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This story was first published on Sept. 30, 2021. It was updated on Jan. 6, 2023.
A couple summers ago, a video of a group of friends went viral. The video was simple: Six friends slowly sway back and forth to a beat, most of them wearing triumphant grins. But simplicity notwithstanding, the video racked up millions and millions of views on multiple social media platforms as viewers remixed it and superimposed their own image dancing along with the group of friends.
Loida Velasquez hopped on the trend a few months later. The Southern California-based agent and coach with the Real Brokerage has built a following and a business using social media, and as the video spread like wildfire she superimposed herself and added the text: “When your buyer’s offer finally gets accepted.”
Then she posted it to her Instagram Reel.
Velasquez’s post struck a cord and soon the video — which she also posted to her non-Reels feed of images and videos on Instagram — racked up more than 2,000 likes. Better still, the video won her business.
“I ended up getting two buyer leads from it,” she recalled at the time.
The episode highlights the key role Instagram — which is owned by Facebook parent company Meta — has come to play in the lives and work of some real estate professionals. Though social media platforms seemingly multiply endlessly, Instagram remains a gold standard for many agents and brokers. It’s big, its reach is unparalleled and it continues to evolve features that provide new ways to build and maintain a brand.
In the time since Velasquez’s post, Instagram has even grown in influence. Thanks to Elon Musk’s messy takeover of Twitter, and to concerns about Chinese government involvement in TikTok, interest in Instagram experienced something of a resurgence in late 2022 and early 2023.
To better understand how real estate professionals are harnessing Instagram, Inman reached out to agents and leaders who have successfully built followings on the platform.
Their feedback was virtual unanimous: Instagram can be a vital way for agents to differentiate themselves, as well as to pick up actual business the way Velasquez did. But succeeding on the photo-sharing site isn’t a given, or even always easy. It requires working hard, and working smart.
Below are the tips, tricks and best practices that real estate professionals shared with Inman.
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Instagram is constantly rolling out new features, but the space that it’s still best-known for — and which initially made it a hit — is called the Feed. This is the vertically scrolling stream of photos and videos.
In its early days, the Feed was simply a chronological display of content your friends and contacts shared. However, beginning in 2016, the Feed became algorithmic, meaning Instagram now prioritizes content it thinks users will like the most.
Two other important parts of Instagram to keep in mind are Stories and Reels. Stories debuted in 2016 as a Snapchat clone, but today has arguably grown into the platform’s biggest feature. Stories appear at the top of the app, and posts to Stories disappear after 24 hours. Once a user taps a story, it autoplays and will automatically load the next story if a user doesn’t tap out of the space.
As is the case with the Feed, Instagram prioritizes stories it thinks users will like. And for content creators, the goal is to be one of the first few stories that will be automatically visible when a user opens the app — something that can be accomplished via consistent engagement and regular posting.
Reels launched in 2020, and effectively copies TikTok. Users can access Reels via a “play” button at the bottom of the app. Reels are oriented around video — which Instagram has now said is its primary focus — and users scroll through content by swiping up.
Unlike Stories, which quickly toppled Snapchat’s dominance among ephemeral video platforms, Reels has yet to supplant TikTok — though Instagram’s heavy investment in video over the years has at least made Reels a viable TikTok rival.
There are other features on Instagram, such as messaging and content discovery tools, but the Feed, Stories and Reels sections are the most important places for aspiring real estate Instagramers to understand.
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Several of the experts who spoke with Inman started their Instagram journeys the same way: posting about real estate listings.
Ian Grossman, a Douglas Elliman agent based in Austin, Texas, is among them. Today Grossman has more than 19,500 followers on the platform. Grossman first started building that following years ago with simple images of homes that were for sale.
“I was taking [multiple listing service] listings of cool homes and I would post those,” Grossman told Inman. “I would always credit the listing broker. People apparently liked that. That’s how my account first started taking off.”
But Grossman also soon realized just posting home listing photos wasn’t enough. He described his early Instagram efforts as “like a robot” and said the content had “no real personality.”
This was a point that came up repeatedly in conversations for this story, and the idea is that simply posting listing photos — though a common strategy among some real estate agents — isn’t going to cut it forever. Instead, agents have to evolve their content to include, in Grossman’s words, more “personality.”
In Grossman’s case, his account has evolved to include both memes, as well as occasional images of his local market. Moreover, most of his Instagram content today is made up of video, rather than photos.
“I basically just take my TikTok posts and repurpose them into Reels,” he said.
Velasquez — who today has nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram — has taken a similar route, posting memes and videos that originally appeared on her Reels to her feed. She has also experimented with a recurring Instagram live video show that involves interviewing influential women in the business.
“Be your authentic self on Instagram,” she explained when asked about what content does well. “When I’ve incorporated myself and my hobbies that has enabled me to connect to people on a different level, outside of real estate. So, you’ll see me with my dogs or at the gym. And it has happened where someone from the gym has see my posts and they reach out.”
Eric Simon said agents on Instagram should also make sure they’re using all of the platform’s different features, such as Reels and Stories.
“Instagram rewards people who are consistent,” he said, “and people who are utilizing all aspects of the platform.”
Simon would know.
Though he is a licensed agent, today Simon primarily runs The Broke Agent, a real estate-focused media company that has more than 421,000 followers on Instagram. The account’s posts include videos like those that Grossman and Velasquez often share, as well as tweets, messages and memes. The posts routinely rack up thousands of views, and Simon noted that variety translates into success on Instagram.
“You have to mix it up,” he said. “You have to show video, and you have to create on the actual platform itself.”
Simon also advised real estate agents to focus on a specific audience, such as people in their own region.
“A niche is important,” he said. “If you’re an agent trying to reach out to your clients, I think a location is a great way to do that. You want to interact with your community. Do interviews with restaurant owners. Start specific. It’s easier to grow that way.”
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Figuring out what to post is the first challenge on Instagram. But the second, and more important challenge, is making sure people actually see that content.
There are a handful of strategies for doing that.
Because Instagram allows links in fewer places than other social platforms, one of the main tools for getting content in front of new audiences is the hashtag. Once a hashtag has been added to a post, users can click on it and find additional content with the same tag. Ergo, adding that tag may mean users exploring topics they like will end up on your content.
But hashtag use should be strategic. Simon, for example, recommended using only between five and eight. And he said to make them very specific.
“Do something local, like #santamonicaopenhouse as opposed to just #openhouse,” he said. “The general hashtags have millions and millions of posts on them so you’re not going to rank as highly on them. Using something like #realestate and #realtor is not going to do anything for you if you have 2,000 or 3,000 followers.”
Simon also said following and engaging with other accounts is a useful way to build a following. In his early days — before he had a follower count in the six figures — he targeted accounts with far more clout than he had. Simon would like their content and leave comments, which would then attract the attention of those bigger accounts’ followers.
“I had post notifications on for Gary V and Ryan Serhant and the ‘Selling Sunset‘ people so the second they’d post I would be aware and I could post something early and relevant,” Simon said. “The more you engage with other people and comment back to them the more likely they’re going to engage with you.”
He added that agents should consider “taking five minutes out of your day and commenting on 10 to 15 popular accounts, or accounts of other Realtors.”
Everyone who spoke with Inman also agreed that posting regularly and frequently is key. Grossman, for instance, advised users of the platform to post to Stories at least once a day.
“That’s what keeps people engaged in what you’re doing,” he explained.
Not everyone posts that frequently, but the thing everyone agreed on was that posts should come with some regularity.
Agents who have big followings elsewhere have also found success cross-promoting their Instagram accounts. Velasquez is among them; she has more than 86,000 followers on YouTube and regularly urges viewers on the video platform to come find her on Instagram.
“My following has been growing organically because of my YouTube channel,” she said.
In the end there are as many specific strategies for building an Instagram following as there are users on Instagram. But more than anything else, the key is to just keep at it.
“The real strategy was just consistency,” Simon concluded of his own success. “It wasn’t an immediate climb up, it took a lot of ground work.”
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While most agents who use Instagram are focused on building their personal accounts, brokerages, teams and real estate companies may also be running brand accounts on the platform as well.
To better understand how running a brand account — where the content is less about a single personality — works, Inman in 2021 reached out to Lena Johnson. Johnson is currently a vice president of marketing and head of luxury at Compass, but previously she headed up Compass’ luxury division and oversaw the company’s Instagram presence. Right now Compass currently has more than 183,000 followers on the platform.
Johnson told Inman Compass uses data to guide its posting strategy, and that the goal is to showcase “who we are, what we do, and the value we offer in a compelling way.” The company also aims for “accelerated growth, high levels of engagement, and optimal reach.”
What that specifically means is that Compass maps out its posting in advance, and using input from cross-department collaborations. As with personal accounts, Johnson said that consistency when posting is also key so that the company can “train audiences on what to expect and the value we add.”
Compass relies on many of the same growth strategies that other Instagram users employ. For instance, Johnson described “optimizing hashtag usage,” and pointed specifically to the company’s Tri-State account @compassny, which “has seen significant results driven by researching and employing niche hashtags.“
The brokerage also uses Instagram to partner with businesses and communities, which has further driven growth.
Additionally, as a large company Compass has more resources it can bring to bear, and Johnson noted that the brokerage uses paid advertising strategies when growing it’s Instagram footprint.
Johnson’s advice for other industry professionals working on Instagram was to stay informed, network with like-minded people who have a strong social media presence, and focus on “sharing high-quality content that adds value to your audience.”
“A social media platform is ultimately a portfolio and extension of your brand,” she concluded. “It is important to share content you’re proud of — low-res blurry listing images are far more damaging than a low follower count.”
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The industry members who spoke with Inman agreed that there are a number of material advantages to cultivating a strong Instagram presence. Simon, for instance, said that he’s received referrals from the platform. He’s also earned “more respect from other agents” in his region.
Grossman made a similar point. He recalled that about a month ago he received a referral from an agent in South Carolina. When Grossman asked how the agent found him, “She said that an agent in her office told her about me, and he found me on social media.”
Such stories are not out of the ordinary, and they highlight how there are major opportunities, and big money, in harnessing social media. And in Grossman’s case, that has paid off handsomely.
“I’ve definitely gotten a good amount of business from it,” he said. “It’s probably been a few million in volume from Instagram alone this year.”
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