The View From Her Porch

Sharon Steele learned quickly in her real estate career that marketing other people's businesses could be the key to success in her cozy New Jersey community.

February 10, 2014

Sharon Steele
Sales Associate
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Westfield West
Westfield, NJ
365 Things to do in the Cranford/Westfield Area of NJ Facebook page

What’s your typical social media regimen?

I blog about four times a week. Every day on Facebook I probably post four or five short little things. On my blog, I’ll go a little further in depth. Now that I’m nearing 10,000 followers on Facebook, people and businesses are coming to me. They’ll [add me on] Facebook and ask me to post something. Also, I’ll identify businesses I want to feature and gather their basic information, and ask them to send me photos if I don’t have any of my own.

I love that you named your blog “The View From My Porch.” How did you come up with that?

I have a nice front porch! I often sit on the porch swing and I daydream. That’s where I do most of my thinking.

And I didn’t want to just call it “My Blog” or something like that. You need a little branding there. Real estate really is about marketing. If you can market what is so unique about where you live and why it’s great to live there, you’re doing your job.

How did you get started with the “365 Things to Do” Facebook page?

I started in the business about six years ago, and I started using social media about two years in. I started with the “365” page on Facebook, and then I went around to the local businesses and introduced myself. I would tell them “I’d like to feature your business,” and got great responses. That was kind of the launchpad for me.

Why is Facebook a good platform for the “365 Things to Do” page?

It’s more visual. You can say more. I’m 47 years old, so my peers are here. I also have my personal profile open to everyone. I’m a big believer of “you are who you are, online or offline.” I’ll talk about my life, what it’s like at home, taking care of four messy men in the house. It makes me more real to people. I really believe that people like to work with people they like, and the likeability factor really helps me.

One of the first things I noticed about your posts is that they often feature beautiful photography. Where do you find such compelling imagery?

I take a lot of the photos myself. I use iPhoto and the Camera Plus app. It’s all about my iPhone; I can’t live without it!

But I do use other people’s photos as well. One of the campaigns I’m doing for 2014 is photographer cards. I put a call out on Facebook for any local photographer to contact me. I asked them each to send me their eight favorite pictures of Cranford. I chose four photographers, and for each one I compiled their eight photos on the front a beautiful 8-by-10 mailer. On the back of the mailers I wrote a nice blurb about falling in love with the town and then the contact information for the photographer, saying if you’re interested in buying any of these prints, here’s how to get them.

These local photographers are small businesses, too. Some of them are part time, and this campaign is no cost to them, I’m paying for it. But it really helps people see how much I love the town and how much I want to market it. I’m doing four of these mailers throughout the year. The first mailing already went out to everyone living in Cranford, which is 9,200 people. It can get a little expensive reaching out to every resident, but it’s worth it. Also, I had all four campaigns printed at the same time, so that cut down on costs a bit.

Most of your posts don’t really talk about real estate. Why is that?

The only real estate marketing that I really do is an open house list. Every Saturday or Sunday, I post a list of every open house in my area, whether it’s my listing or somebody else’s. I don’t think of it as marketing other people’s listings, because I want to be the source for the source.

How do you find events and post ideas? Do you have multiple sources or just one?

Well, I have kids in the local schools, so that’s one way. Even though it’s a town of 9,200, it really is a small town, so it’s really easy to be aware of what’s going on. Also, I probably get 20 Facebook messages a day asking me to post things. I spend a lot of time Sunday, after open houses, scheduling out as much as I can for the week. Then I have space for fill-ins throughout the week, so I can post things on the fly. I keep a file in my phone just in case, to store post ideas. Finding events and posting ideas is easy because I live here and work here. The chatter is everywhere; I’m just trying to curate it.

I notice you sometimes use the highlight tool on Facebook to make certain posts wider and more prominent. How do you decide what’s important?

To be perfectly honest, I choose the ones with the pretty pictures! But also, it’s a matter of looking at the page itself. If you have a lot of posts with just words or links, it starts to look a little dull. I also sometimes pay $5 to boost posts, mostly ones that are linked back to my blog. I recently boosted a post from my blog, which now has 4,000 or so views. A similar post that linked to my blog that was not boosted only had 1,300 views. So, I think it’s worth that small investment, if for no other reason than Facebook has gotten kind of tricky in the way it shows your posts.

A lot of professionals are reluctant to repost other people’s items, because they believe it’s a strategy that doesn’t get them clicks. But you do it all the time.

So, I clearly believe in the opposite strategy! The more generous I am in sharing, the more I personally benefit. When I first started in real estate, the economy was awful and I didn’t make any money. But social media was a free platform for me to get the word out. Now there’s not a business in town I don’t know.

When I sit down with a seller, it’s part of my presentation. I talk about how my connections in town have really made a difference. Because when you go to sell a house, you’re not just selling a house, you’re selling the neighborhood and the town. I use it when I talk to buyers, too. At open houses, I’ll direct people to the Facebook page. It’s a very soft sell. I just say, if you’re interested in this area, please check out my Facebook page for more information. People love it. There’s no obligation. When you do that, people appreciate it.

And honestly, a page can be pretty boring if all you do is talk about yourself!

How do you find time to write? Do you have any help?

This year, I hired an assistant. She’s licensed, so she helps out in my real estate business too. But for the blog, I can tell her I’m interested in featuring a business, and she’ll e-mail me with all their basic information, links to their pages, and contact information. Or I’ll tell her I’m looking to write about someone, and she can reach out and see if they’d like to be featured.

I try to write 20 posts a month. Sometimes I don’t quite make it, but that’s the goal. A lot of people ask me how I have time to do this. But really, I don’t have the time not to market myself. I don’t have the time not to prospect. And ultimately, as a real estate professional, it helps me to be better at my job. Even if it feels like you’re not getting anything back at the beginning, you’re still increasing your local knowledge.

Why do you use hashtags on Facebook?

I do it for two reasons. Now that Facebook added the hashtags to the site, it helps people who are searching for the town I’m posting about. Also, because those posts automatically go on Twitter, it increases my exposure there. Local news organizations are searching through Twitter for story ideas.

For example, I featured a group of kids at Cranford High School who were helping people with yard work or snow removal at no charge. I just put out something on social media like, “How awesome are these kids?” The local news sent me a retweet saying “because of your tweet, we’re going to feature this group on the news.” The kids loved it! And that’s what social media is all about.

Meg White

Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.