Tapping Social Networks

Don't let Facebook intimidate you or Twitter make you twitch. Smart brokers are building brands as members of online communities.

January 1, 2010

Becoming savvy in your use of social media makes perfect sense in these budget-conscious times. Sheri Moritz, the broker-owner at Real Living Realty Experts in Garner, N.C., is an enthusiast, in large part because it doesn't cost anything but her time.

"I decided my company needed to cut spending on postcards and newspaper ads," she says.

Moritz, who left another company to open her Real Living office last year, relies on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Yahoo instant messaging. She posted the news of her company's grand opening last March on all her social networks. She got about 100 RSVPs—about 15 from competitors' sales associates. "I got a much better response than any e-mail campaign or newspaper ad, and it's all free."

Moritz is part of a surge of brokers who've realized that Web-based social networks can help them build business with fewer resources, just as their salespeople have done. Some, like the Better Homes & Gardens franchise, are steeped in social media. From its launch in July 2008, BH&G touted its next-generation Web 2.0 principles.

With 25 percent of  Americans between the ages of 45 to 54 active in social networks, there's still plenty of  growth potential in the brokerage community, as managers—many of them Baby Boomers—grapple with how to make the best use of the sites.

Juicing the Engine

Brokers are recognizing that social networking can help enormously in building a brand, not just promoting events and property listings.

For example, the value of posting Twitter messages goes far beyond whether your followers actually read your tweets. The messages themselves can come up in Google searches, boosting your brokerage's place in the search engine hierarchy and driving traffic to your business.

Cameron Novak, broker-owner at The Homefinding Center in Corona, Calif., has been awed by the impact. "The best benefit we find from social media comes from search engine results."

It's also the most convenient way to stay connected with sales associates and staff. Brad Pearson, vice president of sales at Prudential California Realty in Yorba Linda, Calif., depends on Facebook and LinkedIn as communications and recruiting tools.

"I put on daily messages, positive quotes, company updates, even Prudential TV commercials," he says. In the second half of last year, Pearson's managers have recruited about 40 sales associates using social media.

"By making contact on Facebook, with its nonintrusive way to build rapport," he says, "those associates ended up coming to our firm even though my phone calls to them weren't getting returned before."

Moritz cleverly offers social networking training to groups of practitioners beyond those affiliated with her brokerage.

"Once a month, I train any company's associates who want to learn social media," she says. "That's a great way to recruit."

Use It or Lose It

Social networking isn't for everyone. If you're not committed to spending regular time online working your networks, don't bother. "The ones who dabble won't get any sustainable benefits," says Novak.

Also, don't look to the medium as a way to pare your marketing budget. "It's an add-on," says Johnson, "not a replacement for paid marketing."

Novak agrees. "I don't think I'm saving any money with social networking, but if I needed to generate the same benefits through other media, it would cost me more." 

There's also the risk that others could try to tarnish your company's image. "The biggest fear [among brokers] is that you'll create a page on Facebook, someone will post something negative about you, and you'll have to run damage control," says A. Bradley Nelson, director of marketing at New Broad Street Realty in Orlando, Fla. "You need a point person who's monitoring that regularly."

But Nelson says time devoted to social networking is worth the effort. "Our social networking generates 40 unique visitors to our Web site each day," he says. "It's quantifiable."

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freelance writer

G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.