Technology Solutions

On Location

As social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter become more popular around the globe, real estate professionals are exploring ways to leverage the potential power of these tools. Recent trends indicate that the next wave of social networking has already arrived in the form of mobile location-based or geo-marketing platforms such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp.

These platforms allow users to “check in” on mobile devices at locations — typically restaurants, shops, attractions, and other businesses — to share where they are with their friends and other users and post comments or reviews about their location. Other platforms, such as Facebook and Google, offer location-sharing features as an integrated option or as part of their standard or mobile websites.

Although location-based social media platforms are used by a relatively small percentage of the online population now, their current growth mirrors other successful services such as Twitter. Commercial real estate investors, property managers, developers, and brokers can use these new tools to generate buzz and differentiate their properties in a particular market.

However, commercial real estate professionals must be strategic and deliberative in their approach. It is not enough to simply create places for people to check in; users must have a reason to check in and post positive commentary.

Leveraging Check-ins

Many businesses are using incentives such as coupons, exclusive offers, and contests to encourage the use of location-based platforms. Commercial real estate professionals can use these tactics as well, as long as the new strategies are consistent with their existing marketing plan. For example, developers or brokers can ask visitors to check in at listed office buildings for a chance to win a gift card. Commercial property managers can encourage tenants and guests to check in at building events for the opportunity to win favorable leasing terms or a one-time rent discount. At broker open houses, listing brokers can offer incentives for visiting agents and brokers to check in and post commentary about the property.

Investors can use location-based social media tools for research and competitive intelligence purposes as well. Investors can learn more about commercial properties, retail outlets, restaurants, and companies by researching their presence on location-based social media sites. For example, site selection specialists can learn who is frequenting a retail location and how committed they are to that location, allowing them to draw a clear demographic profile of that area. Owners of small strip centers could partner with existing tenants to obtain location-based feedback from existing customers to help determine what new potential services or retail they would likely patronize. Essentially, location-based platforms add another layer of information for owners and investors.

Most social media platforms can also be linked with each other so check-ins are multiplied across networks, providing further awareness of a location. By integrating these tools, commercial real estate investors and professionals can leverage their existing online networks and the networks of their followers.

However, potential challenges of location-based social networking cannot be overlooked. Privacy is the primary concern, although most geo-location social media tools require someone to actively check in, mitigating some privacy worries. Retaining current or potential customer/tenant trust must be paramount when using any social media.

Real estate professionals should continue to adapt to the rapidly shifting trends in how investors and tenants search for commercial real estate property. Given the connection between real estate and location-based social media, those who incorporate these platforms in their marketing plans are poised to capture current and future clients and customers.

Mark Hickman and Andrew Ryan are partners with Commonwealth Partnerships, a marketing and consulting firm specializing in the real estate industry. Contact them at mph@commonwealthpartnerships.com or akr@commonwealthpartnerships.com.

Location-based Services

Foursquare: Currently the most widely used location-based social media platform, Foursquare boasts more than 10 million users and recently announced a national partnership with American Express.

Gowalla: Gowalla describes itself as a “social travel guide” and is popular among travelers.

Facebook Places: A feature currently on Facebook’s standard and mobile websites and smartphone applications, Facebook Places brings “checking in” to the world’s most popular social network.

Google Places: Google Places leverages Google’s dominant search engine and integrates with its popular maps function to bring a more standard website experience for users to share and rate their locations, and for businesses to have a listing on the Web giant.

Yelp: Similar to Google Places but with more robust features and user interface, Yelp has a standard website and a popular smartphone application.

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