Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
It’s no secret that commercial real estate professionals haven’t traditionally been the social butterflies that their residential brethren are thought to be. But according to former Marine, coach, and third-generation commercial real estate practitioner Bo Barron, the community is growing and it’s time to get on board.
“Commercial real estate as a whole is pathetically behind the curve when it comes to digital presence,” Barron said at the Commercial Caffeinated Breakfast at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo earlier this month. He admitted that, for a while, he was one of the many of his peers who discounted the power of social media in the commercial real estate world. But he’s now on board: “This is not a young person’s game anymore.”
Barron shared a 90-day plan for those who want to jumpstart their online presence, noting that the goal is not to amass as many followers as you can or count up all the clicks you receive. Instead, commercial real estate pros can use social media to attract the types of clients they serve best with a “velvet rope marketing solution” that has the power to fuel their futures.
“The [deals] that had the greatest impact on my clients, those are the ones where relationships grew out of it,” Barron said. “So how do we attract more of these perfect prospects?
Barron told attendees that the first month of the plan sets the groundwork for success by defining your target audience and setting up your online presence.
In order to get an idea of what your audience is interested in Barron suggested setting up a Google Alert for people, places, and topics that relate to the customers you want to attract. That way you’ll be in tune with the latest news on these topics, and quickly able to share news and thoughts based on their needs and interests.
“Google Alerts is like throwing a listening device into the Internet,” he said. He also suggested finding the top 100 people in your commercial specialty — whether it’s identifying broad strokes such as retail, office, multifamily, and hospitality or more niche areas you wish to serve — on Twitter and following them to get an idea of what they’re talking about. Barron suggested starting with simple terms and hashtags like #CRE on Twitter, and then drilling down after a few days or weeks with more specific and sophisticated alerts.
Barron said the three most important online places on which a commercial real estate professional should have a presence are Twitter, LinkedIn, and on a personal website, preferably branded as yourname.com, if it’s available. He suggested using the same photo in all three profiles: “You want a picture of your face, your smiling face, and you don’t want to be overly corporate.”
It’s also vital to rethink your LinkedIn profile, if for no other reason than that it’s highly visible. “LinkedIn is now the third most-searched platform online behind Google and YouTube,” Barron said, noting that when someone Googles your name, your LinkedIn profile is very likely to end up near the top of the results page. “People are going to find this either way … and most of us have incomplete profiles.”
But just making sure you have an up-to-date title or resume is meaningless, Barron says. “I don’t care if you’re a vice president; tell me about what you do,” he said, suggesting that attendees write their bios in the first person and try to reveal what makes them passionate about their work.
On Twitter, Barron divides his updates by type, and tries to share a certain percentage of each type in the mix every day. One thing Barron says does not belong in this percentage is one of the items real estate pros of all types tend to tweet out most.
“You would never want to tweet out your listings on Twitter,” Barron said. “That’s like taking a megaphone to a cocktail party.”
Instead, he suggests a variation on this mix:
The sweet spot for Barron is around a dozen tweets a day. He suggested using Buffer or one of the many other free and low-cost tools for managing tweets, so that practitioners can spend a few minutes once a day scheduling out their posts.
Now that you’ve set up your online presence and begun engaging with your target audience, it’s time to start putting out original content. It’s not easy, but it’s essential to break out from the herd of people just hoping to be found online.
“This is where it becomes powerful and this is where it becomes hard,” said Barron. “This makes you an educator. This puts you in a position of authority.” Barron sought to put attendees at ease with this third step, noting that there are three common fears that hold people back from blogging:
Barron noted that by this point in his process, those following along have done the research and listening to figure out the answer to the first question back in step one. He said that if you don’t already have a place to publish, it only takes a half-hour to set up a branded WordPress blog (he has a video walking real estate pros through the process available on his site). And for the last question, he said there are four categories commercial real estate bloggers need to write about:
Barron noted social media presents a challenge to strike the delicate balance between self-promotion and socialization, but that it’s more important to get your name out there and make an earnest effort on social media. “No one likes to hear someone toot their own horn, but when you’re constantly sharing content that’s useful … it demonstrates your expertise.”