Unless real estate pros get smart with social media most are just “adding to the noise” without adding value

Monday, April 2nd, 2012


“Use mobile to close the gap between emotion and experience.”

That’s the message Rick Bakas of San Francisco-based Bakas Media delivers when addressing industry groups keen to leverage social media and the dramatic shift to mobile-phone use across North America for marketing and commerce.

With communications increasingly going mobile and tablets displacing desktop computers, Bakas urges companies to have a social media strategy even if it’s as simple as a page where people who use mobile devices can land and learn more about your winery.

In many ways, it’s not unlike 15 years ago when companies wondered whether or not a web page was important. As Bakas told a recent social media symposium in Vancouver: if consumers are there, companies should be there, too.

But closing the gap between emotion and experience means building relationships – not an easy task for companies selling real estate, typically a long-term investment rather than a consumable like wine, coffee or analgesics designed to soothe aging, aching joints. People may consider a neighbourhood a desirable place to be or to invest, but the choice isn’t something they consider every day; they just live with it, focusing instead on elements within the community.


Robyn Hanson, senior community manager at Think! Social Media in Yaletown, said Metro Vancouver is home to plenty of neighbourhood bloggers touting the attributes of their local communities. Many social media-savvy residents use Foursquare and other applications to let others know where they’re at, which services they’re using, and to leave tips and reviews for others. Real estate bloggers haven’t leveraged the power of these applications to become “neighbourhood ambassadors” (as Hanson calls them), however.

“No real estate agents are in there taking advantage of those opportunities. It’s mostly just other locals,” she said.

The absence reflects issues Hanson saw as a consultant two years ago, just as real estate agents began embracing social media. Hanson was often contracted to instruct companies how to use social media effectively.

“[Realtors] would be using, say, Twitter or a blog to advertise their listing or their open houses,” she explained. “They weren’t looking at it as an opportunity to showcase being a neighbourhood ambassador or an expert on a particular area, such as Vancouver. They were adding to the noise but they weren’t actually adding any value.”

Real estate agents needed to make the shift from traditional, one-way, broadcast communication channels to the polyphonous channels social media offered. Online relationship-building was becoming more sophisticated, too, in tandem with the effectiveness of spam filters and dropping effectiveness of banner ads. (Bakas points out that click-through rates have plummeted from upward of 70 per cent a decade ago to a mere 1 per cent to 3 per cent today. Some online experts say the click rates are now even lower than 1 per cent.)

Vancouver real estate agent Ian Watt, who regularly addressed real estate conferences three years ago regarding his groundbreaking video blog, is among agents that recognized and have taken steps to respond to the shift.

“I went gung-ho, and then I pulled back. People just have this block up regarding selling online,” he said. “Social media’s not dead but the use of it to sell a product or service is.”

Twitter was the turning point for Watt, who added the tool to his social media endeavours but then turned his back on it – and approximately 3,000 followers – a year ago.

“I felt like the novelty had worn off, and all those people were on Facebook anyway,” he said, saying Twitter has become “a big spam.”

Now if he has good information he puts a link out on Facebook, where ongoing relationships can be maintained and cultivated with a select group of people without the need for a steady stream of information or pitches that occurs on Twitter.

“My clients, who I always friend, will know I’m in real estate,” he said. “But I do not do it to sell anything. … [Social media] is peoples’ private areas, and you have to respect that. I tend to unfriend people now who just tend to shove crap down my throat – especially rental agents.”

Cultivating long-term relationships is more difficult for developers with relatively short horizons for marketing and selling projects. Sales windows might be 10 months – about the same amount of time it takes for a successful social media campaign to gain traction.


This is where MAC Marketing Solutions Inc. has sought to build a reputation for itself rather than individual projects, forging links with agents in the market so that any projects it takes on benefit from its own reputation.

“We’re focused on trying to build an audience that’s interested in listening to a voice that’s an authority on real estate,” said Cameron McNeill, principal of MAC. “The lifespan of a real estate project is finite and to develop an audience takes a lot of time. We find that we have an advantage, that it’s more of a corporate relationship than a project relationship.”

Defining the payback is something else, however. MAC has two people sharing responsibilities for what is effectively a single full-time position: overseeing the firm’s social media activities. Staff members directing efforts on each of the firm’s projects also feed content into the social media arena for each new development.

McNeill candidly admits that the actual payback on the efforts is difficult to track; he prefers to say the firm has simply responded to the changing environment and channelled its efforts into each new area.

“We’re touching our customers five to 10 times before they make a decision to purchase,” he said. “It does help create a groundswell, and it does help spread the word.”

Social media is best deployed as a tactical tool to cultivate interest and awareness of projects before sales actually begin, if David Allison’s experience is any indication.

A principal of Vancouver marketing firm Braun/Allison, Allison frequently hears developers tell him that social media isn’t working as well for them as they might like.

“But if we use these as tactics that actually have a strategy behind them then they start to get really, really interesting,” he said.

Some are confused as new services start up, such as Pinterest, a new online pinboard that is already ranked No. 62 in web traffic, but which most developers have likely never heard of.

It’s a similar story for the tide of smartphone apps laying the foundation for what Bakas and others anticipate will be a mobile commerce revolution in 2014. Half of all online activity is through mobile devices, from smartphones to tablets, which not only allow people to tell their social networks where they are and what they’re seeing but also to click QR codes – the mottled square codes that are growing in presence – to discover more about products and places.

“If you put a QR code on your [showroom] door it gives people a link on their phone that takes them to some photos and pricing and availability information,” Allison said, noting that it gives people something to explore even when staff members aren’t available.

“Perhaps you’ll do a better job of getting them to return, rather than having them just face a blank door.”

from Western Investor April 2012


Comments are closed.