NEW YORK — This year, businesses will focus on the fruits of social media marketing, speakers at Real Estate Connect in New York City predicted Thursday.

In 2012, "we will start to see the results of our social media efforts," said Ernie Graham, general manager of social media search platform SocialBios, which Move Inc. acquired in July.

"2012 is the year of social media ROI (return on investment) for businesses," agreed Clara Shih, co-founder of social media software company Hearsay Social and author of The Facebook Era.

Hearsay Social’s platform helps businesses manage their social media presence and measure the results of that presence. Typically, the company tracks metrics such as the number of people that "Like" a brand or how many of a company’s agents participate in social media, but "now we’re starting to connect (social media) to sales," Shih said.

Social media success depends on fostering an ecosystem that keeps consumers involved, said Thomas Arnold, client partner at Facebook.

Inman News Social Media Director Katie Lance interviews Facebook client partner Thomas Arnold.

"(Engagement) is really the secret sauce … to be successful on Facebook," he said.

"It really doesn’t matter how many fans you have if they’re not coming to your page and taking advantage of what you’re offering," he added.

Agents and brokers can do that by providing great customer service, addressing consumer complaints, and adding value, Arnold said.

The latter could mean providing compelling content such as "the top 25 things to do in San Francisco" or "the top five ways to maintain your home’s value in a down economy," he suggested.

But real estate professionals need to take a long-term view of social media, Arnold added.

A lead does not just represent a single purchase, but potentially multiple future purchases, he said, not only from that person but from that person’s network. The average Facebook user has 230 friends.

"We did a study with Nielsen that says if you hear something from one of your friends on Facebook, you’re four times more likely to make a purchase than if you hear about it from somewhere else," Arnold said.

"Social is where the trust is," Graham said.

People are staying in touch with more people than they would have without Facebook. Many Facebook "friends" are actually "weak ties" that an individual doesn’t see on a daily basis, but perhaps used to go to school or work with, Shih said. Individuals tend to connect with such friends more often when one or the other reaches a milestone, such as getting married, having a child, or buying a house, she said.

"Weak ties are very important," Shih said. "Sometimes it’s an acquaintance that introduces you to someone who becomes very important in your life."

"Because of social networks, relationships are accelerating. People are deciding whether they want to date (people), whether they want to hire them, whether they want them to be their Realtor," she added.

Rather than a person being separated by six degrees from another person, that gap is now 4.74 degrees thanks to social media, Graham said.

For real estate professionals, that connectedness represents an opportunity. In a sneak peek, Graham showed attendees a tool that will show consumers how a particular listing agent is connected to them when they click on a listing detail page after a property search. The tool will not only encourage the consumer to reach out to an agent, but will also encourage agents to respond to more of their Web leads — many of which currently go unanswered, Graham said.

"It gives you a better lead in to engage with the client. When an agent sees a lead and sees that they’re connected through a friend of a friend, they’re more likely to engage with that person. It’s like a referral," he said.

"The message here (is): Build your social (presence)," he added.

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