When Facebook bought Instagram for almost $1 billion in 2012, some people raised their eyebrows at what seemed like a ridiculous amount of money for a social media network. But five years later, Facebook is laughing all the way to the bank. Most real estate agents (and brokerages) have embraced Facebook as an important part of a well-rounded marketing strategy, but a lot fewer have jumped on Instagram’s bus to date. That might be a mistake.

  • It's possible to find leads on Instagram, but most successful real estate users are focusing on its relationship-building capabilities.
  • Instagram Stories and Instagram Live are excellent tools for promoting open houses; consider how those "extras" fit into your branding.

When Facebook bought Instagram for almost $1 billion in 2012, some people raised their eyebrows at what seemed like a ridiculous amount of money for a social media network. But five years later, Facebook is laughing all the way to the bank — in 2014, Citigroup said that Instagram was worth $35 billion, and the platform just keeps growing.

Most real estate agents (and brokerages) have embraced Facebook as an important part of a well-rounded marketing strategy, but fewer have jumped on Instagram’s bus to date. And judging from what three power users told us, that might be a mistake: This platform is a powerful one for connecting with your sphere and growing your business.

Why Instagram?

“There is a growing base of people who are actively using Instagram to monetize a level of success,” noted Shawneequa Badger, an agent in the San Francisco Bay Area.

That includes celebrities like the Kardashians, Beyoncé and other influencers who can create a viral post (and sometimes a news story) with a picture.

“We know we have to create longevity,” Badger explained, and millennials are going to be a big part of the market. Where do they hang out? Instagram.

Seth O’Byrne, who operates a real estate team in San Diego, was on Facebook in 2005 looking for real estate clients among his fellow University of San Diego alumni. O’Byrne was able to catch the leading waves of the social media movement. But today, everyone’s on Facebook — so he’s distributing his energy elsewhere.

“When Facebook became too saturated, that’s when we really took a jump into Instagram because we started recognizing that the specificity of the marketing was starting to go away,” O’Byrne explained. “And as a niche-driven industry, general shotgun marketing doesn’t work for us. We need to be rifle.”

When Realtors ask Andrea Fowler, a Dallas agent, about approaching Instagram, she tells them: “‘You can’t get on there and be like, I’m a Realtor, use me’ — because no one cares.”

Instead, she says, agents need to focus on what their audience needs: “Provide the value. Find a way to make them know, like and trust you. Find a few things you know you can talk about — you already have real estate as a given.”

Remember that first and foremost, Instagram is designed for entertainment, noted O’Byrne.

“It’s a nervous, fidgety habit that people are absolutely addicted to — the cigarette of social media,” he said.

If life is what you make of it, then I think the same could be said of business too. I spent the better part of the day directing a 5 pound Pomeranian as she strutted through our newest multi million dollar high rise listing. Treats, lights, high-powered cameras and a lot of dog hair. That was about the size of it. We sweated in the unbearable heat, we laughed so hard I nearly cracked a rib and in the end we ended up with some of the most hilarious footage we’ve ever gotten. All in the name of making a splash and getting our amazing new listing in front of as many eyes as possible. Creativity is an inexact art. Some days you fail miserably and some days it feels like genius. Yesterday I don’t think we even cared though, because it was just so darn fun. A huge thank you to @bradyspear and @inspotdesign for the 🎬🎥📸, congratulations to @mia_tidwell for coming up with such a great idea and as usual thank you to my lovely wife @jessieobyrne for trusting me with our hairy daughter #mochithebandit 🐶. I’m so excited to share the final product with you all but in the meantime I thought it would be fun to share a little behind the scenes photo. Let’s keep creating everybody!!! 🎥🐶🎬📸🍾😂😂😂😂

A post shared by Seth O’Byrne (@seth_obyrne) on

Does the long game work?

Agents who use Instagram regularly (and powerfully) say that they’re not using it to drive leads — at least, not obviously or intentionally.

Instead, Instagram is a way for them to connect with potential future buyers and sellers, to humanize themselves and educate their audiences.

If you approach the platform with that goal in mind, and think of it as a marathon instead of a sprint, you’ll see the benefits to your business, they argue.

“I understand that things in regard to your business don’t necessarily happen immediately,” said Badger. “I appreciate that there are sites that have 10,000 followers, but I’d rather have quality over quantity — I’m not selling a product that costs $40; I’m selling one that starts at $300,000.”

“Real estate at the high end isn’t about needs, it’s about wants,” explained O’Byrne. “By design it’s no different than a yacht or a sports car. It’s meant to fill basic dreams, not basic needs.

“People are so beat up by media they see every day,” he added. “They want to be refreshed by the content they see.”

But you have to be consistent, he noted. “Our strength on Instagram is a long play. It’s something you very slowly cultivate with a lot of hard work and daily commitment to posts. It’s like going to the gym: You’ve got to go every day.”

What, exactly, do you post?

“At the core, we call it ‘house porn,'” O’Byrne said. “We want to show people sexy, hot stuff.”

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A post shared by Seth O’Byrne (@seth_obyrne) on

“People love Instagram accounts because they enrich their lives, whether it’s just a meme account to make them giggle or a fledgling entrepreneur who wants to see photos of fancy houses to keep them motivated to work hard to earn it,” O’Byrne explained. “Inspiration and entertainment are critical parts of that side of marketing.”

O’Byrne uses these three concepts to evaluate his Instagram posts

  • Connectivity – sharing content that shows he’s connected to his client base
  • Credibility – evidence of success, or the “humblebrag” posts
  • Celebrity – posts that show him on stage talking to an audience or behind-the-scenes shots of a big event

You need a balance, he argues. “I think it’s important, if you look at the rhythm of your posts, to make celebrity posts sparing, because they can come off wrong-sided,” he explained. “I have to always go back and re-engage and do connectivity stuff — ‘I’m on the ground level; here’s a funny story about when a kid pooped in his diaper during a showing.’

“If you’re too larger-than-life, people won’t connect with you and they won’t call you,” he added. “If you’re too down-in-the-dirt, it sometimes affects your ability to expand your high-priced listing and luxury listing business. And credibility is always there by showing you the evidence of ‘sold.'”

He considers a mix of video and still images (including mini-albums) and tries to make sure that the colors in his posts contrast with each other, so that anyone who pulls up his account sees a striking variety.

“We like our videos to be mostly lifestyle with a little bit of the house in it,” he noted. They use mini-albums if there’s a bigger story to be told with the images, but otherwise, “I’m a big fan of the single photo, and the focal point should be front and center.

“Photos of large crowds or photos of a property from a drone where you see hundreds of homes — that stuff is terrible,” he added.

He suggests that newbies just starting out — or veterans trying to enhance their strategies — look at what top producers in bigger markets are doing on Instagram and emulate it.

“I like to look at posts and followers, and when I see a spike in engagement numbers then I think ‘That might be a good one fro me to recreate,'” he explained. “I follow people in superior markets that are more prolific and have more tech-savvy brokers — if you look in those markets and peg people who are really great, you can copy them without fear of running into them at a coffee shop.”

Whenever she closes on a property, Badger posts a Beyoncé video. “That’s how I celebrate,” she explained. “It’s gotten so embraced that people have really connected to it — I have buyers going ‘One of these days, I’m going to be able to do a Beyoncé dance.'”

She also posts “anytime I do anything transactional” — contracts and sales. “I try to let people know what I’m doing during the day because they like the journey.” Events, industry engagements and sharing a moment with her daughter are other areas of content that she tries to mix in, too.

“I want people to feel like I’m relatable,” she said. “I’m in financial services, I sell real estate, but I want people to feel like they can trust me with the biggest investment they’re going to make.”

Badger says that the Instagram business platform gives her “a better understanding of what your impressions are, who’s looking at your information, the mix of people that are looking at your information and who are following you.

“The numbers really drive what I do,” she added. “I understand on a per-post basis and also collectively over a week’s time what the top posts are.”

One new area that Badger is starting to explore is the pet world of Instagram. “People are so tied into their pets,” she noted. “When I say ‘Happy home anniversary’ to people who have bought in the past, sometimes I’m featuring their dogs and cats so people can understand I’m not just putting a family into the house that has two legs, I’m making sure the four-legged family members are taken care of, too.”

Fowler has given each day of the week a theme so that she never has to think too hard about what to post.

  • Marketing Mondays – marketing her business
  • Tuesday tips – things buyers or sellers might want to know
  • “Wow” Wednesday – previews of new construction homes and communities
  • Thursday blog – she directs her posts back to her blog
  • Fun Friday – free reign: surveys on which house has the best curb appeal
  • Saturdays are an Instagram-free day because Fowler is typically working all day
  • Sunday fun-day – this is Fowler’s day off, so she tells her audience what she’s up to

“I like to go to festivals and concerts so I post about that,” Fowler added. “I’m very intentional about it — even if it’s just me posting Sunday fun-day in a specific part of town, it may be because I want to highlight that area.”

How do you handle the extras?

Badger uses the platforms Instastories feature to update her followers about what she’s doing that day.

“It’s a real-life testament of what my day looks like, how I’m servicing clients and why I’m up at 10 p.m. reviewing disclosures,” she said.

If she’s out at a conference, she might do a quick Instastory interview with a lender about a program that helps first-time buyers entering the marketplace, for example. “It’s a mixture of things that people want to hear about because they want to know how to get into the market without feeling intimidated, and they need to know it’s for them, too,” she noted.

Badger also likes using the Instagram Live function for open houses. Sometimes she asks other agents: “When was the last time you had a minimum of 300 people show up to your open house?”

“I can get between 700 and 1,200 people to watch a video on average,” she said. “Understanding that creates a lot of momentum in my business.”

By contrast, O’Byrne says that his team uses Instagram Stories but doesn’t use a lot of the “live” functionality on either Facebook or Instagram. “We shoot a lot of what we do with a professional camera or video camera,” he explained. “We want to achieve an aesthetic that we’re really polished,” and he says that live video can create “a more campy, colloquial, everyday-person look.

“There has to be  a healthy amount of that,” he added, “but we have a pretty good idea of how we want people to feel. All the live functions are very valuable, but I think every real estate practitioner has to have a really honest conversation with themselves about, ‘is this consistent with the brand identity I wanted.'”

… And can you get leads on Instagram?

Despite the fact that Instagram is primarily a tool for building a reputation and keeping in touch with clients, you might get an actual hot lead using the platform, too.

There’s a very common misconception “that old rich people don’t go on Instagram or Facebook, which could not be more wrong,” noted O’Byrne.

“This is probably going to shock you: My investors all come from Instagram,” said Badger. “They’ll do multimillion-dollar deals, and they’re on Instagram. i was shocked at the level of investors who were inboxing me and saying ‘I’m interested in A, B, C and D.’

“I get some buyers,” she added. “For the most part, I haven’t been able to convert a listing on Instagram — and that’s not to say that won’t happen, the longer I’m on and active and engaging.”

Fowler has also picked up referrals and leads on Instagram — buyers moving to Dallas who like the information she’s spreading, for example. “It’s a chance to show people who you are and give your brand a voice and a face so they can connect with you,” she said. “Even if you don’t know these people, half the time if you follow them, then you feel like you know them.”

O’Byrne says he gets “probably one intriguing lead a week” and his team sells about 10 homes a year for listing clients generated from Instagram. They also get referrals from the platform, too.

“I haven’t abandoned Facebook,” O’Byrne said, “but Instagram has some really important differences, and one of the differences is you can create a massive following on Instagram.”

He adds that the platform is “one of the quickest ways to create some level of notoriety.

“The leads we get on Facebook are typically people I’ve already sold real estate to,” O’Byrne concluded. “Instagram, by comparison, I think, is an amazing place to grow a new audience and really achieve the third ‘C’ — celebrity.”

Email Amber Taufen

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