Editor’s note: This is Part I of a three-part series highlighting strategies for real estate professionals to manage their social media presence. This first segment features advice from social media experts on how real estate professionals can tap into the business potential of social networking without feeling overwhelmed. Part II will focus on real estate brokerage strategies for using social media most effectively, and Part III will explore how brokerages and experts analyze and measure social media success.
Social media tips, tricks, training and tools for real estate professionals are everywhere. Not a day passes when there isn’t someone exhorting agents and brokers to market themselves via social media.
Under the onslaught, many agents and brokers feel overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task of making social media pay off, and working it into an already tight schedule.
Inman News interviewed several social media experts in the real estate sphere — and asked several brokerages to share how they deal with social media overload. Some common threads in their advice:
1. Have a plan. Agents who don’t identify their goals for social media marketing or assign themselves a consistent schedule are doomed to waste time, experts say.
"When agents first get involved in social media you typically see two problems — too little time spent or too much time. Developing a plan and goals for (social media) will help you set specific tasks that you want to accomplish.
"Schedule the task, give a reasonable amount of time for the task — no more and no less — and stick to the schedule," said Barrett Powell, a broker and technology consultant for the Southern Advantage Team at Coldwell Banker in Pittsboro, N.C.
"If you don’t schedule it, you won’t do it. Likewise, if you don’t follow the schedule it is easy to get sidetracked and spend too much time."
Janie Coffey, owner of Papillon Real Estate in Coral Gables, Fla., said setting goals will help determine an agent’s schedule for social media.
"Do they want to add X people to their (sphere of influence)? Do they want to become omnipresent in their community? Do they want to become an industry influencer in their community? Once the goal is determined, they should carefully craft a plan of how they can implement social media to meet that goal," said.
"A scattershot approach is not going to work well. Incorporate social media into your prospecting time (that is) blocked out each day. If you block three hours to prospect, decide how much of that is going to be social media and do it. Then, move on with the rest of your day," Coffey added.
The brokers who Inman News spoke to spent a varied amount of time using social media for business purposes — from no more than two or three hours a week to nine hours a day.
"I advocate 30 minutes a day and start with a plan to manage one thing, such as Facebook. When you feel that has been accomplished, add a new tool. But do what’s easy and what you enjoy and see the benefits of," said Jason Lopez, director of interactive business development with Southern California-based Century 21 Award. The brokerage has more than 1,000 agents.
2. Get to know each network. Not every social network will fulfill an agent’s goals. Facebook is generally best for nurturing an agent’s sphere of influence, experts say — friends, family, past and present clients, co-workers and other people you already know and want to stay in touch with.
"Facebook is the ultimate sphere manager. I connect with more than 500 people on a daily basis through Facebook. Some of these people are vital to my business as potential clients or referral sources, some are my colleagues, and some are my competition.
"You know the saying, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?’ Facebook makes that easy," said Stacie Staub, a broker associate with Live Local Real Estate Team in Denver, Colo.
Twitter helps agents connect with people in their market whom they don’t yet know, experts say.
"Twitter is a great way to connect with your community, small business owners, and community influencers with whom you might not otherwise ever have the opportunity to meet.
"Be helpful, thoughtful, and show your community real estate expertise. Approach it from a point of ‘How can I help?’ ‘What useful information can I share?’ etc.," Coffey said.
Hosting Tweetups (in-person gatherings of people who use Twitter for a specific purpose) and TweetChats (real-time conversations on Twitter about a particular topic) is also a good way to build up community cachet, she said.
Similarly, LinkedIn is useful for connecting with business professionals in a market area, whether through online discussions, Q-and-A forums, or groups.
"Join LinkedIn groups in your area and be an active participant. LinkedIn is especially good (for helping) relocating professionals. Keep a vigilant eye for job-seekers and see if you don’t have a suggestion or connection for them," Coffey said.
Like Lopez, Coffey suggested real estate pros start with a platform they personally enjoy and believe would be useful to reaching their target audience.
"Being on 10 or more platforms in a very superficial way is going to be far less productive and profitable than becoming a well-respected and trusted resource on a few, which you select and target," she said.
3. Use social media aggregation tools. When agents are ready, there are a number of tools available to assist in managing multiple social media accounts: SocialMadeSimple, TweetDeck, Gist, Posterous, Ping.fm, TweetGrid, BatchBook, Gigya, and Roost. Many of these tools are also available as mobile apps.
Mike Kelly Jr., co-owner of the Hickory Real Estate Group in Hickory, N.C., uses the tool most mentioned among interviewees: HootSuite.
"We use HootSuite to manage our Twitter account. It allows us to save tweets and schedule a time to send tweets. It also allows us to set up feeds where we can see who has been tweeting about our area.
"For example, anyone who tweets with the words ‘Hickory NC’ appears in my feed and we are able to see what they are tweeting about. It allows us to engage with them as well as keep up with what is going on in our area," Kelly said.
Kristin Maynard is the social media editor for Avery-Hess Realtors in the Washington, D.C., area. The brokerage has about 210 agents and uses the Roost Social Media Toolkit, which includes a Facebook publishing scheduler.
Maynard said she has only heard a few agents say that social media involved too much time for too little return. In those cases, she tells them that managing social media is not about "posting to Twitter every half hour."
She shows them how to schedule their posts and use their smart phones to plan their day. She also reminds them that social media can be effective in brand-building, while it’s not a "hard sales tool."
4. Don’t just post listings. By far the most widely cited social media taboo is the hard sell. And simply dumping listings into a social network is perhaps the single thing that agents can do that is most at odds with why consumers go to those networks in the first place, experts say.
"Consumers go to these sites for the same reasons we do. After all, we are consumers, too. We go to our social networks to socialize, to stay in touch with our friends, to create new relationships, to share our accomplishments, joys and trials, to get recommendations on businesses we should use or products we should buy, to invite friends to join us ‘IRL’ (in real life), etc.," said Krisstina Wise, broker-owner and founder of The GoodLife Team, a boutique real estate brokerage in Austin, Texas.
"This can be compatible with how an agent uses these sites, if the agent can hold the fundamental truth that they too are consumers," she said.
"If agents think they can take their listing feed and merely dump it onto their social networks, they will fail," she added.
Dale Chumbley is a licensed real estate broker at Prudential NW Properties in Vancouver, Wash. and the founder of the "365 Things to Do in Vancouver, WA" Facebook page, which has been "Liked" by more than 13,700 people.
Chumbley shies away from aggressive marketing — visitors to his Facebook page get no more than a link to his blog to even hint that he is a real estate professional.
"The biggest issue I see is people feeling like they have to ‘push their wares’ online to be successful in real estate. All the business I’ve gotten in the last three-plus years from social media is from the relationships I’ve created. None is from information or listings I’ve pushed out.
"Most of my interaction online is purely social while still creating creative ways to gently remind people what I do," Chumbley said. "Just having a Twitter account gets you nothing. If you’re not going to be part of the community and interact, you might as well not bother."
Agents should focus on content that’s most relevant to their target audience, the experts say, as consumers may simply choose not to pay attention if they find an agent’s postings annoying, pushy, or uninteresting.
"The best agents have been able to generate interest in their online activities by focusing on the needs of the community they serve. And when they do share their listings on Facebook or Twitter, they’re doing it in a way that showcases a unique feature of the home, the neighborhood, and/or the community," said Nicole Nicolay (aka "NikNik"), founder of Agent Evolution, which offers social media training and WordPress Web design services for real estate professionals.
Staub said, "I hate seeing agents who only post to Facebook when they have a new listing. Blah."
Instead, agents should personalize their communications. "Who are you? What do you want people to know about you? Why are they going to feel instantly comfortable with you the first time they go to look at a property with you? Post that. Then, when you post your new listing, it will be just a part of the story of you and your business," Staub said.
5. Know what social media is for and what it isn’t for. "It’s not an advertising channel; it’s a communication channel," said Derek Overbey, senior director of marketing and social media at Roost. "If you talk to someone, you also have to listen to someone. It’s not a monologue. Don’t get on a soapbox. You also have to listen to what your community says."
Like Chumbley’s "365 Things to Do" Facebook page, an agent is more likely to find followers when a social network profile focuses on a community — a small town or a neighborhood in a big city — rather than the agent.
"You can talk about hanging out at the wharf, the great restaurants, the great parks. Why you’d want to live in that community rather than (saying), ‘I have a house here.’ It used to be (homebuyers said) ‘ I love this house’ and tried to make the community fit, but now it (is more about) ‘Let’s look at the community first and see what houses fit in that community’," he said.
The advantage to that strategy on Facebook, for example, Overbey said, is that when people find content interesting, they are more likely to "Like" or comment on it. Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm uses user interactions, in part, to determine what content shows up on users’ "Top News" feeds. ("Top News" is the default setting. Unlike Facebook’s "Most Recent" feed, not all content appears under "Top News.")
"So with business pages, don’t just talk about your listings … because that’s not content that people are going to necessarily comment on or write a great response to. Post a photo of (your city) or a video of (your neighborhood) or ask a question about why they live in (a certain neighborhood). Make your content be more important to a larger audience," Overbey said.
One aspect of prospecting for new business that social media can facilitate, but not replace, is face-to-face interaction.
"The No. 1 strategy I suggest is taking it (from) online to offline," said Coffey. "Make a point to meet the new friends you’ve made offline for coffee, lunch, an event. Something magical happens when you connect face to face. If your business is referral- or distance-built (geographically focused), pick up the phone and call them, connect via voice."
"I personally make a point to set up at least two meetings per week for coffee with Twitter friends I have not yet met in person. This has been huge to my business as it has to all of the agents who I’ve suggested it to."
6. Be patient; deals won’t happen overnight. Some agents only try social media for a week or a month — not enough time to see results, experts say.
Chumbley’s Facebook page, for example, has been up for almost 10 months. He has closed only one transaction directly as a result of a connection through that page — but said he has about nine deals in the pipeline.
That kind of return "is amazing from one marketing channel," Overbey said of Chumbley’s page.
Coffey also has realized business from her social networking efforts. "I get a good deal of business from my (sphere of influence) that I have groomed with social media. I might have met them through social media, but we built a relationship over time. I just didn’t tweet out, ‘Hey, can I sell you a house,’ " she said.