To remain competitive in today’s environment, real estate professionals and home builders must understand who their buyers are, where they are doing their research, and how to effectively communicate their brand message. As we continue to see a dramatic shift away from traditional media, home builders and marketers are seeking advertising channels that are most cost effective, more targeted, and more measurable.
Internet marketing is earning greater recognition as the industry becomes more educated about the valuable marriage between creativity and technology. Social media is one of these strategies that is gaining fantastic momentum. Social media as a marketing strategy has made so many advancements in the past 12 months that it is hard to keep track. The online marketing space has redefined how companies brand themselves, communicate with customers, and allocate marketing dollars.
Transparency is the only way builders can remain relevant and competitive. The old days of companies hiding behind their “big brand” are over. Companies that are engaging in social media are committing to real customer interaction and showing who they really are as a brand and as a team. This article aims at providing insight into why we should care about social media, how it is redefining the way we market products and services, and how to use it effectively to sell homes.
Why Should We Care About Social Media Marketing?
Home builders and real estate professionals need to understand that their buyers are in fact online and are using social networking sites on a regular basis:
• According to the National Association of REALTORS “Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2008” 87% of home buyers use the Internet to search for a home.
• According to a 2009 Facebook statistics report, the fastest growing group on Facebook is now the 35 to 54 year old demographic growing at growing at 276.4% in the first six months of 2009. The 55+ demo is not far behind with a 194.3% growth rate.
• According to Nielsen, unique visitors to Twitter increased 1,382 percent year-over-year, from 475,000 unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009, making it the fastest growing site in the Member Communities category for the month.
• YouTube is now considered the largest vertical search engines in the world with well over 70,000,000 videos (as of March 2008)
Redefining the Marketing Landscape
The hybrid approach: Social media marketing has created a fusion between real estate marketing, advertising, and customer relations. The most successful real estate focused social media campaigns combine all online and offline marketing efforts and truly engage the audience. The companies that use these strategies effectively are fully committed and spend considerable time on these initiatives. Once a campaign gains momentum, the social platforms (i.e. Facebook Fan Page, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube) become real communication tools. Builders can now actively interact with potential buyers and industry professionals in a more personal manner. Consumers want to see user-generated content and learn about your brand from people outside your organization.
Branding: We should be careful about how we define “branding” as it applies to marketing and advertising. Sometimes branding can be thought of as that marketing strategy with an indefinable ROI. Actually, it is of course much more important. These days it doesn’t take just good advertising or PR to brand your company. For home builders that already have a distinct brand image social media is about creating trust and transparency while still protecting the brand. Once a real estate professional or home builder begins social media they should encourage everyone in the company to contribute. A builder’s brand shouldn’t just be about the homes and communities. It should be about the team of people driving the business. If the Simon Cooper of Ritz Carlton is a regular blogger and uses Twitter, that should tell us something.
Cost Effectiveness: Just like any other marketing strategy, Internet marketing and social media should be designed to support a builder’s sales goals. With budgets being tighter, it is crucial to design a marketing plan that contains strategies that are measurable and can produce a desired ROI. One of the key ways that Internet marketing and social media are more cost effective is because it is targeted. With social media marketing, an effective campaign starts first with setting goals, doing research, and defining the audience. There are many great social media tools available to help plan and manage campaigns. The key element for measuring results should be in the analytics. All social media pages should link to the company website and gradually build traffic and conversions.
10 Tips for Getting Started
1. The team: Whether your hire a social media agency or consultant or use an in-house team, you have to be committed to investing in the process. It’s all or nothing. If you outsource, it is still recommended to have someone in-house directing the message and strategy. The more your buyers and potential buyers communicate with you, the more you will have to remain involved. If you plan to build an in-house team, enlist the help of some Internet savvy interns for some extra man power.
2. Website: Do not spend time and energy engaging in any online strategy until you have a website that is user-friendly and designed to foster conversions (i.e. building an email list, capturing registrations, and generating sales). Your website will always be your most important foundation from which any online marketing strategy will be built. Make sure to have Google analytics installed in your site so you can actively monitor traffic levels, traffic sources, bounce rates, and time on site. Be sure to have a great database management system for capturing and organizing incoming leads.
3. Blog: Keep in mind that social media is first about providing value to your online community and building trust. The best place to start is with a blog. Blogs are easy to set up and show your customers that you care about what’s going on in your industry. Word Press blogs are a great recommendation and very “Google-friendly”. Be sure to build your blog into your website as opposed to having it as an external site. Write about current topics that people can relate to and never make your message self serving. If you don’t think you have time for all this, think again. Like physical fitness, if you care about it and are committed, you will make the time.
4. Facebook, Active Rain, Twitter, YouTube: Set up a Fan Page on Facebook.com and profiles on Twitter and ActiveRain.com. You will build a large network in two ways: (1) networking within the online community itself and inviting people to “join” your fan club or “follow” you on Twitter; (2) driving traffic from outside sources to your profile pages, which you can accomplish this by having links to your profile pages and encouraging people to follow or join.
You will keep them engaged by having good content (i.e. your blog articles is a great place to start). You can set up an RSS feed so that your blogs are automatically posted to your Twitter page and Facebook page. Set up a YouTube channel and start adding content. Most builders have some kind of video or TV content so start adding it to your YouTube channel and Facebook fan page. To create new video content, purchase a simple flip camera and shoot three to five minute videos at your properties. Interview sales representatives, property managers, and even owners.
5. Communicate & Build a Following: Your efforts will be fruitless unless you have a loyal following which takes some time to build. The more effort you put into it, the better your results will be. Ask your social media partner for effective ways to build a following on Twitter without spamming the community. Be active on your profile pages on Facebook and ActiveRain. The more value you have to offer the more people will talk. Management should lead by example and get involved. Encourage all employees and sales people to be a part of the network. Once you have some momentum you can start incorporating your special incentives, promotions, events, grand openings, and other creative messages. When communicating special offerings, remember to include links to landing pages that give more details and have very clear calls to action like simple registration forms.
6. Online/Offline Integration: Include links to all of your social media profile pages and YouTube channel on your website. Also make reference to these sites in all other marketing and advertising efforts. If your fully engaged in social media and offer a great resource to potential buyers, why not brag about it?
7. Track Results and Conversions: The best way to really track results is to be sure your social media platforms are always pointing back to your website and landing pages. From there you can use your analytics to watch how much traffic is coming from these sources and how its converting.
8. Get your sales teams involved: Every member of your sales team should be active in their own social media efforts and the company’s. Just be sure that there is some level of control to the overall message being communicated through your social networks.
9. Get your communities involved: All of a homebuilder’s communities should have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts and be actively involved in the company’s network as well.
10. Get Creative: After you gain momentum, the sky is the limit. Your social network sites then become a platform for creativity and true customer relationship management. Develop new concepts like special promotions, events, and contests. Make it fun for people to be inlcuded in your online community.