Social media

How Social Are You?

Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms can help tell your story and build connections.

“Almost 90 percent of my clients use social media,” says John Orr, CCIM, vice president of Colliers Retail Services Group in Charleston, S.C. “If your clients all use telephones to communicate and you use a pigeon to carry letters, are you best serving your clients?”

Okay, maybe your clients aren’t using social media. (Of course, how would you know if you’re not using it?) Even if they’re not, Orr says, you can bet your competition is tweeting, posting, blogging, and researching your clients online.

Yes, it’s still true that commercial real estate is a face-to-face business. But to get to that face, you need a connection. Sales calls used to be way to start the conversation. Today, the conversation starts on social media.

But if you’re not a big user of social media, it can seem intimidating. Which platform should you use? What should you say? How often should you post? Unfortunately, there is not a universal, one-size-fits-all approach.

What is universal, says Jennifer Ortado, marketing manager at Compass Commercial Real Estate Services in Bend, Ore., is the need to provide value to clients. “Content is king,” she says. “Each platform gives you a different opportunity to share your voice. Within each platform, what type of information are those followers looking to gain?”

Social media has redefined how we communicate and to make the most of it, you have to tailor your message to the platform, not only its own rules and restrictions but also the expectations of your audience. Commercial Investment Real Estate surveyed CRE pros to provide a look at the major platforms and how they use them.

LinkedIn: Keeping It Professional

Even professionals who do little else with social media create profiles on the LinkedIn site, which boasts 300 million members. It’s a good first step: “People have to know how to find you,” says Gant Hill, CCIM, president of Gant Hill & Associates in Louisville, Ky.

Once you’ve set up a profile, it becomes a showcase for your professional expertise. You can post links to articles or blog posts you’ve written, news stories that you’re mentioned in, and other articles with sharable professional information.

Others share, too, which makes LinkedIn a valuable research tool. “Before I make a call, I go into ­LinkedIn and pull up the client’s bio, résumé, and links to their company,” says Ethan Offenbecher, CCIM, a broker at Coldwell Banker Commercial in Austin, Texas. “It’s a fantastic tool for researching both clients and companies in preparation for calls or presentations.”

Especially valuable are its specialized discussion groups. CCIMs have established several LinkedIn groups, but there are almost 3,000 commercial real estate groups available. Participating in just one or two is a good way to increase your exposure, Offenbecher says. “When you post and tag to groups, it gets the word out in multiples,” he says. “Instead of just reaching your own connections, it reaches the group members as well.”

Twitter: News in 140 Characters

In the early days of Twitter, “there were no rules,” Orr says. “People would tweet out ridiculous things like, ‘I had Cheerios for breakfast.’” These days, you can still find plenty of frivolous Twitter postings, but its brevity and reach have also made it a powerful marketing implement.

Orr is a big fan of Twitter. He has his own feed and also manages the feed for the Colliers Charleston office and for the South Carolina CCIM Chapter. He pushes out content links to his own blog, as well as articles to share. He also posts links to industry news or local happenings affecting the real estate market.

There’s more leeway in Twitter content and tone, Orr notes. While his professional feeds stick to real estate, on his personal feed, “I’m not quite as strict on myself. It can be a little more fun or whimsical than LinkedIn.” He admits to tweeting pictures of Charleston’s fantastic sunsets and sunrises as well as posting tweets about hobbies or other personal subjects. His criteria: “It has to be current, relevant, and interesting.”

However, his own cardinal rule is that he does not post listings. “It compromises the integrity of the newsfeed when you push your listings out,” Orr says. “If I want to see an ad, I’ll get your newsletter or subscribe to your email updates, but don’t gum up my Twitter account with your listings. That’s not what I’m there for. I’m looking for 140 characters or less of insightful, current, relevant content.”

While “you can’t tweet a deal,” Orr notes, you can “create a foundation for the relationship, and then you make a deal from there.” He credits social media use for connections that led to numerous deals, including a local attorney who followed him on Twitter. “We didn’t know each other, but as it turns out, we were across the street from each other,” he says. The attorney’s brother-in-law was opening a restaurant, and Orr found him “one of the coolest restaurant spaces in Charleston.”

Other Twitter users create their own newsfeeds to follow information on various topics. Robert Zavakos, CCIM, director at NAI Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, decided to capitalize on that. “When I first saw Twitter, I wondered, what is it good for?” he says. “I saw people putting listings on there and thought: Would I look at a listing on Twitter? I don’t think so. But I enjoyed reading the brief, condensed bits of information.”

One day, he saw a ticker symbol and got an idea. He began to collect retail capitalization rates from around the country and started the feed @retailcaprates. Every day, he posts five to 10 different rates on current triple net lease offerings. Nothing else. “It is basically snapshot of an existing NNN deal,” he says. “Tweet example: Walgreen’s 5.5 percent cap rate, 25 year, absolute net ground lease, Austin, TX.”

To date he’s tweeted more than 2,669 NNN retail offerings. “This is a tool for someone who has an asset to sell but might not know how to price it,” he says. “They can look at my Twitter feed and pick out [similar sales] from different parts of the country and use that as a tool to set a price for their asset.” The account currently has 2,000 followers; Zavakos says he limits the followers to commercial real estate professionals who buy, sell, or develop properties, so, “my Twitter feed is a great source of CRE information — not just cap rates,” he says.

Facebook: Getting Personal

Opinions are split on the use of Facebook as a professional social media tool. Many see it solely as the most personal, used to share family pictures or updates with friends. But that may be an outdated perception. More than 400 of Fortune 500 companies have corporate Facebook pages, including top companies such as Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Phillips 66, General Motors, Ford Motors, General Electric, and Valero Energy, according to a University of Massachusetts 2014 study.

But the personal aspect of Facebook is exactly what appeals to Hill. “I like to know more about the people I’m communicating with,” he says. Hill does post personal photos and news on his Facebook page, as a way of showing people who he is. “I’m a relationship broker,” he says. “When I work with a client, I work with them from start to finish, and I work on a personal level. When someone hires a real estate person, they get to know them pretty well, and it helps to like them and to feel a connection to them.”

Because Facebook posts can be longer, it’s also become an effective storytelling platform, Ortado says. Compass Commercial’s Facebook page is aimed at local clients, whereas Ortado targets a broader audience with Twitter. “On Facebook, we share community events, company culture, and city information as well as our news releases and listing info,” she says. “But we try to be careful with the frequency of such posts as we want to be a resource and not use social platforms as a sales tool.”

Blogging: The Longer Story

There are no word count limits for blogs (although you’re wise to be concise), and you can definitely develop a personal style, which in turn, can appeal to clients, current or future.

“At times, commercial real estate can be perceived as a little unapproachable,” says Kadie Pangburn, marketing coordinator at Crunkleton & Associates in Huntsville, Ala. “Blogging has created an avenue for us to make our company more accessible to the public. It gives us a platform to break down some of these concepts and some of the complicated jargon that we use.”

Besides educational articles, Crunkleton’s blog, which Pangburn manages, also features client spotlights. “We’ll talk to the owners and let them tell their story,” she says, “whether it’s a new business or just a new space.” The blog posts also include pictures from the business, which makes an attractive package to share with local media as well as with friends and family of the business owners.

“It does great things for them, but it also does great things for us,” Pangburn says. “It gets our name into the community. It really helps strengthen our relationships with our clients and shows that we’re here for them, even after the deal is signed.”

The company also uses the blog as a conversation platform. “We’ve created posts announcing new retail developments and then we ask the public what retailers they would like to see there, she says. “It helps us direct our pursuit of retailers for that space.” It also gives the company leverage with retailers by illustrating existing demand, she adds.

The blog also streamlines Crunkleton’s PR efforts, as several local reporters follow the blog. “It’s been a good way to communicate with them instead of having to run after them to get their attention.”

Podcasting: Hear Here

Justin Lamontagne admits that making podcasts may not be for every real estate professional — but listening to them should be. “You can’t believe the amount of information and resources available on podcasts,” he says. “And the nature of our business is that we’re in the car a lot,” so it’s a time-efficient way to access those resources, he adds.

BUT DOES IT REALLY WORK?

Does all that social media relationship building ever pay off with a deal? Here’s what CCIM members have to say about their own experiences using social media.

“We seem to get the most response from Facebook. We have sold two properties from it as well as completed one lease.” — Lee Wheeler, CCIM, NAI Wheeler

“We often get private feedback from interested parties, and recently sold a large historic building by posting a picture of it on Instagram.” — Gant B. Hill, CCIM, Gant Hill & Associates

“I reach out to vendors to build relationships with them so we can refer business to each other. This strategy landed me an assignment to find a property for a local financial institution and generated $535,000 sales transaction.” — David Monroe, Bellator Apartment Group

“My greatest social media triumph came about last year. I had been interacting with another Twitter account that was focused on commercial real estate in my market. We regularly commented on and retweeted each other’s content. I knew him only by his name but not company or title. One day I came across his full credentials and immediately made a cold call. When I said my name on the phone, he knew right away who I was. He was happy to set up a meeting and invited the CFO from his company. Three months later I closed a $7.5 million deal with his company, one of the largest developers in Canada. — Adam Powadiuk, CCIM, First National Financial LP

A broker with NAI/The Dunham Group in Portland, Maine, Lamontagne is contributing to the mix. Last year he launched “Commercial Real Estate Elite: Broker to Brokers,” a 30-minute free podcast available on iTunes. Lamontagne interviews a top broker from each state, to give listeners best practices, tips, and resources.

“Getting it up and running was certainly the biggest hurdle,” he says. He hired a consultant to help him, and it took him about four months to master the medium. He estimates that he now spends about one to two hours a week preparing the shows, which are underwritten by a sponsor. “Interviewing real estate brokers has been a breeze,” he says. “I’m just talking shop, which is what I do on a daily basis.”

He reports good feedback on the podcasts and promotes them on his LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. Twitter, in particular, “has been a phenomenal resource for me.”

Measuring ROI

There are a variety of ways to quantify social media use — a platform’s analytics tools, the number of followers or “likes” — but users agree that most of the benefits are often intangible or long-term. “It isn’t something that directly results in money in your pocket,” Hill says. “It’s a combination of things that you can do to make yourself more valuable to someone else.”

But users also agree social media is simply part of work they were doing anyway. “I read different websites and trade publications and if I find them interesting, I’m going to push them out,” Orr says. “It’s going to take me a few seconds push out a link in social media, and when I do, I’ve created value for my comrades in the social media circles.”

Social media, adds Offenbecher, “helps you become a reputable source of information, and with that, you earn trust. As people trust you and understand that you’re an expert in the market, then they want to do business with you.”

Sarah Hoban is a business writer based in the Chicago area.

Sarah Hoban

Sarah Hoban is a business writer based in Chicago.

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