The lure of social media is that businesses want to be where consumers are. Facebook alone has more than 500 million active users — half of them in the U.S. Facebook.com generates nearly one in four page views in the U.S. — nearly four times the rate of the second-ranked website, YouTube, according to Web metrics firm Hitwise.

Facebook.com also represented 10 percent of U.S. Internet visits in mid-November, compared with 7 percent for search engine Google.

More than 1.5 million local businesses participate in social networks, according to a report by local advertising data company Borrell Associates titled "The Social Network Explosion." Last year, businesses spent more than $4 billion on social network marketing spending; local businesses accounted for half of that spending.

Editor’s note: This is the final article in a three-part series highlighting strategies for real estate professionals to manage their social media presence. This segment explores how brokerages and experts analyze and measure social media success. Part 1 featured advice from social media experts on how to tap into the business potential of social networking without feeling overwhelmed, and Part 2 focused on real estate brokerage strategies for using social media most effectively.

The lure of social media is that businesses want to be where consumers are. Facebook alone has more than 500 million active users — half of them in the U.S. Facebook.com generates nearly one in four page views in the U.S. — nearly four times the rate of the second-ranked website, YouTube, according to Web metrics firm Hitwise.

Facebook.com also represented 10 percent of U.S. Internet visits in mid-November, compared with 7 percent for search engine Google.

More than 1.5 million local businesses participate in social networks, according to a report by local advertising data company Borrell Associates titled "The Social Network Explosion." Last year, businesses spent more than $4 billion on social network marketing spending; local businesses accounted for half of that spending.

This year, the company expects that figure to reach nearly $7.5 billion, or 11 cents of every marketing dollar. By 2015, the company projects social network marketing will account for a third of online marketing spending — nearly $38 billion.

In a January survey of nearly 1,900 marketers — 87 percent of whom were part of a small- to medium-sized business — two of every three respondents said they’d begun using social media marketing within the past few months and 52 percent said they had gotten qualified leads from their campaigns.

More than half, 54 percent, said their website’s search engine rankings had risen because of social media.

"Generating exposure to the business" was the most widely cited advantage to social media marketing, selected by 80 percent of respondents, followed by increased online traffic, at 63 percent.

Respondents mentioned Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs most often. Almost half of respondents, 48 percent, said social media had reduced their overall business marketing expenses, up from 35 percent in 2009.

A recent report by Internet marketing company HubSpot used an algorithm to measure the share of online activity for particular keywords in search engines, blogs and social media.

HubSpot analyzed the volume of search queries for the term "real estate" at search engines relative to the appearance of the term in blog posts and postings at social media sites. Search engines saw the bulk of activity for the keyword "real estate" (about 52 percent), followed by blogs (about 26 percent) and social media (about 22 percent).

An analysis of the online activity for the term "real estate" at four social networks revealed that LinkedIn accounted for about 50 percent, followed by Twitter (about 28 percent), YouTube (about 12 percent) and, lastly, Facebook (about 10 percent).

The HubSpot report also developed "competition ratings" to indicate how much competition there is for a given term. A rating above 50 represents an above-average level of competition for a given term, meaning it may be harder to stand out in the crowd.

For "real estate," the HubSpot report gave search engines a competition rating of 87. Every other channel has ratings below 50, indicating below-average competition: blogs (43), Twitter (43), Facebook (31), LinkedIn (49), YouTube (33). These channels could represent marketing opportunities, as there are comparatively fewer uses of the term "real estate."

"Do not simply look for the most active area for your industry and conclude that the optimal place to market is the most active space. As with many things in life, it is possible that great benefits can be accrued by following the less traveled path," the report said.

Viewpoints about what makes a social media marketing campaign successful vary widely. Many agents and brokers report getting direct leads from social media connections.

"Social media is not going to be the largest source of business for a successful agent, but it will give you leads and will definitely keep you ‘top of mind,’ which I believe is priceless," said Beth Jaworski, an agent in the Milwaukee metro area.

She reported closing one transaction through a Facebook connection and two transactions through LinkedIn this year, in addition to numerous referrals for more business in 2011.

Even avid users of social networks are not guaranteed business, however. Bruce Swedal, an agent in Denver, said he used to spend hours on Twitter and Facebook daily. He has more than 115,000 followers on Twitter (and follows more than 117,000). But neither network has ever been responsible for a lead to a closed transaction, he said.

"Lightning can strike once, even if it never struck for me, but ‘Can social media consistently be used to drive business?’ is the greater question. People want social media to work because it is easy. Unfortunately, easy does not make it effective.

"Where is time better invested: typing into a Facebook page for three hours a day, or calling and personally speaking with one’s sphere of influence, expired listings, for-sale-by-owners and asking them if they are ready to buy or sell real estate or know anyone wanting to do so? At the end of a week, who would have more appointments?" Swedal said.

In that more "traditional" way of marketing, "returns are measurable, goals can be set with a realistic plan to meet those goals," Swedal said. "Try doing any of that by tweeting on Twitter or posting to Facebook. Using those methods leaves too much chance in one’s plan on how to achieve their production goals."

But other real estate professionals say the number of direct leads that come from social networking is not the only way to measure social media success.

"Just to ‘get leads’ oversimplifies what social media is for. If you go into social media thinking that I’m going to get a bunch of hot prospects from three Twitter updates … you need to be realistic," said Heather Elias, a Washington, D.C.-area agent and author of the blog LoCo Musings. In some cases, consumers will connect with agents on social media months or years before they ever decide to make a move.

"It does in the long run help create relationships that will generate business for you, but I think there’s more of a process involved than just broadcasting and thinking business is going to happen because of it," Elias said.

One of her main goals in using social media is to attract traffic to her blog, which she calls her "hub."

"From my standpoint, Twitter and Facebook and other social media tools actually enhance the readership of my blog because it gives me the opportunity to share with people the things that I’m sharing on my blog," she said.

Andrea Altieri, managing broker of the Walters Team at Candlewood Realty in Denver, Colo., uses Twitter and LinkedIn for business.

"I spend about 10 hours a week on social media and it’s raised our Google hits considerably, so yes, it’s worth it in terms of time," she said.

Through analytics, brokerages can measure click-through traffic to their website from social networks, how many people click on their links, and how many people interact on their social media accounts.

Washington, D.C.-area brokerage Avery-Hess, for example, reported it has about 1,000 interactions (people sharing, "Liking" or commenting) on its corporate Facebook page per week.

Counting interactions helps Avery-Hess track consumers’ awareness and views of the Avery-Hess brand — a rising concern amongst all kinds of businesses.

ComScore recently released Social Analytix, a social media monitoring and engagement platform that allows comScore clients to track brand mentions and consumer sentiment across social media and respond to customer service issues in real time.

Regardless of their success in social media, experts emphasized that social network marketing should only be one component of an overall marketing strategy.

"I believe firmly that an agent should have three to five prospecting methods. Social media, if the agent decides it is right for them, is only one of them. It should not replace all other prospecting," said Janie Coffey, owner of Papillon Real Estate in Coral Gables, Fla. Social media marketing is best for agents who already incorporate a sphere-of-influence model in their business, she added.

"Social media is much like the connections you make regularly attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, Rotary (club meetings) or community groups. You build relationships over time, you don’t just walk up and hand them a postcard of your latest listing," she said.

The GoodLife Team, a boutique real estate brokerage in Austin, Texas, draws 60 percent of its business from the Web, much of it through social media, said Krisstina Wise, its broker-owner and founder.

"In the past, a real estate agent could succeed through a single, focused strategy such as geographic farming. Today, it requires highly targeted marketing across multiple channels and from multiple sources; social networking; a dynamic website with relevant real-time information with a user-focus; search engine optimization so your dynamic website can actually be found; mobile strategies to meet today’s digital consumers needs — the list goes on and on," Wise said.

"The return on investment for social media is that you will still be in business in five years. Any drawbacks to social media are completely trumped by that fact," Wise added.

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