When it comes to using social media as a business tool, real estate professionals have an array of strategies, tactics and platforms at their fingertips.

Social media is one of the most difficult domains to master as a real estate professional. That’s because the field of play is constantly shifting, with new social networks appearing all the time, and the popularity of various well-known services such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat constantly in flux.

When it comes to using social media as a business tool, real estate professionals need to consider not only which network or app is the best to accomplish a given task, but also the best time of day to post, how often to post, how to build a following, how to target ads and read analytics and even what colors to use to catch a potential follower’s eye (yellow allegedly increases conversion rates by 14.5 percent).

Inman surveyed our audience for information on how they use social media and what questions they have about the medium.

We also spoke to six social media whizzes in one-on-one interviews. What emerged is that the key to social media success doesn’t lie in a specific platform, a particular posting strategy or even having a large budget for advertising.

It’s in a mindset that focuses on authenticity, embraces disruption, puts relationships first, values consistency and understands how to utilize the medium of the day: video.

Social media fish hooks

Credit: Daniel Fishel/Inman

Getting started: Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn

In our survey of 105 agents, brokers and marketers, a whopping 97.14 percent of them said Facebook was one of the most important social media platforms for their business, and 77.67 percent said if they could only use one platform for their business, it would be Facebook.

Instagram and LinkedIn came in second and third with 65.71 and 53.33 percent of respondents using those platforms for their business, respectively.

Although YouTube (42.86 percent) and Twitter (26.67 percent) made the top 5, agents and experts agree — Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are the foundation for a rock-solid social media strategy.

Credit: Inman/SurveyMonkey

Think about your audience and brand

Jason Frazier, a.k.a. The Agent Marketer, says agents often make the mistake of jumping into social media without having a precise definition of their brand and their intent for joining the platform.

Frazier challenges the agents he coaches to go beyond the color schemes, the fancy logos and suave headshots and ask the tough questions that will lead them to a career with real staying power.

“The brand is you, and the brand is how a consumer feels about doing business with you,” he said. “Your brand is what a consumer tells another consumer about what it is to do business with you.”

“How are you trying to get business? Are you the one that’s always available? Are you the full-service agent who makes sure everything is taken care of?” Frazier continued.

Those qualities, he said, will guide every decision you make on social media from the content you share, the ads you run and the people you decide to make connections with.

Social media coach and strategist Katie Lance echoed Frazier’s sentiments, saying that creating a brand takes patience and flexibility.

“Your brand will evolve,” she said. “You’ll know if you’re being true to yourself or if you’re trying to put yourself into a box that doesn’t quite fit.”

Shannon Milligan of RVA Home Team brokered by eXp Realty in Richmond, Virginia, knows all about creating a brand that resonates.

Milligan, who launched her social media journey two years ago, embraced her love of movies and pop culture to craft eye-catching listing videos, which has earned her a spot as one of Richmond’s most creative and hilarious real estate agents.

“I have a following of people who say, ‘she’s really creative, and she thinks outside the box,’ and I’ve built trust with people because they get to see me and know me,” she said. “It’s not about building a stuffy brand; it’s about letting your personality shine through.”

After you’ve done a little self-exploration, it’s time to turn your attention outward and specify your audience.

Is your specialization first-time buyers or military families? Do you feel more connected with millennial buyers on the move or baby boomers who are finally ready to downsize or purchase a vacation home? What home price tier do you want to sell?

Once you understand your demographics, you’ll determine which platforms will work best for you.

Don’t feel pressured to be on every platform

“Everybody should not be using everything,” said Chelsea Peitz, a former agent turned social media strategist.

Peitz said agents often stop before they get started because they’re overwhelmed with trying to be everywhere at once. Instead, she says, use your brand, your goals and your audience demographics to determine where to start first.

Case in point: Facebook has users of all ages, but Snapchat’s user base has begun to skew younger, meaning that a majority of users aren’t at the homebuying age.

The most popular social media platforms by age | Source: Pew Research Center

“It’s not about our preference and what we like, it’s about what the consumer likes,” she said of choosing where to start.

Alex Wang, who built part of his social media reputation on innovative Snapchat videos, is a perfect example of adjusting to your audience. Two years ago, Wang took Silicon Valley’s growing real estate market by storm with Snapchat videos that showed the everyday life of an agent.

The popularity of those videos garnered him features in magazines such as Wired and numerous speaking engagements at conferences, including Inman Connect. But when he realized his audience, young up-and-coming professionals and families, were no longer using the platform, he decided to leave Snapchat behind and embrace Instagram and YouTube as his go-to platforms.

“It’s about seeing where the eyeballs are at,” Wang said.

Facebook and LinkedIn are must-haves

For agents who are starting out and don’t necessarily have an audience, everyone says Facebook is the place to start.

“If you master Facebook, it’ll be easier for you to master Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube,” Frazier said. “Facebook is the easiest to learn and navigate, and it’s a convergence of so many types of content creation.”

Facebook, more than any other platform, he said, allows agents to test out many forms of content, from long-form pseudo-blogging, long-form and short videos, polls, quizzes and ads.

Once you’ve mastered Facebook, you can tweak your content to fit other platforms’ formatting rules. For example, a landscape video orientation works relatively well on Facebook, but on Instagram, you’ll need to make sure your videos are square, so they’ll fit with Instagram’s grid layout.

In addition to Facebook, Lance says agents, especially rookies, must join LinkedIn.

“I think LinkedIn is the best-kept secret,” she said with a laugh. “It’s the only professional social media platform where it’s OK to talk about your business all day long. Whereas on Facebook, you have to be careful.”

While Facebook is consumer-facing, LinkedIn allows agents to build connections with other professionals.

Lance suggests regularly updating your profile, which includes a compelling summary that explains why you’re in real estate, why you love what you do, what areas you serve and your contact information.

Lance’s LinkedIn profile summary, which includes plenty of video content.

Next, agents should begin writing posts on LinkedIn that show their expertise, sharing great news or blog content, commenting on others’ posts and giving recommendations.

“When you give someone an unexpected recommendation, they’re more likely to return the favor,” she said.

After you have Facebook and LinkedIn down pat, you’ll have the room to expand to other platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube, that resonate with you and inspire greater creativity.

How to master content creation -- especially video

Now that you’ve created your profiles, it’s time to populate them with great content. But, be careful not to fall into the listing video trap.

“When you’re at an event, do you hand out your latest listing flyer to everyone you meet?” said Frazier. “No, you’d never do that.”

“But you’re more than happy to do that on Facebook or Instagram,” he added. “You’re basically passing out flyers all the time digitally.”

Instead, he says, focus on being an educator and answering consumers’ questions about the homebuying and selling process. That’s the kind of content that keeps consumers coming back.

Frazier and Peitz say it’s important to keep track of the questions current and past clients have asked you. Each of those questions can be turned into a two- to three-minute video that you can share each week.

“Break it down and make it easy — you could do 15 little videos about every step of [the homebuying or selling] process,” she said.

After doing an in-depth brainstorming session, Peitz and Lance say you need to create a programming schedule, much like a T.V. show. That keeps you organized, on-task and holds you accountable.

At the beginning of the month, Lance brainstorms video ideas and plans them out. From there, she’ll batch film the videos, so all she has to do is schedule them to go out once a week.

“If you’re going to sit down and do your hair and makeup for one video, you might as well sit down and do four or five,” she said. “Then it’s about parsing it out.”

Furthermore, Frazier says having themed days, such as “Market Update Monday,” or “Fun Friday” helps you to stay focused and creates an expectation with your audience so they’ll keep coming back on specific days for that particular content.

He also says agents don’t need to get hung up on the “right” day to post or the “right” time to post — good content will get engagement no matter what.

On average, agents spend about two hours or less on each social media platform per week. Facebook was the only platform where at least 20 percent of agents said they spend seven hours or more, which is no surprise because more than 36 percent of respondents publish five to 10 posts per week on the platform.

Credit: Inman/SurveyMonkey

For the other platforms (Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest), the majority of respondents post less than five times a week or not at all (Snapchat, Nextdoor, WeChat).

Again, none of these answers are necessarily “right” or “wrong,” but Frazier says it’s important to do A/B testing over a period of at least six months to figure out your best posting frequency and determine some tried-and-true days and times you can fall back on.

“Test it!” he said. “Do similar content at different times and days to see what works.”

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, video has been the cornerstone of many of these expert’s social media strategies, so, if you’re not doing video, you’re missing out.

More than 60 percent of survey respondents said video (60.52 percent) will be the most important to the future of social media in business, followed by the use of artificial intelligence (60.42 percent) and augmented/virtual reality (30.21 percent).

Social Media Guide Q26

Credit: Inman/SurveyMonkey

Peitz agreed with our respondents’ assessment and predicts that Facebook will be mainly video by 2020, and it may even take over YouTube as the go-to video hub. She also says that consumers are demanding video content because unlike other content types, video allows consumers to see who you really are.

“There’s something about a video or a Facebook Live,” Peitz said. “You can’t hide who you are.”

Milligan and Wang say video content took their businesses to the next level and has built an unbreakable trust between them and their clients.

“People want to work with people they know, like and trust,” Milligan said. “Video builds an automatic trust between myself and the viewer.”

Milligan is an expert in creative listing videos that take inspiration from movies and shows such as Stranger Things, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Mission Impossible and Big. She also does educational buyer and seller videos each week that help her followers understand the ins-and-outs of a real estate transaction.

Milligan says agents have to surmount the fear of making mistakes in order to meet their clients where they are.

“Video is going to be the way that we have to communicate with people,” she said. “People are craving relationships, and we have to meet people where they are.”

Despite being known for raw, behind-the-scenes video on Snapchat, Wang says he’s not necessarily a natural in front of the camera.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said.

Nowadays, Wang has a videographer to follow him around and film every part of his day for his YouTube vlog series, and he has an opportunity to reshoot some scenes when he flubs a sentence.

But, he’s still making live videos on Instagram Stories and now on IGTV. He has to remind himself to keep the camera at eye-level and keep his speaking pace steady, but for him, it’s all worth it.

“I think it’s about not being afraid to try,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear involved on social media, it’s the unknown, I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to fail, or I don’t want to share my personal life. But you have to get over that.”

Navigating relationships on social media

According to our survey, marketing (88.57 percent), advertising (74.29 percent), publishing news and information about your business or industry (76.19 percent) and generating leads (63.81 percent) are the top ways agents and brokers use social media.

Meanwhile, communicating with clients (53.3 percent) and partners (30.48 percent) rank toward the bottom of the nine options we gave, something our experts would surely be disappointed in.

Credit: Inman/SurveyMonkey

“At the end of the day, if you’re an agent that says and truly believes that this is a relationship business, then you need to act as such when you’re on Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever,” Frazier said. “It’s about connecting and creating relationships.”

Lance says agents face the temptation of “posting and running,” but agents must comment on others’ posts, become active in real estate Facebook groups and be willing to share more intimate details of their lives. Those actions give consumers and colleagues a more authentic and holistic understanding of who you are and what you stand for.

Authenticity doesn’t necessarily come naturally, Peitz says, especially when you’re new to social media. But, consistency and practice will make you more comfortable and enable your true self to shine through.

She also says it’s important to realize that you have the ability to make people laugh, make people cry and feel a range of emotion through your content and interactions, and it’s an ability that agents don’t use enough.

So, be open to sharing behind-the-scenes footage of your day at work, pictures of your family or talking about your hobbies. Those things, she said, allow people to find commonality and trust.

While sharing personal tidbits build connections, sharing too much can burn bridges.

Twitter bird tweeting

Credit: Daniel Fishel/Inman

How to recover from a social media faux pas

More than once, we’ve heard of agents who shared political views, made controversial statements on hot-button issues or veered into being downright discriminatory or insulting. Sometimes, those agents have been able to recover, but most times, they lose their livelihood.

Although some say avoid controversial or political topics like the plague, Lance says agents can share their views as long as they’re aware of the risks involved.

“I think agents need to understand that whatever they put out there anyone could see and it could affect their reputation,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking about politics or hot-button issues, as long as that agent knows they may be alienating other people or offending others.”

She also notes that some agents can make their political stances and involvement a part of their brand.

“For example, if you look at Team Diva Real Estate in Seattle, they are very vocal about their political opinions; however, they have really leaned into who they are and who they are not, and as a result, their business is booming with other like-minded individuals,” Lance said. “That approach isn’t for everyone, but it is something to think about.”

Frazier, on the other hand, suggests that agents steer clear of sharing political or ideological leanings because once something is said, “wrath of the social mediaverse is quick and unrelenting.”

But if you find yourself in a pickle because of an off-the-cuff remark, here’s what Frazier says you can do to recover:

  1. Don’t try to “walk it back.” You look disingenuous at best when you do that. You said it, now own it.
  2. Now that you have owned it, take responsibility, and apologize to anyone who took offense. Do this voluntarily and not after a few days of being put on blast.
  3. Do not go negative online. Do not get into a “flame war” with trolls and internet users. Nobody wins when that happens. You can’t get clean by rolling around in the mud,
  4. Do not slip into “PR Speak,” when explaining yourself or making amends — humans crave authenticity. This goes to point No. 1.

Creating ads, getting leads and tracking results

“You don’t have to go on there and sell, just stay top-of-mind,” Peitz said.

Michael Meier, the broker/owner of Meier Real Estate, says he trains his agents this way. Build relationships first, and leads will follow.

Before jumping on social media, Meier tells his agents to go out and meet people “the old-fashioned way,” and then extend those relationships to online platforms by asking people for their social media information.

His agents are then able to continue interacting with potential consumers across multiple platforms and build a funnel that creates consistent business leads.

“If an agent just does one thing and doesn’t make it part of the overall package, it’s like sending out one postcard to few thousand people,” he said. “You’re not going to get any results.”

“Those contacts need to be cross-pollinated, those contacts need to be in your CRM, they need to be in an email campaign,” Meier added. “Some people have a ton of followers on a social channel, but there’s no funnel.”

Credit: Inman/SurveyMonkey

When it comes to creating ads, it’s important to target your warmest audience and make sure your ad doesn’t look like an ad.

“When you’re running ads, you want to target your warmest audience,” Lance said. “The biggest mistake is that people will run an ad or boost a post to everyone in their market from the ages of 18 to 65, which is a huge bucket to fill.”

“Set yourself up for success — target people who already watched your videos, engaged with you on Facebook or are on your database,” she added.

She also says the use of emojis and professional photography or stock photos that look natural help ads look like “normal” posts. She also says to avoid capitalizing every word of the ad’s title.

“That will immediately alert followers that it’s an ad,” she said laughing.

When it comes to your ad budget, it all depends on what you can afford. When it comes to Facebook, respondents usually had a budget of $20 or less (22.2 percent). Another 17.17 percent said they don’t spend anything at all on the platform. 

As for the other eight platforms we asked about (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Nextdoor, WeChat) more than 50 percent of respondents said they spend nothing on advertising. 

According to Frazier, agents are woefully underfunding their advertising efforts. He says agents should ideally start out with a $250–500 budget, but you can get by with spending less or nothing at all.

He says Facebook Marketplace is an underused tool to run ads.

“The biggest opportunity on Facebook to generate leads is Facebook Marketplace, but not as an agent looking to place listings on there,” Frazier explained. “Use Facebook Marketplace advertise free homebuying seminars.

“Use nice graphics and tell homebuyers they can come to the class or webinar and learn about how to buy a home without perfect credit or a 20 percent down payment.”

Peitz also noted that she’s spent zero on advertising while building her personal brand, but that tactic yields leads at a much slower pace. She suggests relying on organic and paid tactics to reach an audience but warns agents that paid advertising takes time to work, too.

Peitz says there’s not a guaranteed timeline for social media lead conversion or advertising success, an assertion that was backed up by our survey results.

Nearly 50 percent of respondents said it takes one to three months to convert a social media lead, and another 24.21 percent said it takes up to six. Although it’s not often, some agents reported it takes 18 to 24 months for a lead to be converted.

Credit: Inman/SurveyMonkey

Furthermore, the average lead conversion rate for all social media platforms hovers around 1 percent to 2 percent.

Credit: Inman/SurveyMonkey

“Some people could go one or two years without ever getting a lead from [social media], and suddenly get three leads on year two. Some people could just start using Instagram Stories or Snapchat and get a lead right away,” Peitz said.

“It’s about consistency long term,” she concluded.

So, how do you know if your ads are working?

If your intent behind the ads is lead generation, then keeping track of the number of leads you’ve gotten will be your metric. But if the purpose of your ad is to create brand awareness, then there are a few ways to track your progress.

Lance suggests using bit.ly to create personalized links for each ad. Then all you have to do is go to bit.ly’s analytics page and see how many clicks you’ve gotten. She also suggests making sure your ads lead to a landing page that captures a consumer’s name and email, and you can see how many contacts you’ve gotten.

But, the best way to know what’s working, is by getting out there and paying attention to anecdotal cues.

“It’s not about calculating how many deals I got off this post,” Meier said. “You’re on social media, are you getting feedback from people that they’re seeing you?”

“When you go to an event, are they saying to you, ‘Yeah, we’re seeing you all the time. We love what you’re putting out there.’”

A few months ago, Milligan received some strong anecdotal evidence supporting the effectiveness of her videos and ads.

In March, she went to a restaurant with her husband and while they waited at the bar a man turns around, sees her and says, “Oh my god, you’re the Stranger Things girl!” He then went on to explain that he made his wife watch the video and then called his wife over to meet Milligan.

“With video, you can see views, but you can’t see brand in an analytical way and that was a nice confirmation that what we’re doing is working,” she said.

Success comes after consistency

“People track a lot of this stuff, but they don’t give it time. With content and ads, it can take eight to 12 months for things to happen,” Lance said. “It’s like a snowball.”

“A lot of people give up,” she added, “and that’s why they’re not being successful [on social media].”

Email Marian McPherson.