Surviving Social Media
CCIMs share their strategies for managing an online presence.
The Internet is a noisy place. Each month, Facebook users post more than 30 billion pieces of content, such as notes and photo albums, and billions of tweets resound through Twitter or compatible third-party applications. Add to this the unending chatter of blog posts, LinkedIn messages, and other social media content and the problem becomes clear: How can commercial real estate professionals attract an audience, develop a following, and, ultimately, grow and strengthen their network of potential clients and business partners amid the virtual cacophony?
“The first thing is to get in and explore,” says Todd Clarke, CCIM, chief executive officer of NM Apartment Advisors in Albuquerque, N.M., who will teach a technology and social media course through CCIM Institute’s Ward Center for Real Estate Studies this year. “See what others are doing, and think about how you want to define yourself.” There is no one-size-fits-all social media strategy.
Go It Alone or Get Help?
As with any new business venture, the main concerns when creating a social media strategy are budget and staffing requirements. When John F. Thiry, CCIM, an adviser with NAI Commercial Partners in Lancaster, Pa., set out to establish his reputation as an industrial/office specialist and promote his services to his business peers through social media, he weighed these factors. “I did not want to spend thousands of dollars hiring a company to create my Web presence, and I did not want to spend an undue amount of time creating and managing that presence myself,” Thiry says.
He decided to go it alone — at first. “It was more time-consuming to create than I expected, but the maintenance is manageable,” he says. Thiry uses Twitter to drive traffic to his blog, lancastercommercial.com, and hired an assistant to craft blog posts and tweets. But he selects the content. “I aggregate information from CoStar, CCIM, and other sources that could be useful to my clients,” Thiry adds.
In addition to increasing efficiency, third-party assistance helps commercial real estate professionals amp up their social media marketing power. Like Thiry, Nicholas L. Miner, CCIM, vice president, investments, with Commercial Properties in Scottsdale, Ariz., initially dove into social media on his own. He attended a few seminars but was unsatisfied with the traffic his social media efforts were generating.
Miner began working with his friend, Jack Smith, a social media consultant and founder of TheSocialLatte.com. Smith helped Miner tweak content to improve his pages’ rankings in search engine results, a practice known as search engine optimization, or SEO. “Jack knew which technologies were available and how to implement them,” Miner explains. “A person who knows the ins and outs is worth the money.”
Benjamin LaFreniere, CCIM, of Quest Co. in Maitland, Fla., favors an in-house approach to social media because it gives company employees more control and allows them to respond more promptly to inquiries and comments. “Generally, our marketing director creates content, submits it for review, and then prepares it for posting on Twitter and Facebook,” he explains. Quest Co. navigates the time/budget dilemma by relying on the skills of interns who have grown up on social media. The interns update content, monitor feedback, and suggest aesthetic and procedural improvements. “It’s like second nature to them,” LaFreniere says. “They bring a different perspective.”
But CCIMs looking for cost-effective social media advice also can find a wealth of free expertise in the social media mavens’ natural habitat — online. For example, Josh Riley, CCIM, program director at Jones Lang LaSalle in Cumming, Ga., started a LinkedIn group for corporate real estate professionals in 2007. With more than 20,000 members, “It’s now the largest LinkedIn group for commercial real estate professionals, and members consistently provide input about what works and what doesn’t with regard to social media,” Riley says.
The Medium Is the Message
The social media landscape is vast, which can make the decision about where to create a presence difficult. Each platform has its own advantages and many passionate advocates.
Bo Barron, CCIM, managing director of Sperry Van Ness/The Barron Group in Owensboro, Ky., began using social media after Sperry Van Ness mandated company-wide adoption of the technology at the end of 2009. Barron’s strategy revolves around driving traffic to his blog, bobarron.blogspot.com, using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Blogs allow commercial real estate professionals to position themselves as experts “without beating their chests about how great they are,” he says.
Among the other platforms that Barron regularly uses, Twitter has been the biggest revelation. “Frankly, I learn more about commercial real estate markets all over the country from those I follow on Twitter,” he explains. “It’s like a real time barometer.”
Anyone can access that information by simply visiting www.twitter.com and searching for #cre. The pound symbol prefix creates a hashtag, which facilitates searches for thematically linked tweets. “Using the #cre hashtag, commercial real estate professionals can tweet their listings, comments, articles, news, and general information,” says Sean M. Broderick, CCIM, broker associate with Pacific Pride Properties in Lodi, Calif. “It reminds me of an open source listserv function without the restrictions — anyone can view or post.”
This group dynamic also is a valuable part of Facebook, a platform that some regard as useful to commercial real estate professionals for targeted prospecting only. But according to Linda Gerchick, CCIM, of Keller Williams NE Realty in Phoenix, they don’t know what they’re missing. Gerchick’s successful use of a Facebook group to solicit transactions was detailed in the January/February 2010 CIRE feature article “Social Media Savvy.” She and her staff now operate five Facebook pages, which they use to promote property listings and video Webinars on the Phoenix real estate market.
Gerchick also ramped up her LinkedIn usage based on recent success. She promoted a listing for a portfolio of single-family homes on behalf of a wholesaler and connected with a buyer to close a $3.2 million sale. “I used to spend an hour a day making calls; now I spend an hour a day on social media,” Gerchick says. She also hired 10 new staff members in 2010 to support an influx of new clients, many of which she initially connected with via Facebook or LinkedIn.
But no matter which platforms commercial real estate professionals choose to use, metrics such as page views, comments, and retweets should be examined regularly. “A social media strategy, if done right, is never complete,” says D. Scott Smith, CCIM, of KW Commercial in Timonium, Md. “You can track everything, so you should always be analyzing the data and improving.” Smith recommends the free Google Analytics tool, which displays rate, source, and other site activity details. “This gives you a better understanding of the people who are looking at your site so you can better market to that demographic,” he says. Facebook and Twitter also offer built-in analytics tools.
In addition to content, the medium of the message also can affect the numbers. For example, “I’m not a great writer, but I come to life on video,” Smith explains. “The same format doesn’t work for everyone.”
Return on Their Investment
Perhaps the most important component of a successful social media strategy is valued content. Potential customers become clients when they have a need, Clarke explains, and they are likely to interview real estate professionals who have “touched” them in three ways (for example, via phone, postcard, and, now, social media). But social media touches only if value is added.
“I see Realtors who just post listings and never get a response,” Clarke says. “But Realtors who post a topic such as ‘Southwestern submarket dynamics sufficient to drive demand for new construction,’ and then some research or data to support it, followed by a new listing, are much more likely to arouse additional interest.”
Potential clients also recognize the value of a strong social media network. Through his consistent and careful use of Twitter and other platforms, Barron has fostered genuine friendships with commercial real estate professionals around the country. “If I have a client that needs help in San Diego, I already have a relationship with an expert there who can help. Arizona? I know a pro there. Houston? And on and on. This provides tremendous value to my clients,” Barron explains. It’s also a way to extend the CCIM networking platform. “Commercial real estate is all about building relationships and giving extraordinary service,” Barron says. “Social media gives me the tools to do that.”
Rich Rosfelder is associate editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.
Get In and Explore
CCIM Institute’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/cciminstitute
CCIM Institute’s Twitter page: www.twitter.com/CCIM
John Thiry’s blog: www.lancastercommercial.com
Jack Smith’s Web site: www.thesociallatte.com
Google Analytics: www.google.com/analytics
Bo Barron’s Twitter page: www.twitter.com/bobarronccim
A Survival Guide
This spring, CCIM Institute’s Ward Center for Real Estate Studies will offer a one-day classroom workshop entitled Technology and Social Networking Tools for Today’s Real Estate Professional. In addition to providing an overview of useful hardware and software, instructor Todd Clarke, CCIM, will help students develop a social media strategy through hands-on use of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
For more information or to register, visit www.ccim.com/education/ward-center.