Social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter work best when agents use them for the purposes for which they are best suited.

One of the biggest mistakes many agents make today is taking the strategies that used to work in print advertising and employing them when they’re using the major social media sites. Each of these sites has both strengths and weaknesses. Here are some tips about what works best with three of the most important social media sites.

1. Facebook
If you’re posting your listings or open houses on your Facebook profile page, stop doing so immediately. Not only does this violate the Facebook terms of use, it’s also aggravating to your friends. Ideally, your Facebook profile page is for your friends and family.

Many agents (myself included) have so many "business friends" on our profile page that the thought of moving them over to another part of Facebook can be daunting. You also don’t want to offend someone who is a "friend" by asking him or her to leave your profile page to be one of your fans.

If you want to use Facebook to attract clients, the two main tools are the Facebook groups and Facebook fan pages. Many agents are having great success starting real estate investment groups that they host. Others have set up sites to assist people with avoiding foreclosure or how to successfully close a short sale.

These groups can be open or closed, depending on how you want to set the guidelines for participation. You can also set up groups for activities that you enjoy such as golf, travel or other hobbies. The goal in each case is to connect with people who share your interests.

Probably the best way to use Facebook is to create a fan page for the local niches you serve. Many agents make the mistake of setting up a fan page for themselves and then sending a message to their friends that says, "I just became a fan of me. Would you like to become a fan, too?"

This example illustrates a lack of understanding of how Web 2.0 works. The first versions of agent websites (Web 1.0) closely resembled the traditional advertising model of building awareness. The big shift for Web 2.0 is getting someone else to tell your story rather than doing self-promotion.

Furthermore, when you set up a fan page for a specific real estate niche that you serve, it’s easy to invite people you meet to become a fan of the area where they live, work or like to play.

The place where you definitely want to market your listings, rentals and open houses is on Facebook’s "marketplace." This is Facebook’s answer to Craigslist and eBay. Again, avoid marketing your listings and open houses on your profile page.

2. LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a powerful tool for building a referral database. It proactively searches its membership to find people you may know based upon commonalities in your profiles. This is one of the best ways to reconnect with people from school, past jobs or those who were former clients.

Another great way to use LinkedIn is by doing testimonials. These can be a written testimonial, an audio recording or a video. An excellent way to build your referral database is to do a testimonial exchange.

If you have someone whose services you use and you feel comfortable recommending, post a testimonial on LinkedIn. In most cases, the person will reciprocate by doing a testimonial for you.

When you meet new clients, invite them to join your LinkedIn network to access your "Preferred Provider" list of contractors, inspectors, title and mortgage professionals, etc.

3. Twitter
To someone who is unfamiliar with Twitter, it can be quite confusing. Finding a business use for Twitter can be even more challenging.

Where Twitter really shines is at being the voice of the moment. For example, I learned of the Baja California, Mexico, earthquake in April just minutes after it happened because it popped up on the "trending" list.

In terms of your real estate business, when you type in your city’s name and the words "real estate" into the search function, you can see what the mood of the market in your area actually is. This is powerful information that provides important insight into how you could market more effectively in the areas your serve.

In terms of real estate, there are numerous Twitter applications that allow you to find people who are tweeting (posting on Twitter) on topics where you may share an interest. This could be something such as your favorite sports team or it could be on real estate topics such as foreclosures, short sales or real estate investing. You can see their tweets in real time.

Twitter applications such as Twellow.com classify people who are using Twitter by job expertise and/or interest. For example, if you were in the travel industry before getting into real estate, you could locate other Twitter members in your area who share this interest. If you’re passionate about politics, you can search for other people on Twitter in your area that share your political beliefs.

When you find someone who shares your interests, follow that person. Retweet (resend) their tweets to your follower list. Engage them in a conversation. Once you have done that, you can invite them to join your Facebook and/or your LinkedIn network where you can get to know that person even better.

Using the right social media tool for the right purpose is one of the best ways to save time and to make more money.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com and find her on Twitter: @bross.

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