Build Your Business Through Social Media
Looking for new clients? You’ll find them online.
Commercial real estate is all about relationships. So the industry's interest in
social media — a venue where relationship building is turbocharged — should
"We have gained several clients because of the exposure we received through
Facebook," says N. Justin Cazana, CCIM, principal at Cornerstone/Cushman &
Wakefield in Knoxville, Tenn. Cazana is one among many CCIMs who have used the social
networking site as an effective business development tool.
As social media becomes a more integral part of business development, commercial
real estate professionals are getting results by incorporating Facebook, Twitter, and
other platforms into their marketing strategies. A social media presence can increase
the likelihood of being found by new clients, establish professional credibility, and
streamline communication. Although social media is free, it does require time to learn
and maintain. So what's the return?
Quantifying the Value
"Learning about social media and setting up my profiles took a lot of time," says
Chad Gleason, CCIM, of Real Estate Investment Services in Kent, Wash. Although it can
be an efficient tool, there is an opportunity cost for overcoming the initial learning
curve, refining messaging, learning new programs, and staying current on existing ones.
And high-profile gaffes by celebrities and politicians remind users of the potential
risks of participating in social media.
Given this risk and opportunity cost, commercial real estate professionals —
people who rely on models and analysis for decision making — are naturally
interested in measuring social media's return on investment. "It's hard to determine,"
says Greg J. Vollman, CCIM, of Apartment Investment Realty in Cincinnati, voicing a
common sentiment among CCIMs.
Even Fortune 500 companies are still finding their footing in social media
analytics. Ford Motor Co. recently launched a $95 million marketing campaign that
included a Facebook page, but the company still had difficulty determining the value of
the interest it generated. "They can give you Likes," Scott Kelly, Ford's head of
digital marketing, told The Wall Street Journal, referring to the Facebook feature that
allows users to provide quick, positive feedback. "But the question is, What is the
value of those Likes?"
"It's too early to establish an ROI on the time I invest in social media," says
Shawn E. Massey, CCIM, partner at The Shopping Center Group in Memphis, Tenn. "My goal
was to increase exposure and keep my name in the retail community during this slow
period. Based on that, it has worked very well."
However, one concrete form of measurement is new business. Cazana — whose
company has four Facebook sites, three Twitter feeds, and two blogs — has gained
several new clients as a result of social media. Daniel Palmeri, a senior associate at
Colliers International in Las Vegas, uses LinkedIn to locate potential clients and
connections to them. "This has resulted in a far greater success rate than a
cold-call," he says. He attributes three closed deals to social media. Gleason says
that 40 percent of his deals can be linked to social media connections, which gives him
a larger presence in the market and a larger pool of lease tenants.
"When I get a call from someone I connected with through social media, I know my
social media campaign is effective," says Martin Barkan, CCIM, CRE, senior vice
president of First Property Realty Corp. in Beverly Hills, Calif. Barkan is working on
several transactions that originated from connections on Facebook, LinkedIn, and his
blog. "These transactions with new clients took six to 12 months to develop after the
initial contact, but I believe the return on the investment will be exponential over
the next two to three years. I'm certain this will be the single biggest market
visibility and client growth platform in my business."
Candice A. Donofrio, owner of Next Wave Real Estate Investments in Laughlin, Nev.,
gained referral business using social media. After reading a commercial real estate
blog post, she found the author's Facebook page through a Web search. After commenting
on the author's Facebook wall, she received a phone call from him about a business
opportunity, which she referred to a colleague in Las Vegas.
Donofrio's story is an example of how social media can help with inbound marketing.
Prospective clients are searching the Web for information about potential business
partners, and LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook profiles and updates are often top
results when an individual's name is searched.
"When someone searches for me, my LinkedIn page, Facebook business page, and Twitter
profile are at the top of the results," Barkan says. Social media sites give users
privacy settings to control what parts of their profiles appear in search engines. But
it pays to have some information available to the public, especially if it's
business-related. A recent Pew Research report found that 92 percent of adults use
search engines to find information, making it the most common online activity, along
with e-mail. Creating a social media profile can help commercial real estate
professionals be found online, and it gives their peers a convenient way to communicate
I'm There. Now What?
The initial aversions to social media are being replaced by questions about how to
best calibrate and integrate social media into a broader marketing strategy.
Integrating social media into a marketing strategy doesn't have to become a
part-time job. Palmeri limits his social media use to an average of 30 minutes a day.
Other interviewees worked effectively with even stricter time limits. Third-party sites
like Seismic, TweetDeck, and HootSuite improve efficiency by allowing users to update
multiple social media profiles from one site. Using these time-saving tools, "I am able
to update my Facebook and Twitter profiles with material from my blog with one click of
the mouse," Barkan says.
An initial decision also needs to be made about how "social" social media should be.
Users like Palmeri don't mind mixing business and personal information. "You need to
express a little bit of your personality, which gives insight into who you are,"
Gant B. Hill, CCIM, president and principal broker of Venterra Realty in Louisville,
Ky., also chooses to share personal information alongside business information. "I
don't mind mixing the two," Hill says. "It creates character and makes you more
approachable, but never take either to the extreme."
Facebook and Google+, Google's social network, allow users to have it both ways.
Facebook users can create a group of business friends and share only certain updates
with that group. Google+ offers similar functionality with its Circles feature.
For those looking for more separation between their business and personal lives, the
solution is to create different profiles for each. "People who want to communicate
their professional information to their personal network can simply post the relevant
information in both places," says Jeffrey B. Pollock, CCIM, principal at Pollock
Commercial in Atlanta.
What to Share
Sharing information about recent transactions, insights into local market
observations, or trends in certain property types can help establish credibility among
peers and potential clients. "People are looking to us for information, and we use
social media to provide news about properties and tenants that have come to the
market," says Cazana.
LinkedIn is a particularly good platform for such information. For example, Bob
Rein, CCIM, associate vice president of NAI REOC Austin in Austin, Texas, posted a
series of LinkedIn updates to attract investment from his home state of Arizona. What
started as a single post about Austin market trends turned into series of 10 posts. A
prospective client saw the posts and contacted Rein, suggesting they work together when
an investment opportunity arises.
Finding business-related information to share can sometimes be as easy as
repurposing existing content. Barkan takes advantage of the low incremental resource
cost of social media by repurposing blog and newsletter content on Facebook and
Twitter. Businesses and individuals without blogs can still create a social media
presence by finding quality industry information and sharing it with their followers.
CCIMs can share insights by applying CCIM education concepts to current commercial real
Other sources of business-related information include quotes from industry events,
reactions to other users' posts, product reviews, and more. A little bragging doesn't
hurt either. "I used LinkedIn to announce earning my CCIM designation, and my profile
views went up significantly as a result," Rein says. His connections congratulated him
on the accomplishment and asked for information about the designation.
Social media is about building relationships, and in the U.S., that relationship
building is mostly occurring on Facebook. The site dominates among social media
platforms. U.S. Internet users spend 16 percent of their online time on Facebook,
according to Citi Investment Research and Analysis, a figure that has steadily
increased over the past few years. Businesses are recognizing the importance of going
where their customers are. Booz & Co. recently reported that 94 percent of the
businesses surveyed view Facebook as one of their top three social media priorities,
followed by Twitter with 77 percent and YouTube with 42 percent. The same report found
that 96 percent of companies plan to either allocate substantially or somewhat more
resources to social media.
Part of the appeal of Facebook and other social media sites is their reach. Social
media provides an opportunity for businesses to reach outside their customer contact
lists to a much bigger audience. "The more I grow my social media presence the more my
inbound marketing increases, which has been essential to growing my business," says
Barkan, who like other CCIMs, is finding that making sense of social media makes
Dennis LaMantia is interactive marketing manager at the CCIM Institute.