Sarah Johnston, a real estate professional with MaxWell Canyon Creek, attributes much of her business’ growth to her use of social media.

The art of social

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram helping real estate businesses build their brands

When Sarah Johnston began using social media, she didn’t do it to promote her real estate business.

“My entire life is dedicated to this ‘job,’ and I needed an outlet,” she said.

Instead, Johnston took a relaxed approach, using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share about her life and interests — including her real estate adventures — and just be herself.

But she quickly discovered the power of the medium as she began amassing followers and having conversations online. Johnston connected easily with her target market (young professionals) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as other real estate professionals on LinkedIn.

Five years later, Johnston attributes much of her business’ growth to her use of social media.

“In a down market, I’m expanding,” said Johnston, who works at MaxWell Canyon Creek.

“Every social media tool has its own culture, etiquette and audiences.”

It works, she thinks, because sharing her personality online allows prospective clients the opportunity to get to know — and trust — her before they even meet.

In fact, she thinks a strong social media presence is becoming more powerful than referrals.

“Word of mouth has always been more important than any advertising, but I’m starting to see a shift,” she said.

While not specific to real estate, a 2015 report released by BMO Bank of Montreal indicated that 45 per cent of all small businesses in Canada maintain a social media account.

According to Karen Richards, a social media strategist and instructor at Mount Royal University, all businesses should be using social media tools — including real estate professionals.

“Back when I started, around 2007, we always used to say that not everyone should use it, but now it’s definitely changed to, ‘What are you using and how are you using it,’” she said.

But Richards stresses that how businesses use social media is also critical. Instead of signing up for accounts on every platform, she suggests picking a couple that suit specific goals and the nature of the business.

For one thing, not all platforms will suit your brand or industry.

“Every social media tool has its own culture, etiquette and audiences,” said Richards. “If you’re a button-down bank or insurance company, you don’t necessarily want to be on Snapchat.”

In real estate, for example, a blog can be a useful way to establish expertise in the field, while Twitter can provide a way to direct people to the blog, said Richards. Visual mediums such as Instagram and Pinterest may also provide venues for sharing photos of homes for sale.

Real estate professionals might also consider using Periscope, a relative newcomer to the social media universe, to live stream videos of open houses via Twitter.

“You have all of these tools you can make use of, but you really should do your research to see what would fit your goals or match your industry and audience,” said Richards.

Just make sure you don’t take on more than you can handle — you don’t want to stretch yourself thin and do a poor job of all of them, she added. This can compromise the quality of your content, but also your response times to messages.

Sprout Social, a social media marketing company that gathers data on its use around the world, recently revealed that, so far, the real estate industry has been slow to interact on new digital communication channels.

In the last quarter of 2015, real estate businesses around the globe received an average of 275 messages via social media. Of these, 52.8 per cent warranted a response, but the industry’s response rate was only
11.2 per cent. Put another way: it takes real estate businesses an average of 11 hours to respond on social media, if they do at all.

The same report by Spout Social indicated that for every message real estate businesses respond to, they send an average of 8.7 promotional posts.

“What you post on Instagram is not the same as Facebook or Twitter.”

Richards warns that actively selling anything via social media can feel like “cold calling” to followers, which only a few will appreciate. In the end, the real goal of social media is to build enduring relationships with customers and “advocates” — those who will share your posts (and whose posts you can share, as well), she said.

While Johnston is experiencing business success over the past couple years, she admits that she doesn’t use social media to aggressively sell homes. In fact, she’ll only post about a property once or twice. Instead, she shares useful information that helps to establish herself in the market.

While Johnston manages her own social media feeds, others are outsourcing to companies like Bamboo Creative.

Owner Amber Craig said her Calgary-based company has managed the online channels of many local real estate professionals. The benefit of using third-party management companies is they will know how to write for each channel.

“What you post on Instagram is not the same as Facebook or Twitter,” she said.

Professional communicators can also post without spelling mistakes, and formulate a social media strategy to reach a real estate professional’s target market.

More importantly, outsourcing social media frees up professionals to do what they do best, said Craig.

“We can’t wear all of the hats out there. I wouldn’t try to sell my own house,” she said.

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