You can ignore it. And you can tell yourself social media for real estate agents never make a difference for your business. But the small- and mid-sized businesses that have chosen to embrace social media marketing are starting to clobber their competitors.
Step one: Become part of the conversation
The best way to get started with social media marketing is to observe and interact. Sign up for the blogs and tweets of your peers and competitors; set up accounts on Facebook, Jigsaw, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networking sites; contribute to the “comments” sections of online articles. The idea is to become acquainted with the quirks of this new medium before trying to use it as a marketing tool yourself.
Step two: Start some conversations of your own
Once you get a feel for social media marketing and learn some of the techniques best-in-class operators are using, you can jump in with both feet and create your own campaign.
To make a name for yourself, start commenting regularly on some of the more popular social media sites, then begin littering your comments with links to your own blog, Web site, Facebook group or other social media (e.g. “for some examples of how I’ve handled this situation, see my blog at …”).
Start encouraging clients and customers to post positive reviews on Yelp (and any of the other peer-review sites where you’ve established profiles).
Create a blog and begin posting updates to it on a regular basis. Comment on industry trends and news, write reviews and recommendations, offer insights and free advice, feature customer success stories and more.
These don’t have to be lengthy postings (in fact, it’s often best if they’re not). Even easier, set up a Twitter account and begin posting daily business-related insights, thoughts and suggestions. Leverage LinkedIn’s huge database of members to track down clients, past customers, former colleagues, schoolmates and long-lost friends. Once you’ve established an online rapport with these people, start asking for introductions to the professionals in their sphere of influence (which you can actually preview beforehand).
Create a professional Facebook (and MySpace) profile, then offer incentives to encourage clients and prospects to join as “fans” (e.g. a special discount, sneak previews, a free white paper or other value-added items).
Step three: Begin cross-promoting
Once your social media marketing efforts start to show some success, that’s when you want to begin cross-promoting. Mention your blog in the occasional tweet; encourage your Facebook fans to write a Yelp review; make sure all your social media are listed in your LinkedIn profile.
Bring your traditional marketing into the mix, as well. Direct Mail is an affordable and effective way to let clients, colleagues and friends know your new social sites even exist. Use direct mail to inform potential prospects and existing contacts where they can access your social sites and tell them what’s in it for them to check it out (relevant content, free entry to win a prize, discount offer, etc.). You should also include references to your social sites as part of your contact information on all of your direct mail. Email marketing can be used much the same way with your existing contacts, and is still your best bet for nurturing any prospects through the sales process. Plus, these traditional marketing mediums are the only way to truly control your marketing messages (without opening things up to comments and criticisms from outsiders)
- Rule #1: All information published in the social media world has to have value. Brochure-like statements about how good your products or services are will be met with silence (at best) or wicked criticism (at worst). The masses are attracted to social media precisely because they believe it to be mostly free of blatant marketing. Therefore, stick to the 80/20 rule of thumb: spend 80 percent of your time offering useful comments, insights and information, and 20 percent of your time promoting your abilities and products.
- Rule #2: Just about every form of social media for real estate agents is a two-way communications tool, which means there’s typically built-in capability for your readers to post their own comments on your site. While it’s okay to rebut any negative reader postings that show up, it’s considered a crime in the social-media world to delete them — even if you feel they’re unfair or provided out of context. Reader comments should be edited only for profanity and personal attacks.
- Rule #3: Don’t be lulled into a false sense of anonymity. Always remember that whatever you write in the Internet world will exist forever and may come back to haunt you. Be professional at all times.
What to expect
You’ll have to come to terms with the fact that you don’t have control over what’s written about you and your company in the social media world. Reader’s comments can take unpredictable turns and can include harsh criticism, so you’ll need to cultivate a thick skin.
And be patient. Using social media for real estate agents is a process of building relationships, which take time to develop. Eventually, however, your blogs and other social media — if done well — will reach a critical mass, and talk of your talents, products and services will begin spreading across the Net. This is when breakthrough opportunities can start to emerge, with results that can be truly astonishing.