Marketing With Social Media
by Brent Gleeson
To remain competitive in today’s environment, real estate professionals and home builders must understand who their buyers are, where they are doing their research, and how to effectively communicate with them. As we continue to see a dramatic shift away from traditional media, home builders and marketers are seeking advertising channels that are more cost effective, targeted, and measurable.
Internet marketing strategies are earning greater recognition as the industry becomes more educated about the valuable marriage between creativity and technology. Social media is one of these strategies that is gaining fantastic momentum and has made so many advancements in the past 12 months that it is hard to keep track. The online marketing space has redefined how companies brand themselves, communicate with customers, and allocate marketing dollars.
Transparency is the only way builders can remain relevant and competitive. It’s time to say goodbye to the corporate comfort zone, role our sleeves up, and really interact with the buyers. Companies that are engaging in social media are committing to real customer interface and showing their true colors. This article aims at providing facts about why we should care about social media, reasons it is redefining the way we market homes, and tips for getting started.
Why Should We Care About Social Media Marketing?
Home builders and real estate professionals need to understand that their buyers are in fact online reading blogs and using social networking sites on a regular basis:
• Buyers are online: According to the National Association of REALTORS “Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2008″ 87% of home buyers use the Internet to search for a home.
• Buyers are reading blogs: According to eMarketer.com, in 2009, an estimated 96.6 million users will read a blog at least once per month. By 2013, that number is expected to reach 128.2 million – which accounts for 58 percent of all U.S. Internet users.
• Facebook on the rise: According to a 2009 Facebook Statistics report, the fastest growing group on Facebook is now the 35 to 54 year old demographic growing at growing at 276.4% in the first six months of 2009. The 55+ demo is not far behind with a 194.3% growth rate.
• Twitter for the masses: According to Nielsen, unique visitors to Twitter increased 1,382 percent year-over-year, from 475,000 unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009, making it the fastest growing site in the Member Communities category for the month.
• Video content is IMPORTANT: YouTube is now considered the largest vertical search engines in the world with well over 70,000,000 videos (as of March 2008)
Redefining the Marketing Landscape
The hybrid approach: Social media marketing has created a fusion between real estate marketing, advertising, and customer relations. The most successful real estate focused social media campaigns combine all online and offline marketing efforts and truly engage the audience. The companies that use these strategies effectively are fully committed and spend considerable time on these initiatives. Once a campaign gains momentum the social platforms (i.e. Facebook Fan Page, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube) become real customer communication tools. The communication should begin with valuable content, relevant articles, blogs, and resources. First build trust, then begin your subtle sales pitch.
Branding: We should be careful about how we define “branding” as it applies to marketing and advertising. Sometimes branding can be thought of as that marketing strategy with an indefinable ROI. Actually, it is of course much more important. These days it doesn’t take just good advertising or PR to brand your company. Social media is a great way to gradually display your brand image. For home builders that already have a distinct brand image social media is about communication and value.
Once a real estate professional or home builder begins social media they should engage everyone in their group or company to contribute. A builder’s brand shouldn’t just be about the homes and communities. It should be about the team of people driving the business. If Simon Cooper of Ritz Carlton can blog and use Twitter on a regular basis, that should tell us something.
Cost Effectiveness: Just like any other marketing strategy, Internet marketing and social media should be designed to support a builder’s sales goals. With budgets being tighter, it is crucial to design a marketing plan that contains strategies that are measurable and can produce a desired ROI. Today’s Internet technology and analytics provide for less expensive marketing and more sophisticated reporting. Now you can actually track every dollar you invest.
10 Tips for Getting Started
1. Your team: Whether your hire an Internet marketing agency or use an in-house team, you have to be committed to putting time into building your social media momentum. It’s all or nothing. If you outsource, it is still recommended to have someone in-house directing the message and strategy. The more your potential buyers communicate with you, the more you will have to remain involved. If you plan to build an in-house team, enlist the help of some Internet savvy interns.
2. Website: Yes, consumers are judging you by the quality of your website. Do not spend time and energy engaging in any online strategy until you have a website that is user friendly and designed to foster conversions (i.e. building and email list, capturing registrations, and creating sales). Your website will always be your most important foundation from which any online marketing strategy will be built. Make sure to have Google analytics installed in your site so you can actively track traffic levels, sources, bounce rates, and time on site. Be sure to have a great database management system for capturing and organizing incoming leads. If it’s time for a new site, consider sending out an RFP and ask people you trust for references to good web design firms.
3. Blog: Keep in mind that social media is first about providing value to your online community and building trust. The best place to start is with a blog. Blogs are easy to set up and show your customers that you care about what’s going on in your industry. Write about current topics that people can relate to and never make your message self serving. Build trust first and then begin including promotions and special offers. If you don’t think you have time, think again. Like physical fitness, if you care about it and are committed, you will make the time.
4. Facebook, ActiveRain, Twitter, YouTube: Set up a Fan Page on Facebook.com and profiles on Twitter and ActiveRain. You will build a large network in two ways: (1) networking within the online community itself and inviting people to “join” your fan club or “follow” you; (2) driving traffic from outside sources to your profile pages. You can accomplish this by having links to your profile pages on your website and newsletters. Encourage people to join.
You will keep them engaged by having good content (i.e. your blog articles). You can set up an RSS feed so that your blogs automatically get posted to your Twitter page and Facebook page.
Set up a YouTube channel and start adding content. Most builders have some kind of video content so start adding it to your YouTube channel and Facebook fan page. To create new video content, purchase a simple flip camera and shoot three to five minute videos at your properties. Interview sales representatives, property managers, and even owners.
5. Communicate & Build a Following: Your efforts will be fruitless unless you have a loyal following which takes some time to build. The more effort you put into it, the better your results will be. Ask your social media partner for effective ways to build a following on Twitter without spamming the community. Consistently add content to your Facebook fan page and build your fan base. The more value you have to offer the more people will talk.
Management should lead by example and get involved. Encourage all employees and sales people to be a part of the network. Once you have some momentum you can start incorporating your special incentives, promotions, events, grand openings, and other creative communications. When communicating special offerings, remember to include links to landing pages that give more details and have very clear calls to action like simple registration forms.
6. Online & Offline Integration: Tie it all together by having prominent links to all social profiles and sites on your main website, in your email newsletters, and on all print or collateral material. If your fully engaged in social media and offer a great resource to potential buyers, brag about it!
7. Track Results and Conversions: The best way to really track results is to be sure your social media platforms are always pointing back to your website and landing pages. From there you can use your analytics to watch how much traffic is coming from these sources and how its converting.
8. Get your sales teams involved: Every member of your sales team should be active in their own social media efforts and the company’s. Just be sure that there is some level of control to the overall message being communicated through your social networks.
9. Get your communities involved: All of a homebuilder’s communities should have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts and be actively involved in the company’s network as well.
10. Get Creative: After you gain momentum, the sky is the limit. Your social network sites then become a platform for creativity and true customer relationship management. Develop new concepts like special promotions, events, and contests. Make it fun for people to be included in your online community.
So remember, say goodbye to old fashion media that doesn’t stimulate your audience. The statistics are all pointing in one direction…online. If you don’t have an online marketing strategy you are way behind the competition. If you do, think about incorporating social media marketing as a compliment to your current efforts. Get outside of your comfort zone and embrace the new!
Brent Gleeson has extensive experience in the Internet marketing and online media industry. As co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Internet Marketing Inc., a full service real estate focused interactive agency, it is Mr. Gleeson’s primary focus to oversee operations and execute growth strategies.
Prior to his current endeavors, Gleeson spent five years in the Unites States Navy as a Navy SEAL completing several combat deployments in support of the War on Terror. Gleeson earned his undergraduate degree in Finance and Economics from Southern Methodist University, studied at Oxford University in England, and earned master degree in real estate finance and development from the University of San Diego.