Relevant and engaging content is the name of the game

Recently, I reached out to Gina Uriarte, social media manager at Frank Howard Allen, an independently owned and operated brokerage in the North Bay in California. I have been a fan of their social media strategy for sometime and wanted to interview Gina to find out more about what they are doing right and how they are doing it.  They are a great example of a local company that doesn’t have tens of thousands of followers/likes but they really “get it” in terms of providing relevant and engaging content. Big thanks to Gina for this interview!

Tell me a little about your brokerage. How many offices to you have? Number of agents? Areas you serve?

Frank Howard Allen is an independently owned and operated brokerage serving the North Bay (Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties) since 1910. We have 22 offices and more than 300 agents.

Why was it important to have a social strategy as a brokerage?

Social media is another means of branding and should be in line with the overall corporate strategy. The foundation of real estate and social media are the same: relationships. So social media is a natural fit for a brokerage and it is very important to one, embrace social media, and two, do it thoughtfully with a sound strategy in place. And that strategy should focus on branding, building loyalty and good will and creating an open channel of communication.

How long have you been on Facebook and Twitter?

Since early 2009

Are there other networks you are on too? (G+? LinkedIn? Pinterest? Instagram? Foursquare?)

We started using Pinterest in 2011, we syndicate our listings on YouTube, and we have a second account on Twitter that is a dedicated feed for new listings.

Do you have a content strategy in place? 

I personally manage our content strategy and it ultimately stems from our tagline, “Love Where You Live.” That is the driving force behind choosing what content to post and everything can go back to that message.

How do you know what to post and when? A calendar? Who manages that?

When deciding what and when to post, I work from a very organic approach. I know in my head that I want to get a handful of tweets out throughout the day and two to four Facebook posts in a week, which is a schedule that was derived from trial and error and has been successful. Finding good content is of course the tricky part. Content is consumed voluntarily, so it has to be valuable and important enough for our audience to pay attention to. For that, I look to a lot of sources. First I ask myself, what’s going on right now? What are people talking about that I can add something to? For example, I follow Holiday Insights to look for quirky and unique holidays throughout the year. This can lead to silly but fun posts that resonate with our audience. These topics often tend to trend on Twitter as well, so there’s an opportunity there to use a popular hashtag to gain further traction. Something else I look out for are any awards or accolades for the area. We’re so fortunate to live where we do and are often named to “Best of” lists – everything from Best Place to Live to Best Small Town to Best Cake. I have Google Alerts set up for several keywords and find content to post or speak to that way.

Where do you find your inspiration for content?

I find inspiration everywhere. Sometimes it’s as easy as looking out my office window and seeing that the sun is shining and that leads to a post. Some of my favorite (and our most popular as well) posts are the “Today (or This Weekend) we’re…” with a picture that perfectly captures the current mood, whether that’s sitting on a porch overlooking the ocean, swimming in an amazing pool or curling up by a cozy fireplace.

What are some of the successful social media campaigns that you have run? How do you handle promoting listings on social media?

When we first started on Facebook, we ran a blog series called “100 Reasons to Love Where You Live” in conjunction with the anniversary of our Centennial and it was a great source of content. We also ran a campaign called the Weekly Trilogy in which each week I posted a triptych of listing photos all centered around a common theme. This was a nice way for us to promote our listings in a fun and unexpected way (example: http://ow.ly/eHWpA). As a real estate firm it would be so easy for us to simply post: “Check out this great new home that just came on the market,” but that’s not the approach we take. It’s about finding ways to promote our listings that are still fun and engaging. I use our listings as inspiration for our posts, I don’t use our posts to sell our listings.

Does Facebook Insights play a role in your content strategy?

Facebook Insights is also a powerful tool that I use for determining my content approach. The vast majority of our posts that have the most reach and virality are photo posts, and the posts with the most engaged users include a caption posing some form of a question. I visit Facebook Insights regularly to track which posts resonate with our audience.

What are some of your goals from being on Facebook and Twitter as a brokerage? (i.e. recruiting, consumer info, brand positioning, etc?)

From a business perspective, you want to maximize social media to affect your bottom line, but that cannot be the driving force. You should always be thinking about providing value that ultimately leads to sales. But that middle step cannot be ignored. Social media is about relationship building. My main goal (and challenge) from the beginning has been to not treat social media as a sales tool, but rather to provide fun and engaging content that is an extension of what we value and stand for as a brokerage. If we build a strong community, the rest will come naturally: recruiting, education, branding, etc.

How do you support your agents who want to be successful on social media?

We offer a special training called, “Social Media for Real Estate,“ which covers best practices for the most popular social media sites. The main message that we try to convey (and practice ourselves) is that it’s impossible to be everywhere, so pick one or two or a few channels and focus on doing those well. We also encourage our agents to follow and share our content and we make things as easy as possible to share: our blog posts, property listing pages, and newsletters all have share buttons. We recently added a training on managing online presence where we are show our agents easy but cutting edge tools for improving their overall online brand.

Do you have any stats you can share about how your social presence has grown or what it has done for your business?

We have a strong community of dedicated followers. I was proud when an agent said she chose to work at this brokerage over a competitive brokerage specifically because of our social media. We were also used as a case study for who is doing social media well during a presentation at a Leading RE conference. Overall, we have seen very positive growth trends.

Do you feel like as a broker or agent you can measure ROI from social media?

You can look at important data, such as Likes and Followers, page views, shares, and engagement rates to see if your message is reaching your audience, but determining ROI from social media is akin to measuring word of mouth. Social media is about branding, relationships, communication, loyalty, trust, and good will. If you can be successful at that, there will be a return on investment.

How is social media a two-way street?

If you’re just talking at people, about yourself, they’re not going to pay attention. Welcome participation and feedback – and participate as well. Leave comments on other pages, respond to tweets – be active and engaged. Think about how you use social media personally, and then adapt your marketing strategy so that it is the same. If you don’t want a brand that you follow giving you the hard sell, your fans probably don’t want to hear it from you either.

How do you feel about using the same content on multiple channels?

Avoid syncing posts. It’s fine to share the same link or photo on both Facebook and Twitter, but you’re going to want to do it in a different way. Take the time to tailor the posts for the channel and the audience. If you find a great image on Pinterest that you want to share on Facebook, do it. And include the link back to Pinterest. That’s great because 1) people will see that you’re on Pinterest and may decide to look around there and 2) it gives the photo’s source.

How does Pinterest fit into your content strategy?

In addition to sharing some of our more fabulous listings, on our Pinterest page, we recently created two boards call “For Sale” – and they highlight different living rooms and kitchens that we currently have for sale on our company web site. The idea here is to be able to have a quick one-stop-shop for choosing a home based on style, preference or design, as an alternative to a standard listing search. The boards also provide inspiration for those who are simply looking for current kitchen or interior design ideas. These boards are constantly changing so there’s always reason to come back and see what’s up for sale

In addition to our listings, we take advantage of the local area with the following boards:

  • Marin County – scenic shots
  • Wine Country – scenic shots
  • That’s so Marin – Marin County lifestyle
  • Only in the Wine Country – Wine Country lifestyle
  • Made in the North Bay – local restaurants, food and products
  • Where to put my wine? – wine storage and accessories
  • 100 Reasons to Love Where We Live – a collection of our blog posts

And then have several boards dedicated to all things “home” – my two favorites are Be Bold and The Playful Home

Can you give your best tip for maximizing social media?

I think my biggest tip would be what I share with our agents: find what works for you and do it well. You don’t need to jump on every social media site just for the sake of being there. But if you do want to try something, commit the time and the resources to be successful. You cannot build a community overnight. Just like real life, it takes time and energy to build relationships and gain trust. Start by watching and observing. Find the right people to follow, learn the rules/etiquette/lingo, determine your audience, and then become more actively involved. Always be open to trying something new and constantly be on the lookout for creative and unique approaches to sharing information.

We’d love your thoughts about content or social media strategy? Is there something more you’d like to learn? Leave us your feedback below!