before you get into it:

  • Is YourDomain.com already really, really long and thus not a good candidate for link-shortening, anyway?
  • Can you have a database set up on your Web server?
  • If someone says "config.php" do you get nervous?

If you said "no" to these questions, then say "yes" to YOURLS, a bit of software that lets you set up your own link-shortening. The installation isn’t especially difficult, but it’s a little more tricky than installing WordPress. Once you have your YOURLS set up you can do the following:

  • Share links that promote your own Web address.
  • Keep the stats on people clicking these links private.
  • Speaking of stats: Click "report," "geography" (though way too broad for most use), and "source report" to find out which placements are getting the most clicks.

Using YOURLS or something similar, you can keep your long SEF Web addresses and create short versions for sharing via social networking sites. In addition, you can increase your brand visibility (instead of third-party vendors) and also improve the experience for your audience by adding meaningful identifier strings instead of random junk.

Also, for those of you on the WordPress platform, once you’ve set up YOURLS you can make use of their WordPress plugin.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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