Mariwyn Evans writes about commercial real estate for REALTOR® Magazine. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making Social Media Pay
For the best ROI, integrate social networking into your broader marketing strategy and use time-saving tactics.
May 1, 2010
You’re all over social media. You have 2,000 followers on Twitter and more than 300 subscribers to your blog. You can type 35 words per minute with your thumbs.
But is all of this virtual interconnectivity doing anything for your bottom line?
For most commercial real estate practitioners, the short answer is: "Not much. At least, not yet," says Dan Schawbel, personal branding consultant and author of Me 2.0 (Kaplan, 2009).
But don’t worry. Expecting a deal to transpire right away as a direct result of your social media efforts is "short-term thinking," Schawbel says. Just as with in-person networking, building a community of valuable contacts "doesn’t happen overnight," he says.
"Social media’s return on investment is hard to measure," acknowledges Brad Hanks, CRB, a former vice president of RE/MAX International’s commercial division and now a self-declared social media enthusiast who runs Brad Hanks Seminars in Denver. But that’s not to say the ROI is nonexistent.
When done right, the time and money you spend on your social media efforts "will enhance your image as a trusted source and build personal brand awareness," Hanks says. To make it all worthwhile, keep these business goals front and center; over time, your strategy will reap business rewards.
Reinforce Your Brand
Every tweet and blog post update is an opportunity to remind your network why they should work with you and to move you a step closer to repeat business.
"I see my blog as a way to emphasize my role as an expert," says Scott Pollock, a broker with CB Richard Ellis’ Private Client Group in Cleveland. His blog, "The Commercial Real Estate Insider", provides news and commentary about commercial investment properties throughout Ohio and the Midwest.
Some of his recent posts include an analysis of the senior-care housing market and an update on loan programs that can be used for commercial real estate purchases. He complements his blog with tweets on Twitter, where he has 1,255 followers.
Similarly, Coy Davidson, senior vice president with Colliers International in Houston, uses his blog "The Tenant Advisor" as a forum to educate customers on market conditions. He also has a fan page on Facebook, a profile on LinkedIn, and an account on Twitter.
Davidson treats social media as a key element of his marketing plan, with the goals of improving engagement with clients, providing valuable information that reinforces his brand, and generating new business.
"I’m not advocating social media as a standalone strategy," Davidson wrote in a recent blog post, "but I passionately believe it’s a tool that complements and enhances already proven business strategies."
Get Noticed on Google
An active online presence, particularly on a blog, can earn you a big boost in search engine rankings, says Christina Holmes, broker with the RE/MAX Real Estate Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Frequent updates tell search engines that the site is authoritative, resulting in higher search-engine rankings. Using popular search keywords in blog posts also can bolster results. And if you can do that while providing valuable information that others will link to, even better. That’s because a high number of inbound links is yet another factor that propels search engine optimization.
"When your name comes up repeatedly in search results, there’s power in that," Holmes says. High search engine placement has netted her at least one $50,000 fee on a referral from another RE/MAX commercial broker, she says.
Provide Expert Commentary
What you get from social networking depends on how much you put into it.
Too many people "just post their latest listing or links to articles from other sites without providing any perspective. You’re not differentiating yourself that way," says Eric Rafia, a tenant rep with Cathay & Co. Inc. in Mount Sereno, Calif., and the man behind the "Square Feet" blog.
Social network postings need to be 80 percent about valuable information and only 20 percent about self-promotion like your deals and achievements, says Schawbel.
"I try as much as possible to be a source of original information, says Barbara "Barbi" Reuter, principal with PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services in Tucson, Ariz. She compiles local market stats and spends a couple of hours a day reading news for ideas to share with team members and industry colleagues.
Retweeting other people’s posts or forwarding article links can add value and lessen your time commitment, provided that you take the extra minute to add a personalized commentary, says John Reeder, with the Mimi Song Realty Group at Sperry Van Ness Commercial Real Estate Advisors in Ontario, Calif. It’s even OK to post updates on your real estate listings, as long as you do it only where there’s something interesting to share, Holmes says.
How do you know you’re doing it right? "What I look for is the conversation—whether people are paying to attention to what I say and responding to it," Hanks says. To elicit involvement, Hanks poses questions and posts polls.
Another way to be memorable on social media sites is by spending the time to completely fill out your profile and upload a current photo. "Find ways to make your profile sing," says Michael Houge, CCIM, SIOR, CEO and managing partner of Chief Real Estate Co. in St. Paul, Minn.
Target Your Message
With social media growing exponentially, realizing a return on your time depends on how well you craft your message to reach your niche. "You have to be mindful that you have two audiences for your social networking, your local business community and the broader real estate industry," Reuter says.
She reaches the first with Twitter posts about transactions and economic news. Local posts include information about her transactions, employee accomplishments, her company’s charitable foundation, and other community efforts. To get the message to the right audience, Reuter has two Twitter accounts—one that’s personal and one that’s tied to her company. That same strategy could work if you have more than one business niche.
Another way to narrow your focus is by joining groups within a social media site. "I like the groups on LinkedIn because each has a different agenda and focus," Houge says. "You can send an article or make a comment that’s targeted to that audience. You can’t send the same article to 40 groups and be relevant."
To understand what kind of information generates the best response from your audience, track online readership trends using tools such as Google Analytics, suggests Chip LaFleur of Callender Commercial in Grand Rapids, Mich. Popular blogging platforms such as WordPress offer similar analytic software. LaFleur uses the data to see what search terms brought the most people to his blog and to get ideas for hot topics to blog about.
Strive for Consistency
Having an active publishing schedule and sticking to relevant topics will help your readership grow. But consistency can be harder than it sounds, especially if there’s more than one person representing your company or brand on the Web, says Geoff Kasselman, SIOR, founding principal of Op2mize in Chicago.
To help ensure that the corporate branding message for its 900 associates is consistent, Sperry Van Ness Commercial Real Estate Advisors provides social media training to its advisors three times a month, says Kevin Maggiacomo, president of the Irvine, Calif., company. "We’ve even filmed various brand messaging presentations and sent copies to each of our advisors," he says.
Go for Quality and Quantity
While it’s important to focus your audience, don’t confuse "focused" with "small." A huge online network may not directly translate into more business, but having more followers does reflect well on your credibility in the online world, Schwabel says.
"You need a robust network to get the right exponential effect," agrees Kasselman. His connections include attorneys, vendors, lenders, and clients. He also has a group for SIOR designees.
Reach is important, agrees Maggiacomo: "Tweeting something insightful when no one is listening is an exercise in futility." It’s your influence—in other words, who’s reading what you have to say—that’s most critical to social media success, he says.
"Social media outlets, particularly Twitter, are very noisy and crowded places," so it’s important to engage people and begin to develop relationships, says Davidson. He has nearly 4,000 followers on Twitter but converses online with only about 100 or so.
Beau Beery, CCIM, director of commercial brokerage and asset management with AMJ Inc. in Gainesville, Fla., found a simple way to expand his LinkedIn network. "I downloaded the Outlook LinkedIn toolbar, which adds a LinkedIn icon to my Outlook inbox. When I receive an e-mail, I run my cursor over the icon to see if the person is on LinkedIn. Then I can just click the icon and send out an invitation."
Reeder reaches out to the wider world by writing one major blog post a month that relates commercial real estate to more big-picture economic issues. "These posts often get picked up by well-known financial blogs like TheStreet.com, which expands readership for my blog," he says.
To keep his network growing, he also does some basic investigative work to find out who the "relevant" people in his sphere are following on Twitter—and then he starts following those people, too.
Simplify Your Strategy
A consistent complaint about social media is that it’s a black hole of time. And it can be, unless you have time management systems in place, says Chris Fyvie, principal with Office Search Canada in Toronto. "When I started on Twitter in early 2009, I was consumed," he recalls. Now, he visits the site just once a day to promote his blog posts.
To curtail your time on social media, consider working in "batch mode," creating several posts at once, Hanks says. He sits down first thing in the morning and writes multiple posts, and then uses a tool called Su.pr to schedule the posts to appear throughout the day on his various networks.
Holmes suggests using a free online syndication service such as Ping.fm to automatically send one blog post or tweet to several social media sites at once.
Another strategy—promoting your blog headlines on Twitter, along with a link to the post—can save time and also bring a substantial boost to blog traffic. Reeder saw readership to his blog "Real Property Alpha" double after he began posting links on Twitter.
Just as critical as controlling the time you spend creating content is managing the time you spend reading and responding to comments.
"I’ve created a rule in Outlook that moves any e-mail message from a social networking site into a specific folder. I don’t clutter up my inbox and I can gauge the activity on my networks at a glance," Hanks says.
Social media may not be generating tons of business for you right now, but it's clearly gaining velocity. LoopNet Inc. is even getting into the game; the company in March announced LoopNet Profile, a personalized Web site, blog, and profile page that’s free to members.
"Social media may be the smallest part of your lead generation today, but it will mature over time," Reeder says. "I don’t want to wait until then to try to figure it out. I’d rather be one of the leaders today."